Tuesday, November 7th, 2017...8:40 pmkailabasile

Esther Popel Shaw

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I thought that our visit to the archives was timed well (by accident, of course) given the Halloween incident. I think our discussion of that event really informed our understanding of Esther Popel Shaw, as we looked back on how Dickinson has historically treated issues of race, and how it honors or fails to respect Esther’s legacy. On one hand, I think it’s admirable that as a community, Dickinson is trying to work through issues of race through conversations in formal and informal settings when a member of the community does something that is unthinkable for so many of us. When Esther was at Dickinson, she must have had so little support when surrounded by people that did not look like her, did not think she belonged, did not want her there. She was not included in the community, as she was unable to live on campus, yet she still had a good and fulfilling experience (at least outwardly, perhaps as a protest to those who hoped she would not). While she was here, there were no open conversations about race and rights, which should not be a privilege, but a normal part of the institution. However, Dickinson clearly still has a ways to go in terms of making the community inclusive. I don’t think Esther would be happy to hear about the many students of color that feel targeted, victimized, and unsafe, nor about the lack of substantive formal response to the event. If Esther teaches us anything, it’s that a formal institution can make huge strives through formal actions, like allowing a black female student to attend classes for the first time. Esther’s legacy should inform the ways in which our institution responds to events such as the Halloween incident, and how formal actions can make big changes in the institution.


  • The way you speak about Esther Popel Shaw’s legacy is beautiful. I find it very troubling that a school that promotes inclusive environments has responded to the racist Halloween costume in such a neutral way. I have to wonder if the administration would benefit from having a seminar on Esther Popel Shaw. What are your thoughts? From our brief discussion in class, her work opened my eyes a little more to the uphill battle that students of color face at institutions like Dickinson. I respect the members of the community that have spoken out against the freshman’s racist actions. I can only hope that the school amends its current policy in order to do right by Esther’s legacy and the rest of the community.

  • I agree with Michael here, both in terms of Shaw’s legacy and in terms of the implications to today. I would add that I enjoyed your comment on formal education being beneficial to formal action. I think that we should talk about race in a constructive manner on a more regular basis as well. Furthermore, I your point that Esther had little support but continued to have a positive experience at Dickinson shows a true strength of character. Perhaps in these difficult times of targeted hate we must remember that we are lucky to have a more supporting, and reactive, Dickinson community.

  •   Professor Seiler
    November 14th, 2017 at 1:32 am

    Kaila–thanks for sharing this thoughtful post. I wonder about your use, several times, of the word “formal.” Where Jonah appreciates it, I wonder exactly what you mean at the different points where you use “formal” to modify a noun. How might clarifying that adjective strengthen your argument?

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