Liberal arts

Bard: The Secretly Bigoted Bubble

Less than two weeks after the vandalizing of a student space dedicated to diversity, another strike of racial controversy sparked the Bard College Campus. Bard, located in upstate NY, is a notoriously hyperliberal institution. With its dedication to promoting various cultures and lifestyles, Bard hosts annual events which celebrate the differences of the diverse pool of its community members, a few being: Gender Blender, Queer Prom, ISO (International Students Organization) Culture Show, and much more. But with the racially-tense events that have been transpiring on the predominantly-white campus as of late, one might not have ever guessed it.

There’s something happening at Bard College, and it’s not good.

Freshman Orlando Riley awoke from his nap this Tuesday afternoon in Bard residence hall ‘Sycamore’ to find that a note had been slipped under his door. The note, signed anonymously, read:

“Dear Orlando,

I refuse to reveal my identity to you but I have some things on my mind I want to get off. Number one, you don’t fit in as a Sycamorian or a Tree House Resident. I wish you would request a different room assignment. Secondly, you don’t fit in as a Bardian. Maybe you should transfer schools and go back home. You’re just too BLACK. You walk around as though you are the king of this campus and you’re not. You are just a peasant to me. You will always be a peasant to me. I hope this note finds you well. See you around BLACK PEASANT.

Sincerely,

Someone You Know On Campus”

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Just two weeks prior to this incident, a student space at Bard belonging to the Multicultural Diversity Committee was broken into in the middle of the night and vandalized with spray-painted racist caricatures.

 

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Racist graffiti on the walls of the Multicultural Diversity Committee’s space at Bard College.

This particular incident followed the successful ‘Black Out Bard’ protest—a demonstration organized by students which served the purpose of standing in solidarity with Mizzou, speaking out against police brutality, and providing the white population some personal anecdotal accounts by students of color on their encounters with racism on campus and beyond—which occurred on the campus just a couple of weeks before.

enhanced-32214-1449726389-9 Keegan Holden

A speaker at the “Black Out Bard” protest on November 18th.

enhanced-10402-1449726614-5 Keegan Holden

Students at Bard College speak out against racism at the “Black Out Bard” protest on November 18th.

Recognizing that this personal attack on him was the product of a persisting racial animosity on campus, Orlando promptly shared a photo of the note, along with his personal statement regarding the situation, via Facebook:

“If anyone could, please send up a word of prayer whoever wrote this note. I find it very disturbing and hurtful. I wish someone would be MAN or WOMAN enough to show face or admit to doing this. Please pray for their parents as well for raising them in such a manner. I’m hurting deeper than anyone can imagine right now. I want to break this letter down as well. First off, what does it take to fit into a dorm that I pay $15,000 to live in. I won’t request a different room but I dare you to come in while I’m awake. Second, what does it take for me to fit in at a school where I pay the exact same tuition fee as everyone else. Yes, I’m on a scholarship and have support from financial aid but guess what I’m still in the same educational standpoint as the other 1500 students on this campus. I won’t transfer or go back home. What’s “too BLACK”? How do I walk around as though I’m the king of this campus when I’m secluded to my room 15 hours out of the day? I am probably the most humble person on this campus. And PEASANT!!!!!!???? I’ve never asked nor begged nor wanted for anything. Especially from a Bardian. I appreciate those who are supporting me. Share this and make it viral. This will not go unheard of. ‪#‎BLACKLIVESMATTER‬‬‬ ‪#‎MYLIFEMATTERS‬‬‬ ‪#‎ORLANDOMATTERS‬‬‬”

Since posting this message, Riley has received an outpouring of love and support from his Facebook friends, and more specifically, his Bardian peers. As of Wednesday evening, Riley’s original post received over 223 shares; and the number is constantly growing. The incident is (again) sparking a fresh dialogue within the Bard community about racism on campus.

Some students, such as Bard sophomore Elena Lefevre, are hyperaware of the microaggressive atmosphere that the campus can illuminate. Lefevre elucidates her disgust with this statement:

“I’m appalled by the note. And I’m really shocked not only because of its racist content, but also of the really distinct identification with Bard that the writer had; that the writer claimed that this individual did not fit in at Bard… that what is Bard is this racial attitude.

This particular note is so particularly graphic; this is not a microaggression, it’s an aggression. One hundred percent. And it catches people’s attention in ways that microaggressions do not, so while I’m completely abhorred of the fact that this person decided to write this, I guess we can find value in its ability to shock those who have otherwise remained unshocked.”

Others have sympathetic, but less drastic perceptions of Bard’s racial dynamic. Says Bard senior Zachary Goodman of the recent controversies on campus:

“I think this is ridiculous that this is still happening in 2015. I think this community in general is very open and close-knit, and I think opinions of certain people are saying otherwise… It undermines the community that a lot of us have, which is completely unfair and completely unsupportive.

This recent thing is kind of ridiculous, for lack of a better word, and it doesn’t reflect anything that people on this campus believe. It’s just this one individual who doesn’t share the same views with anybody on campus, and quite frankly, doesn’t share the views of any rational person.”

But despite the fact that certain students are “appalled” and select Bard student organizations have been consistent in organizing panels and protests to fight inherent institutional racism in the United States and abroad, there is no denying that harmful discriminations survive within the “Bard bubble”—and most often, anonymously. Consequently, students have been expressing their disdain with the mobile application ‘Yik Yak’, which allows people to pseudo-anonymously create and view discussion threads within a 5-mile radius of them. This app has been becoming increasingly less popular over the past year; the primary reason for this being the offensive and often racist content that has been posted within the Bard community.

In late September, a Bard student who was interviewed for an anonymous photo blog entitled ‘Melanin Confessions’, shared their personal battle with racism on various social media accounts, including this particular application.

“If I had to speak on one instance where there was racial tension involved… it would be last semester… when, on one of Bard’s online forums, some people were posting vaguely-coded racist things… There was one particular dude who was kinda like the ring leader; the person who was creating most of the conversation. He was using coded racist language, so I called him out on it. We got into a little bit of an argument—like two or three comments each—and then I was pretty much done… He wouldn’t budge. He refused to hold himself accountable and I think there was a point where I realized that I was not going to get through to him, ‘cus to him I’m probably just another person of color just ‘bitching about their problems’, which he sees as irrelevant. So I said ‘It is no longer my responsibility to take care of this dude, white community get your shit together and get your boy’. After that, it became this long tirade of people coming after me online… and I didn’t find out about it until later when people kept calling me and texting me to check in because apparently, on Facebook and Yik Yak, there was this huge conversation centering around me and where my name was present; you know, calling me racist, harassing me; essentially crucifying me online, and all because I said the white community on campus is not infallible; that it’s not beyond reproach; that it’s not beyond accountability. ‘Cus we live in a place where Bard is seen as this liberal blue bubble in a sea of red conservatism and because of that we see ourselves as devoid of everything bad in the world; devoid of oppressive structures, devoid of racial politics. And we kinda live in this colorblind fantasy where, if anyone tries to break that fantasy, everyone attacks the person who is trying to break the silence about racism on campus… I’m glad it happened to me because, one, I think that I’m at a place in my life where I’ve dealt with enough of that, and I can take it, so it didn’t bother me as much when I found out about it… and also because, for a lot of people, it sparked a huge conversation about what race meant on campus. Before, I feel like the people I was talking to on campus about racism—it just didn’t connect for them that this is a reality that we live in. And it wasn’t until they saw this physical, electronic representation of racism that it just kinda slapped them in their faces and finally woke them up and they realized that ‘Hey, we are not above this’. So I think that kinda broke the Bard bubble… and just went out in ripples. And, for about two weeks after that happened, people would ask me if I was okay; I actually had an administrator come up to me and ask me: ‘Hey, do you wanna check in; do you wanna talk about it? I’m here if you need me.’ So, like, I think aside from showing other people that racism exists at Bard, it showed me who my allies were, and who is willing to break that bubble for me, or with me. So, yeah, I think that’s probably the most significant racial experience I’ve had here at Bard.”

enhanced-8817-1449727155-1  Bianka Bell / Via Facebook: melaninconfessions

The same blog exploits other micro-aggressive racial situations that have repeated themselves on Bard’s campus.

So, taking into account both Bard’s “progressive” reputation and the contentious occurrences that have been ensuing there, there must be some enquiring as to the fate of race relations on college campuses nationwide; especially those of which are not as inherently “liberal”. With the emergence of social movements such as Black Lives Matter, where there is very strong and often violent backlash, it seems society’s transgressions are beginning to come into light. And this causes one to wonder: If our millennials can’t seem to live out Dr. King’s Dream, where should we expect our society to be in the generation to come?

Riley himself sees an encouraging outcome in all that has arisen:

“I wanted to see how Bard as a community would respond to this and I am satisfied to see how much support has come from it.”

But to that affirmation, one may feel inclined to ask: When will this support no longer be needed?

 

 

Bianka Bell

The “African Booty Scratcher” Was Just a Fad in 6th Grade but the Ignorance Lives On at Bard.

When I was in elementary school, if you were African then you were infamously dubbed, an “African booty scratcher”. No questions asked. No chances to plead your case by showing the other girls how well you pressed your hair that morning. No time to repronounce the word “school” so that the “l” rolled off your tongue the way it did so effortlessly for the other students. No chances.

 

And you still had the burn on your index finger from the hot iron that you rushed to use that morning and the word “school” was still stuck in the back of your throat with the other words you were forced to swallow on a daily basis because they didn’t sound “smart” enough, or “white” enough. The whiteness that you were unconsciously forced to adopt grew like tapeworms inside your belly until you were robbed of your own identity and left empty. Robbed and terrified, searching for your blackness as if it disappeared in the night.

 

When I left my friends and family behind early morning in August 2013, I felt assured that my new liberal home would welcome me in all my black, awkward, glory with warmth and outstretched arms.  Bard College did, for the most part. The thing that they don’t tell you about predominately white small liberal arts colleges is that from the moment you walk in the classroom you are supersaturated in whiteness. You are made to believe that you live and eat among liberal, open-minded people because they are vocally in support of LGBT rights and once worked for an Obama campaign.  You quickly become the token black friend that makes everyone feel better about their own lack of exposure to diversity and professors refer you to Jane Duffy when you have an issue before checking to see if you even know what BEOP is.

 

What I currently find to be most troubling part of my overall positive experience at Bard is the amount of sheer ignorance that comes out of first year seminar (FYSEM), and the stark parallel between my experience as the ostracized African girl in 6th grade and the only black student in a FYSEM class dominated by a single white narrative. Students who make comments such as “Muslims are violent anti-Semitics” and “Black student hate FYSEM because it is too hard for them”, will go through an entire four years of the Bard Curriculum without ever being corrected by someone other than an exasperated student.

 

Hegeman 203, fourth seat from the right side, closest to the chalkboard.

 

You sit silently in your seat and wait for your professor to take charge as the facilitator in the classroom and call out the racist comment. Silence. Time and time again as a student of color in the classroom you are left to defend an entire race on your own. Defending your views against 11 other white voices that build off each other’s ignorance and grow like wildfire wears you down. You ultimately decide to speak up again, this time hopeful that your professor will say something, anything to validate your presence in the classroom as more than just the appointed overnight expert on Olaudah Equiano, the black slave. “We are getting too far off topic, who wants to read the next passage?” The routine is always the same. It is acceptable to go off on a 25-minute tangent about a topic completely unrelated to the class discussion but when it is time to confront race there is never enough time. Students of color are not afforded the luxury of choosing what we adopt in our academic vocabulary and what we shy away from. There exists only a single white-male narrative that we are forced to master. Our peers and professors leave us with the burden of teaching to them a narrative that they are too afraid to learn because they fear that they “won’t do it enough justice”. We are all here at Bard College, A Place to Think, and it is time that we all start doing our own thinking as a moral duty to the community. If there wasn’t enough time to discuss the “uncomfortable” topic of race last class then in between the two days before the next class we all ought to do a little research and confront it. The First Year Seminar cannon is under threat and we, not just students of color, but students of Bard College who pay over $60,000 for a college education will  not continue to read about the same old white men and the white-washed narrative for another 30 years. There may not have been “enough time” in the last class discussion but at the next class meeting, every single person will be held accountable for knowing the other side of the narrative, including the professor, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be. Students of color are uncomfortable every single time the white liberals separate race from liberalism in the classroom. The issue of FYSEM will not go away until it is properly solved, not dressed in a European disguise of a solution.

 

Abiba Salahou

 

 

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My “Liberal” Experience

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“Bard claims to be a very progressive, liberal minded space and institution. However, conversations around race and socioeconomic class are avoided. Personally, people do not want to have those conversations because they do not feel comfortable building a community around those topics. This makes me question how ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ Bard really is, and what those labels even mean. I’ve also noticed gender inequality and issues faced by the LGBTQ community are always at the forefront of conversations at Bard. So, there’s far less talk about race and socioeconomic class. All these issues are extremely important and need to be talked about, but I think the vast majority of Bard students are concerned with (white) feminism and gender more than race and class.”

Dariel Vasquez, Bard ’17