On Wednesday April 19, students unfurled banners from the second floor of the Campus Center, informing those dining below in Café Mac that “5 MINS OF SILENCE START NOW” and asking them, “Who has access to the academy?”
This action was the first in a series by a group called Stop White Noise (SWN), an effort that students undertook as part of a project for the American studies course “The Rhetoric of Riot, Protest, and Social Movements.”
The five minutes of silence at Café Mac invited those present to think about the ways that whiteness and Eurocentrism dominate spaces at Macalester. Several volunteers distributed fliers that asked students, “How many scholars in your field can you think of who are not white?” and, “Whose history are you not hearing?”
The student body responded to the five minutes of silence mostly over social media. The most heated discussion took place on Mac Confessions, a Facebook page where Macalester students submit opinions, thoughts and confessions anonymously.
Students took issue to several elements of SWN’s action. Some questioned whether the action had any effect, while others condemned it for asking silence not only of white students but also of students of color. Still others criticized the movement as being comprised of mostly white students demanding the silence of students of color.
“Anybody else find it ironic that those who seemed to organize the #stopwhitenoise protest were mostly white and literally looking down on everyone from the second floor of the CC?,” one user wrote.
Organizers responded calmly in comments to many criticisms levelled by Mac Confessions users by inviting them to their April 25 panel discussion. According to SWN’s website, the aim of the panel was “centering the voices of students of color and their experiences with whiteness and Eurocentrism in academic spaces.” SWN organizer Amelia Palacios ’18 led the discussion between Susana Cardenas-Soto ’20, Abigail Poole ’19 and Errol Phalo ’17 in a full Olin-Rice lecture hall.
The panelists discussed a variety of topics pertaining to race at Macalester. Much of the discussion centered on how students can be better allies to students of color.
“A good ally is able to recognize that hating racism and hating cissexism and sexism and transphobia and all of these awful -isms does not mean hating you as a white person,” Cardenas-Soto said. “It’s about separating your identities and realizing, ‘this isn’t about me.’”
Poole spoke in favor of call-out culture and urged students to embrace being corrected by their peers.
“I love being called out! I get to learn something,” she said. “I don’t know why people would be like, ‘oh, that’s so shitty of you to tell me that what I did was wrong!’ We need to recognize the value in call-out culture and recognize that sometimes being told that you did something shitty doesn’t make you a shitty person.”
After the panel, the SWN organizers took questions from the audience about the Café Mac action and the the controversy that it caused. They addressed one of the most pervasive criticisms posted on Mac Confessions: that the white organizers had tokenized the students of color in the group to legitimize their message.
“I didn’t feel tokenized by anybody in the group,” Cardenas-Soto said. They emphasized that the coursework had given all of the students a good framework for discussing issues of race. “I trusted every single one of my white peers to know exactly what the problem is and to understand their implications in it and to understand that they have a part in stopping this.”
Victoria Guillemard ’18 responded to criticisms about the message sent by having white organizers ask for silence from students.
“I did notice a lot of people really uncomfortable with me handing out fliers or asking them to join in silence and they felt pressure to be silent, and I didn’t intend for that,” Guillemard said.
“When we say silence, we’re not saying, ‘I as a white person am silencing you.’ I’m inviting you into a space of silence and in recognition of what’s going on on campus,” she continued.
Organizers further explained the reasoning of the Café Mac action and spoke about the future of SWN in an interview with The Mac Weekly.
Maddie Schumacher ’19, who held one of the banners over Café Mac, clarified why white students were most visible during the action.
“If we were to get in trouble, the people dropping the banners would be the most visible members of our group, so it made sense for them to have the most privilege protection from the administration,” Schumacher said.
The main long-term goal of SWN is creating a student review board to evaluate the syllabi of Macalester classes. According to their website, this board would “ultimately hop[e] to dismantle whiteness and eurocentrism in the classroom.”
Frances Matejcek ’19 welcomed criticism and input from the Macalester community.
“We have this idea for the curricular review board, but I feel like that’s an idea, but what else can we do?” she said. “But maybe that’s not the best idea, so it’s really about bringing more people in to figure out where we should go.”