Dear PSC and Dickinson family:
As the College persists in investigating last weekend’s Halloween incident, I want to share some thoughts with you. From where I sit the most troubling part of the incident, beyond the offensive images themselves, was the fact that it was so believable to students that members of our community would make such choices. Though these kinds of public micro and macroaggressive situations commonly lead members of college communities to frame these behaviors as counter to our values, this kind of behavior mirrors the values we see on the national stage, so it’s not shocking that it appears at Dickinson.
While I understand the immediate desire for sanctioning, we know that this does not heal what is clearly a more enduring rift. There is a clear racial and ethnic divide, as well as genuine tensions among multiple campus factions (e.g., athletic teams and non-athletes). In working with students and listening to their experiences, it is clear that we look past and through each other rather than at each other. We are not seeing the whole person and thus, not really engaging fully and humanizing each other. I see many students who feel betrayed by the impact of the incident. These students are suffering, questioning their sense of safety and belonging, and wondering if they can trust their classmates. I also see students who are confused about the incident’s impact, perhaps unaware that certain kinds of racially offensive images have pervaded U.S. culture since the end of the Civil War. Even worse are reports of students who are minimizing or dismissing the concerns of their peers, reducing the incident to people “overreacting” or being too “politically correct.”
These are symptoms of a fractured student community. I appreciate the students, including group leaders and individuals, who have reached across the various “aisles” at Dickinson to aim for understanding. I am also grateful for some of the eloquent statements several groups have issued regarding the incident. The Popel Shaw Center is committed to intercultural understanding and approaches the work of healing through education and creating opportunities for dialogue. These are essential tools we can provide. Last Tuesday we screened the documentary on black stereotypes, Ethnic Notions, for the campus and hosted a post-film discussion. (The film can be streamed through Dickinson’s library if you want to see it and is also on DVD). The screening filled Althouse 106 and attracted faculty, staff, students, and administrators. On Thursday, November 9 Donna Bickford, Director of the Women’s and Gender Resource Center (WGRC) and I are facilitating a workshop for faculty to enrich their ability to engage with students more effectively on these issues in the classroom. More educational and engagement opportunities are forthcoming and I hope you choose to support them.
As always, the PSC has open office hours Mondays and Wednesday 2:30-4 pm at Landis House. If you need to talk with me to process things, and/or have ideas for future programs, I am excited to hear them. The communal values we frequently refer to at Dickinson are not always operating, unfortunately. They must be understood as aspirations and every one of us has an important role to play in becoming the true community we want to be.
Vincent L. Stephens, Ph.D. Director, Popel Shaw Center