Thursday, November 13, 2008

Let's Talk about Privilege, Baby/Let's Talk About You and Me

So reads a large sign now posted in the Dining Hall. The sign was originally mostly blank, adorned simply by those words and a couple sheets of paper printed off of Nook, the school message board. Though Nook is a private forum, the dining hall is not, and I don't think that resident feminist and all-around awesome person Lily Sage would mind me re-posting her words here:

"There is a myth at Marlboro: we live in an ivory tower in the clouds, where we are above and beyond and able to transcend issues of race, gender and class that are prevalent in our society. We are somehow “counter-cultural” subverters, of what is perceived as the inhospitable and intolerant atmosphere of the dominant culture, which we flee to this hill.

Think about it. Is there an ongoing, reflective dialogue about privilege in our community? Who are the people who live in our community? Is there a disconnect between the theory that we learn in class and the way we conduct ourselves in our interpersonal relationships?

This space has been provided to raise awareness about everyday sometimes veiled and usually unconscious oppression at Marlboro College. By this it is meant that as a community, which is a microcosm of society at large, we are (largely) complicit participants in an institutionally sanctioned and executed hierarchal system of dominance. This dominance manifests itself in many ways. Feel free to list, anonymously or not, and always respectfully, what you’ve noticed. This is a safe space that is open to any member of the community: that is, staff, students, faculty, and anyone else who may stumble upon it."

Now the once-white sheets of paper stapled on the bulletin board have been scrawled on in cherry-scented red marker, and this morning the "Privilege Board" has been expanded to fit the entire bulletin board. The comments range from anonymous to signed, defensive to ashamed, specific to obscure, but there are few to no comments that are simply jokes. And at every meal, there are people that gather around the board, talking seriously and candidly with each other about privilege and personal responsibility, about racism and misogyny, about whatever feels appropriate and uncomfortable. Every so often during our conversations we pick up the marker and write something down on the board. It isn't the same people that gather around the board every time, either.

I've always thought of Marlboro as a liberal place where ideas free flow all the time and discussion is encouraged, but in the past 24 hours the school has really opened up and started talking about things we've been avoiding in our everyday conversations. Nook's really been a place for serious conversation too, both on the privilege thread quoted above and on another thread which deals with an issue really pertinent to the community right now. (I don't feel comfortable talking about it on an open website, but it deals with transparency within the administration among other things.)

At Town Meeting (actually a student/faculty/staff of Marlboro meeting, bi-monthly) we did something other than vote on funds requests and talk about changes of legal language in our school Constitution andf Bylaws. The president and political science prof set aside some time for us to discuss, as a community, what we should do to self-reflection alive. The privilege board was brought up- I think it may have been the inspiration for the discussion.

It's incredible how Marlboro has changed in the past day or so, from being something that I thought it was to something that I now know that it is: a place of self-reflection and true consciousness. I just wonder when these discussions will turn into real change, and how. Today I received an email about the photo prof's friends on a reservation in South Dakota losing power and heat, and were burning their possessions in order to stay warm. I gathered up a good deal of my money and trekked over to John's office so he could send it in with the money that he would be mailing them. Would I have done this two days ago? Maybe; I am an altruistic person, and every so often I give money to charity. But would I have given so much money in relation to the amount I actually have? Maybe not.

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