By Shannon Mahedy, Arnold Sanginga and Selma Osman
If you’ve been anywhere around campus this past week, you probably have heard a lot of talk about Stop White Noise. We’d like to introduce ourselves and clarify our actions. We’ve received a lot of criticism over the last week and thought it would be productive to provide insight into our group. We are a student group composed of people of color and white allies. We represent a diverse set of identities and backgrounds that traverse faith, class, race, nationality, gender and sexuality, who came together in a shared class, “The Rhetoric of Riot, Protest and Social Movements.” The idea for our action sprung out of a student-led activity in class one day, which focused on addressing the issue of decentralizing whiteness and Eurocentrism in the classroom at Macalester.
The activity aimed for us to apply what we have learned in class about social movements to a real life situation. The class was split into two groups, both of which came up with a different idea. One group proposed an action consisting of a day of white silence. This action would encourage white students and professors to remain silent in academic spaces for a day, as a symbolic way of recognizing and bringing attention to the space that whiteness/Eurocentrism takes up in the classroom. The second group proposed the idea of campus-wide curricula/syllabus review, which would push classes to broaden their content in terms of minimizing Eurocentrism. At the end of class, we realized that we were all excited about both these actions, and we wanted to see them actually implemented on campus, as many of us have been frustrated with some of our classes here at Mac.
Those of us who were interested in taking these ideas further convinced our professor to let us plan a campus action as an alternative final project. We wanted to plan the action for this academic year to get people on campus started in a dialogue surrounding the issue. Through this action, our hope was to be able to start the next academic year with larger community support from both students and faculty. We realized that widespread community awareness and support is the best way to reach our longer term goals. We began planning the action with the day of white silence idea in mind. However, we thought it would be prudent to contact various student orgs on campus to get more perspectives and feedback on the proposed action.
After a lot of dialogue with different student groups as well as with individual students, we decided to change our action. At this point, we had little more than a week left to come up with our new plan. The time constraint was due to the fact that we did not want the action to disrupt finals. During that week, we all attended countless meetings together where we spent hours planning and deliberating over the action, using the feedback we received to help guide us. We discussed what would make the action most effective and feasible, as well as what action would be most inclusive to all people on campus.
In case you’re not up to speed, our final action consisted of four components: a five-minute reflective classroom activity, five minutes of silence in Café Mac on April 19, a panel discussion with students of color on April 28 and our website, StopWhiteNoise.com, which serves to clarify our vision and rationale. It also elucidates our conception of centralized whiteness and Eurocentrism. We recognize the performative aspects of the first two actions. However, we disagree that they were purely performative and self-aggrandizing, especially when taken in conjunction with our panel last Tuesday.
The first action involved student representatives receiving permission from professors to hold five minutes of silence for all people in the classroom, and we passed out fliers with questions such as: how many scholars in your field can you think of who are not white? Where could more voices of color be included in your course? The second action involved holding five minutes of silence in Café Mac during dinner. The silence in both actions was meant to call attention to experiences of many people of color at Macalester, who feel silenced in the classroom and are subjected to overwhelmingly Eurocentric curricula.
We understand that these actions are small steps, but we saw them as primarily awareness-raising tactics. Many white Mac students may not realize how central and dominant white and Eurocentric frameworks are on campus, and we wanted to catalyze a dialogue. Our goal was not to trivialize or silence white voices on campus in the process. White voices shouldn’t feel threatened by a call for equity and varied educational frameworks and pedagogies in Mac classrooms. It is really up to them to give up their privileged notions and be okay with that. It means letting go of guilt and becoming attuned to racial bias. To provide a more substantive aspect to the series of actions, we planned a panel for people of color on campus to discuss their experiences, adding a personal and lived layer to the abstract concept of centralized whiteness and Eurocentrism.
Ultimately, we don’t claim to have all the answers, and we don’t have a superiority complex. As previously stated, we’re a student group composed of people of color and white allies. The white ally members of the group recognize their own complicity in racist structures and institutions, as well as their own internalized racism. We’re not here to lecture people. Our intent was to create discomfort in silence, to create a reflective space for everyone. Our hope is that people thought critically about whiteness in academia. We would like to call people into the movement, and reiterate that we would like the movement to be egalitarian. We are always open to constructive feedback and critiques, and we would love for people to get involved with fighting the issue.
We invite you to join the dialogue if you agree centralized whiteness and Eurocentrism are an issue at Mac, even if you don’t agree with our methods. It was helpful for us to receive feedback that our original idea, the Day of White Silence, would put unnecessary pressure on POC in classrooms, leading to tokenization in classes with one or two POC. We took this critique to heart and changed our entire emphasis and plan. It has also been valuable to hear that many POC on campus don’t identify with our action or our actions. We aren’t tied to our methods, and we would like to broaden our efforts, and collaborate with other student organizations, collectives and independent concerned students. Anti-Racism @ Mac has already raised many of these issues, and some of our organizers were involved with that group. We would like to emphasize that we are part of a class, and are limited by time and resources. This action is solely a starting point for future efforts.
However, we can’t deny that we’ve been disappointed by many responses and reactions to the actions. Unproductive criticism (accusatory and harmful assumptions about organizers/actions in general, racist comments, etc.) was disturbing and hurtful. We were unsure of why so many people attacked the efficacy or legitimacy of the actions and made assumptions before thoroughly reading our website, or without reaching out to us personally with concerns. Vicious and offensive vitriol won’t get us anywhere as a community. Even if you don’t identify with the Stop White Noise group, please inform yourself on the issues and consider different types of engagement before completely disregarding everything we’re proposing. We’re not the first group to bring up these issues, and we won’t be the last.
The question is, where do we go from here? Stop White Noise plans to host a moment of silence with the Macalester community every year. In the same way the events of these past two weeks have engaged the college in reflection and dialogue, it is also important to continue this dialogue as a means of evaluating our own education. The response to future moments of silence will be a form of feedback in itself, as we can use this to detect the changes in our courses, classes and colleagues. By doing so, we can begin to adjust and initiate systemic change. However, the moment of silence is only the first step and the foundation towards building a platform for us as students to invest into our education.
Stop White Noise’s long term goal is to foster campus-wide curricula and syllabi review. This means that students will receive the opportunity to challenge the academic institution in regard to whose voices should be included to strengthen the depths of our education. It would mean that we as students can also give feedback about how we believe our education should be tailored, so that it is able to nurture the growth of our intellect. As iterated previously, we ask you to help us push the limits of our education by being part of fostering this platform. We as Stop White Noise do not have all the answers, nor do we have all the voices. Therefore, we need your support and investment to make this possible.