We Can All Do Better

When I read the op-ed “Should White Boys Still Be Allowed to Talk?” I appreciated the author’s wit and her willingness to challenge the most powerful demographic at Dickinson. In my opinion, President Ensign’s response to the op-ed is an instance of the way Dickinson consistently elevates the voices and needs of white students— especially white male students— over the needs of its students of color. 

The opinion piece that garnered such a strong response used a satirical and humorous tone to address a serious issue: the entitlement that white men exhibit when they express uninformed, ahistorical, racist opinions and make no effort to learn from those who willingly commit time and energy trying to educate them. It expressed anger, frustration, and a sincere desire for privileged people to do better. Even if the article truly wished for all white men to be silent forever (which seems to be the goal only if you naively take its satirical tone literally), the author does not have the power to enforce this. There is no actual threat on this campus to the domination of white, male voices. It is not that white men should never speak, or shouldn’t speak on issues of race and gender. It is that they are already speaking, and speaking so much that other voices— often more relevant voices— do not have the chance to be heard.

The president’s email ignores the context out of which the op-ed arose. President Ensign wrote, “Dickinson believes in free speech. We also condemn stereotyping and prejudice.” This sounds like a response (albeit a somewhat tepid one) to an incidence of racism or bigotry, rather than a response to a woman of color speaking out against racism. It reveals that the college, either in ignorance or a blatant attempt to keep donation dollars, takes no account of the histories of oppression, racism, misogyny, and misogynoir that operate to silence students of color. They are quicker to defend the fragile egos of its white, male students— the already powerful majority. President Ensign’s response marginalizes and dismisses the voice of the op-ed’s author— a painful irony considering that the author wrote the op-ed to speak out against the marginalization she faced.

I do not write this in the hopes that it will convince any of the vitriolic commenters on the op-ed, or that it will change the way our administration responds to students of color expressing their opinions. Either of these outcomes would be fantastic, of course. But my goal is to stand by the author of the op-ed, among the other students who have shown their support, and to speak to my fellow white students who find the op-ed compelling. 

We can all do better— not just the white boys, but all of us white students. When most of the college’s most powerful demographic and the administration itself respond like this to a woman of color speaking her mind, we have to stop and think about what we can do to, as the op-ed’s author wrote, “find someone whose perspective has been buried or ignored and listen to them, raise up their voice.”