I have to begin this post by stating for the record that I am a student of colour at Mount Holyoke College. The implicit assumption that I was safe in this space has been disproved, and I find myself astonished at the blatant lack of protections afforded to coloured students at progressive institutions such as this. Maya’s story is not the first, but it should be the last. It is deeply reflective of the work that is left to be done.
When Maya called me on Saturday morning, I couldn’t find the right words to express how I felt. At that point, I wasn’t absorbing the facts. I wasn’t digesting the reality of the events she was describing to me. In-fact, we were both laughing about it. Shocked, but laughing. Over the next few days, we began to digest the story. Slowly, discussions about Maya’s arrest began to surface, and for many of us students of colour it began to sink in. It spoke to the reality of what many of us have gone through on this campus- although perhaps, never to this extent. Maya’s story, in many ways, has now become our story: the story of young, coloured women who exist in spaces that claim not only to help represent our voices, but amplify our voices.
I cannot speak for the whole Mount Holyoke Community, but I can speak for myself. After four years on this campus, I am finding it very hard to find the love that I initially had for this place. This space, these people, these women have become an intrinsic part of my identity, and their treatment within this space is something I cannot remain voiceless about. The harassment, the racism, the implicit sexism all stand in antithesis to the ideals and values Mount Holyoke claims to uphold. Let us ask ourselves, why a young black international student was allowed to be harassed in front of a Dean and Campus Police? Why was she being accused of stealing – when her only crime was to pick up what belonged to her, and do as the officer told her? Why was Maya never given the benefit of the doubt or allowed to prove her innocence? And most importantly, why is she still being victimized?
I would like to write a rather vocal letter to Mount Holyoke, but I fear it will go nowhere and reap no benefits. For Maya and many of us like her, the feeling of utter helplessness is sometimes worse than the injustice that is projected unto us. Where do we go to tell these stories? Who is willing to listen and hear us? If Mount Holyoke is a place where women are valued for their voices, why does it seem that people of colour are living in some alternate reality? Are we exempt from the same rights and privileges that are accorded to white women in this same space? Why do we exist outside the system?
On the same weekend of the said incident, one very important event took place- the Women of Colour Conference. In retrospect, this seems rather ironic. At the very same time a group of women were talking about the value of diversity, Maya was spending her weekend in a cell. The truth about racism is that our actions need to speak louder than our words. We can make this space politically correct, we can ask students to take down symbols and signs that are offensive, we can conduct forums and dialogues and speak for the next 177 years about racism, but what it all comes down to eventually is action.
Over the next couple of days students like myself are awaiting an important decision. We want to know what positive action the college will take regarding the charges against Maya. This decision will ultimately reflect where the college truly stands on protecting and supporting students of colour on this campus. Somewhere deep down, my conviction is that the college will stand on the side of justice and truth. It is my hope that the administration and all who are involved in this decision will rise to the occasion and uphold the very valuable ideals that Mary Lyon founded this school upon.
On Friday (the same night of Maya’s arrest), I attended the Arab students Open-Mic Night. A poem read at that event resonated with me (and I am sure, most students of colour). This poem, by Marleny Heredia, forces us to accept that sometimes, even in the most liberal of spaces, there is still much work left to be done.
“Dear Mount Holyoke”
I fell in Love,
When I first met you,
Close to four years ago
your sensible ways
and revolutionary streaks
Melted my soul away
When I first met you
I thought “happily ever after”
I thought you were the one
but you had led me on
Now I am here
and I feel wrong
like that child you thought you wanted
But weren’t ready to have
Like a 16-year-old having a kid
but this is real life and not a MTV-show hit
check your privileges,
You are a white entity
accepting colored beings
as if we are just numbers
you can advertise to your trustees
Every time I complain
about the contemporary whips and lashes
you refrain and remind me that they were once harsher
I walk the halls Mary Lyon once dreamt up
and I just know that she must be convulsing in her grave
See, I once thought she built this school for the likes of me
Till history showed me
that she founded this in 1837
twenty-eight years before slavery had “ended”
you weren’t ready for us then
and you aren’t ready for us now
So don’t advertise to me
that “she saw me coming”
cause if she had seen my color, she would’ve
assumed I was in charge of at least the laundry
you remind me one more time
how far we have come
and the number of students
that walked through the gates
I refute your claim,
and sweetly remind you
of how battered we are inside this cage
What can I say?
The numbers don’t represent shit
if once inside we are treated like specks
only appealing when there is a camera clicking
and a point of diversity begging to be made
Oh, Mount Holyoke,
This isn’t your fault,
but how should I have known
that you weren’t what I thought?
Cause looking back in time
you are still the same
it is me who has grown
and seen that I was wrong
with love, resentment, respect and disgust,