The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Challenging the know-it-alls around us, and ourselves

By Tinbete Ermyas

My friends think I’m a know-it-all. And, like most people with know-it-all friends, they’ve challenged many of the things I say. It is for this reason that I am not surprised that Josh Jorgensen’s article last week, “A closer look at the multicultural fervor,” directly challenged my stances on the false sense of multiculturalism I have felt during my time at Macalester.
I really didn’t have a problem with Jorgensen’s article. In fact, I’m happy he wrote it. If it’s one thing I have learned to appreciate since writing for The Mac Weekly, it is the engagement of students with the articles that are written. I have to admit, it has taught me a lot and has made me appreciate open dialogue on multiculturalism at Macalester.

However, I think that Jorgensen’s critiques and challenges of my experiences here at Macalester are somewhat uninformed and don’t necessarily address the complexities and nuances of what many students of color on this campus experience.
Jorgensen wonders what “the response would be” if there were “no persons of color on boards and committees?” I’m sure it wouldn’t be good. But is silencing one minority voice any better? I mean, it’s no wonder it’s been hard for Macalester to retain faculty of color and we have such a high turnover rate. I think you too would get sick of not being listened to and just being relegated to the “minority” voice.
It’s similar to feeling “alienated” by the multicultural movement due to differences between the majority (the “blind advocates” of multiculturalism) and the minority (students who feel marginalized by the movement), something with which Jorgensen is familiar. Perhaps Jorgensen can help students figure out the best ways in which to handle situations in which a minority is silenced. Until then, tokenism really isn’t doing much but mocking the pillar of multiculturalism that Macalester holds.

Jorgensen also wonders “what if boards and committees were chock full of minority voices, what then?” Well, that hasn’t happened yet, so perhaps even addressing this concern is ridiculous.
But in all seriousness, what if that were the case? Hmmm…maybe, just maybe some multicultural analysis will become central to a committee? The thought makes me smile, but I’m not holding my breath.
Jorgensen challenges me to “name names” when it comes to accusing Macalester of being racist. Well, the truth is, I could very well name names. Yet it was my personal choice not to. I realize the benefits of marking particular people as racist, namely the fact that we as humans love to put a face to a name. But I think that a problem arises if I were to name names: it would only hold those blamed for racism accountable for their actions.

In order for there to be an analysis of the power and privilege that I propose and that Jorgensen critiques, the whole College has to be accountable for multiculturalism at Macalester. Yes, I sure did accuse the institution and adminstration of being racist, and I think that it is in a lot of ways.
However, I refrain from using particular names because it takes away the agency that students have to change the status quo and establishes that only a few people are racist. And, in all honesty, I think we are all a little guilty of some of the racism that arises on this campus.
And like Jorgensen wished I would come out and call Macalester racist, I wish he would come out and say one of the things he really meant in his article: that he really doesn’t like the way multiculturalism is practiced at Macalester. I am sorry that Jorgensen feels “alienated” by the multicultural “movement” at Macalester, but I would ask him to really consider why and link that to how some students of color might feel within the ‘greater’ Macalester community.

Is it really because we are blind advocates of this cause, or is it deeper than that? Are his accusations that we only offer “disparaging critiques” words that are covered by the very same supposed veil of civility he argues I hide behind? Quite possibly.
I personally feel that if Jorgensen has faith in “students’ ability to achieve great things when they really want to” then I challenge him to make himself included in the multicultural “movement” on campus, which I think would be a lot harder to do than merely writing a response to the lived experience of students of color in The Mac Weekly.
And I challenge the rest of the Macalester community to do the same. Like Jorgensen, I agree that it is the students that can formulate the way the discussion of multiculturalism around campus will occur. I think the only way to go about this is to be truthful to the pillars of Macalester, acknowledge our power, and stand up to it.
Perhaps this means that we all have to be know-it-alls, or at the very least, challenge them. The important thing is to learn from the conversations that arise from these disagreements.

If that can be done, then multiculturalism at Macalester will have a much brighter future. I just know it.

Tinbete Ermyas ’08 is the main contributor to the “From the Margin to the Center” Column for The Mac Weekly Opinion Section. Contact him at [email protected].

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