Why I believe in Speak Out! Oppression on Campus

I’m going to cut to the chase here. Oppression – in any scale, shape, or form – is a daily reality in any part of this world. Human beings have never fully stumbled upon the miracle of coexisting with differences, and things won’t change overnight. I grew up in Sri Lanka, a culture that was impregnated with misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, racism, the works. I am not stranger to discrimination, and I have learned to make my peace with the knowledge that things will not change radically during my lifetime. But, that does not mean that I stop trying. Nor does it mean that I can’t appreciate the good in my culture. All of these thoughts, feelings, and opinions apply to my relationship with Clark.

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I am exceedingly proud to call myself a Clarkie. Much of that pride stems from being part of a community that inspires one to acknowledge the deep divides that cleave our society into a million tiny shards, and to engage in dialogue and discourse in an attempt to expand our own understanding, acknowledge our inherent biases, and strive to create some change in the world. I feel like Clark has given me the opportunity to expand my social consciousness beyond any limits that I would have conceived.

However, this is not to say that Clark is perfect. This institution is a human construct and it is imbued with human flaws. Moreover, as the creation of many individuals, it has failings that transcend the individual level and possesses the ability to affect entire communities. Nonetheless, as an institution that constantly engages in the rhetoric of being committed to social change and equity and aspires to shape global citizens, Clark University has made a pledge to acknowledge and address its flaws.

When I conceived the idea of organizing a campaign to allow students to produce anonymous testimonies of their own experiences, I hoped to do just that. This institution and its students deserve to hear the voices of those who have experienced discrimination of any form. Students are the greatest assets of this institution, and we make Clark’s vision of an engaged, explorative, and diverse intellectual community a reality. It is of utmost importance to affirm what experiences students may have, due to the human failings that are understandably, but not justifiably, embedded in an institution. The institution itself deserves to hear directly from the students, to know the problems that afflict us, to acknowledge this reality, and take steps to address it. While institutional mechanisms already exist to do this very thing, here’s why I think a campaign of this nature is required.

First, there is an awe-inspiring power in numbers and anonymity. What students may not feel comfortable in sharing with the institution directly and individually, they may wish to share in an anonymous setting while experiencing a sense of solidarity with others with similar experiences. Students are free to challenge by choice and are made aware of the implications and potential risks of participating in the project. Furthermore, they are free to withdraw their submissions at any point.

Second, a major percentage of our community is blissfully unaware of the forms of discrimination that prevail on campus. Many of us truly believe that the institutional values we hear of so often are a living reality and, due to our own lived experiences and socialization processes, are uninformed of the issues that exist within our midst. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that the Clark community is deeply and dramatically prejudiced – a queer, international student of color such as myself would not be here and writing this article if that were the case. However, any form of discrimination, even micro-aggressions, inflicts a very real pain. Who are we to say that some forms of pain are more valid than others? Some of you may think that this campaign targets faculty and staff, but the reality is that students are as capable, if not more so, of perpetuating discrimination as anyone else. The Clark community requires a wake-up call, and this campaign strives to be part of the solution.

Lastly, this campaign is not intended to be a witch-hunt. It is not our intention to name, shame and indict those complicit in discrimination, but rather to realize what structural weaknesses must be stopped up to educate all of us on our own biases and blind spots so that fewer people are afflicted by these grave issues. Every single one of us – even those of minority identities – are complicit in perpetuating discrimination, unwittingly and indirectly; and healing and learning cannot occur in a space of blaming and shaming. It is only through acknowledgment, acceptance of our biases, and the commitment to address our perceptual differences that we can strive towards a truly inclusive society.

I have heard many things about this campaign since word of it first started to spread, and it saddens me that those who critique it have not sought to affirm the fundamental reason for its existence – to give voice to those who have not dared to speak before, or whose voice got lost in the tumult of daily existence. We would gladly accept any constructive criticism that was provided to us. I beg of all of you who read this to take this plea seriously. Consider what we leave with when we leave this institution – a piece of paper and future success that crumbles into dust as we die and rejoin the earth. But the impact we have on human lives? That endures the passage of time, living on in the hearts and minds of our collective consciousness. Our first priority has been and should be the welfare of the human lives that inhabit this institution, and if there is any way to recognize and safeguard the humanity of all, then I believe we should be unafraid to take that step.

-Themal

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