Tuesday, November 7th, 2017...5:45 pmwatsono

Has Dickinson Changed?

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Melinda Triller’s presentation about Esther Popel Shaw was illuminating, and particularly timely in light of the extremely offensive, discriminatory event that happened on our campus on Halloween. I am disappointed that this comparison between Esther’s experience and that of students of color on our existing campus in 2017 is so comparable. The kind of racism that disallowed Esther to live at Dickinson despite her status as a student was overt and clear, decades ago. Yet the image circulating through students’ phones and minds this week is just as overt, if not more deliberate and violent. So has Dickinson really changed? Visibly, perhaps, but honestly, not at all. And to me, that is the most shocking and painful reality. We should continue to admire Esther and her efforts as a trailblazer for women and people of color at Dickinson. Yet we cannot think that the work here has been done…because if Esther saw Dickinson today, I think she would be heartbroken 🙁


  • I really think that your blog post highlights what a lot of people on campus are feeling. I have been talking to a lot of different people, from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, and the majority of students say they are upset over the racist costume. I think that learning about Esther Popel Shaw has really made me question if Dickinson has changed. I am afraid that if we have changed at all, we are going in the wrong direction. Students of color are uncomfortable leaving their dorms, parents worry for the safety of their kids, and death threats have been made. Overall, I think that the school can learn a lot if they were to read of Esther Popel Shaw. Do you agree with that statement? Should more students be brought into the archives as part of their classwork to learn about her? Where does the responsibility to educate exist? Within the administration or the study body?

  • The question you raise is a very pertinent one, as it is clear that as a community and a college we have not progressed as much as we have hoped or thought since Esther’s time here. It also scary to think that these acts of racism are becoming more violent as time progresses rather than the opposite effect. It is also clear that the community has responded to the incident in a positive way for the most part, whereas Esther’s situation was simply lived with and accepted.

  •   Charlotte Hayden
    November 8th, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    I agree with your statement, and I think this can be part of the problem with actually changing people’s minds, beyond policies. In an interview with Barack Obama, Ellen Degeneres praised his administration’s legalization of gay marriage; but he tempered her praise with the argument that “changing hearts and minds” is a lot harder and more gradual. I think this applies to Dickinson’s (and America’s) struggle for racial equality. Yes, legislation has been passed to theoretically and lawfully guarantee that all races are treated equally; Dickinson’s outrightly racist exclusion of Esther from campus dorms is an example of an older, more “overt,” as you say, demonstration of racism. Yet today some members of Dickinson still evaluate racism according to outdated, unsympathetic, unfeeling attitudes towards racial struggle. I too think Esther would be disillusioned that students educated by her beloved alma mater think it acceptable to mimic and mock efforts to highlight racism pervasive throughout our nation.

  •   Professor Seiler
    November 14th, 2017 at 1:29 am

    Olivia–I feel the hurt of this post. Thank you for sharing. Perhaps the (slimmest?) glimmer of hope is that in Esther’s day, such a gross costume would be unlikely to make the community stop and reflect on itself… or stop *at all.* This does not excuse ANY failings on the part of the College or its people, but might help you to emboldened to work for change, rather than already defeated?

  • This seems a bit unfair to state and somewhat of a generalization. I would contend that Dickinson has changed extremely, especially since we are in a period of history after the Civil Rights Movement. Remember that, in Shaw’s day, blacks were not even allowed to board with white students–there were faculty-sanctioned forms of segregation. A handful of freshmen doing something offensive and foolish does not mean the entire student body reflects their values. To think contrariwise would be “splitting,” a psychological concept which dictates that aspects of reality can be neatly split into groups both good and bad, without taking into account the complexities of each.
    That said, while it is important to recognize progress and how far we have come, I agree we can do much better. One need only look around the caf to see all the self-segregation still occurring during meals, and this upsets me more than anything else. (Whites eat with whites, blacks eat with blacks, etc.) I have been trying my best to push against this by indiscriminately socializing with a diverse range of people. While I do not think Shaw would be heartbroken per se, she would certainly be disappointed.

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