Combatting marginalization: the necessity of collective action

Essence Perry

Like many students here, my background has been heavily influenced by the axes of marginalization that have been placed upon me. Attending a school like Williams was something I had never thought could be attainable to me or to people who have experienced similar life circumstances and barriers. As a first-generation, low-income woman of color, I’ve needed to overcome many obstacles in my life, but it has made me stronger in the face of adversity, compassionate towards different life experiences and eager to combat different facets of oppression. I, and probably many of us, came to a school like Williams because it would provide us the skills, resources and ability to create substantive change for marginalized peoples. There would finally be a space in which we could confront issues that have been placed on the back burner of American politics like poverty, racism and sexism. We are all prepared to bring a unique perspective to every issue, and in our pursuit of knowledge, we have the potential to seek equality and justice for people. 

Since coming here, though, I have found myself ostracized from the very groups that purport dedication to pursuing the interests of minority students at Williams and marginalized groups in the broader community. Instead of creating groups that provide safe and accepting spaces for students with marginalized identities, we have allowed exclusionary groups to take hold. Students who don’t make the marginalized aspect of their identity central to their personality or conform to the ideals MinCo has placed upon them aren’t accepted. Many students feel uncomfortable and afraid to express their ideas and opinions in minority groups for fear of the judgement and labels that will be placed upon them. If minority students don’t feel safe within groups that were designed to support and empower them, and they don’t feel fully supported by the College, where do we go? What spaces are here to support us? 

We are spending inordinate amounts of time tearing each other down and questioning each other’s identities. Every moment we spend fighting is a moment we are not spending fighting for equality, reducing the effects of marginalization or building each other up. We have been ineffective not because we don’t have power but because we haven’t found a way to unite and act upon our shared goals. Minority identities comprise a majority of this school. We should expand our conceptions of what “minorities” are on this campus. The face of the College is changing; together, people of color, women, low-income, first-generation, veteran, queer and international students have the ability to create substantive change on this campus and in the larger community. It is time to act upon the shared principles we hold ourselves to. We need to begin shattering cycles of privilege, holding our institutions accountable and servicing the oppressed communities around us. We do not have to agree upon everything or have the same ideas on how to empower people and dismantle social injustices. Rather, a diversity in opinions and perspectives is the only way we can start tackling these issues. Let us move past just speaking “truth to power” and use the differing experiences and ideas of others to correct the ills that plague our communities.

It is time to start acting; we can start making meaningful change now. There are already people on campus coming together to help our communities, however, they don’t make the front page of our newspaper. These include groups like Williams Homeless Outreach, who are working to reduce homelessness and economic disparity, or Converging Worlds, who are combating racial injustice in our criminal “justice” and carceral systems. Minority groups and students with minority identities should be spearheading these initiatives and working together to find solutions to some of society’s most complex social problems. This is going to require us to reevaluate the community we want to build, from the leaders we want to elect, to the students who are welcomed to take part in the movement, to the allies who will aid in the effort. Each person is valuable in this movement; each of us bring our own pasts, influences, skills, experiences and outlooks. No person should be left out because of their beliefs or how strongly they perceive their marginalized identify. One way of thinking will never achieve every goal we set out to accomplish. The minorities on this campus and our allies together can utilize the privilege the College offers us by making our campus, community and society better.

Essence Perry ’22 is from Fitchburg, Mass.