We must do better

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When students from the Afro-American Society occupied Hopkins Hall on April 4, 1969, the Record published an editorial that day responding to the students’ demands for, among other things, the formation of an Afro-American studies department and affinity housing for students of marginalized identities. The editorial offered broad support to the majority of the Afro-American Society’s demands but couched its language in calls for moderation and critiques of the “uncompromising tone” of student activists, terming them “a narrow and selfish interest group.” 

This was hardly an isolated incident. Indeed, over a period of decades, the Record has systematically contributed to the College’s tendency to reinforce the status quo until forced to respond by student efforts that are almost always spearheaded by those of marginalized identities. These problems have persisted into the present day. 

We must face the ways we have failed students who sought, with, in their words, actions and bodies, to make this campus a better place for them and for all members of the community. We have fallen short of our obligation to consistently report on the stories relevant to marginalized members of our community, leading many to feel, justifiably, that the Record does not serve them. Too often, our editorial board has also passed judgment on the validity of campus activism from a privileged position that affirms apathy and passivity, in the process undermining positive change and upholding those in power. With these shortcomings in mind and a firm commitment to amend our future actions, we hope to participate in institutional remembrance in that it is the only antidote to institutional forgetting and erasure. Doing the work of owning our own history is honoring the contributions of student activists past and present.

A dichotomy of support and inaction is a familiar refrain from the Record and other campus institutions regarding those who call for change. Last week’s 50-year anniversary of the creation of Africana studies calls us to reflect on the broader systems of institutional inertia, passivity and forgetting. Indeed, continued administrative inattention and resistance drove students who, seeing their needs unmet by the College, occupied Hopkins in protest. 

The Record in particular has a long history of upholding institutional passivity and the status quo. When students held the hunger strike that ultimately spurring the creation of a Latina/o studies program, the Record published an editorial under the headline, “Strike devalues legitimate goals” (April 27, 1993), writing, “The group is delegitimizing its worthy ideological effort by tying it so closely with unreasonable requests.” On Feb. 29, 2012, the Record published an editorial titled “Working within our means: Examining the College’s curricular priorities,” which opposed the creation of an Asian American studies program and calling into question the utility of such a concentration. 

We do not, however, intend simply to indict past Record editorial boards from some moral high ground. Indeed, such reflection is necessary for the current editorial board as well. Too often, we have covered the problems that minoritized community members face only after they are brought to widespread attention by student activists. Students have made calls for affinity housing for at least 50 years, including at a town hall that the Black Student Union held last November. Until now, however, the Record has not covered this issue, despite its importance to many students and particularly to students of color. CARE Now on Friday named affinity housing as one of 12 demands from the Board of Trustees, confirming its continued relevance. Also discussed at the November town hall were student relations with Campus Safety and Security; we similarly delayed further investigation of that issue until now. Likewise, we wrote about longstanding and endemic “violent practices” that the College has perpetuated on faculty of color only after the leaves of Kimberly Love and Kai Green ’07.

These gaps in reporting remind us that we cannot claim to have served all members of our community in the past, and some may find it difficult to believe that we will do so in the future. We recognize, however, that the only way for us to regain trust with those whom we have inadequately served is to expand our efforts to write, in truth and in fairness, stories that reflect the harms and issues that marginalized students, staff and faculty face at the College.

Furthermore, we must look inward at the Record board’s composition as we reevaluate our reporting. That our board has insufficient representation from certain marginalized groups affects both the manner in which we cover stories and our ability to investigate stories that are important to the community. We must be cognizant of this  deficiency as we work to forge a more diverse and inclusive board with the ability to write stories that better reflect the experiences and concerns of our broader community. 

As we craft editorials as well, we must be mindful not to undermine calls for change with distanced equivocation. Indeed, an endorsement of principles can be offered without any real or material commitment toward bettering campus and indeed can be accompanied by calls for restraint that actually impede progress. Passivity is not a neutral stance nor a helpful one.

Going forward, we at the Record commit to do better. This process must start with understanding our relationship with the community we serve. In building this understanding and trust, we pledge to hold a town hall before the end of the semester, in which all will be welcome to share their views and their critiques. This conversation is not a one-off event, however, but part of a process of reflecting on and reckoning with the historical position of the Record. As the College uses the Africana studies anniversary to reflect on the cycles of institutional forgetting that often necessitate events such as the Hopkins Hall occupation, we must take the opportunity to examine our own complicity in that forgetting.