Simineri: Reasserting Safe Spaces

by Nicole Simineri | 11/4/15 6:30pm

In his Oct. 28 column for The Dartmouth Review, “Finding a Place at Dartmouth: Thoughts on Diversity Panels,” columnist Sandor Farkas ’17 unleashed a wave of criticisms against diversity panels. He berates their participants as “living, shouting proof that Soviet-era Stalinist propaganda” exists on college campuses, and cites them as spaces where “independent and...conservative” views are “unwelcome” and even attacked. As evidenced from such comments, it seems that Farkas has failed to learn anything from the panels about diversity or the issues that minority groups face. Rather, his column is teeming with the entitlement, disrespect and ignorance that come with an unwillingness to think critically about issues of race, sex and gender. His column instead focuses on white, male discomfort and wrongly shifts the blame for minority issues stemming from systems of oppressions to those fighting these systems.

Farkas begins by remarking on his annoyance at the “flood of emails that advertised groups and events utterly unrelated to [his] interests and identity,” such as the Women of Color Collective. This annoyance demonstrates entitlement and a lack of understanding, as these organizations exist to create safe spaces for groups that are underrepresented and vulnerable. Spreading information about such organizations — especially on what Farkas himself admits to being a predominately white, “ivory tower” of a college campus — is more important than a cluttered inbox.

Diversity panels, too, are partly meant to be safe spaces — places where people are free to express their experiences, thoughts and feelings without fear of retribution. Yet, Farkas describes many of the diversity panelists as aggressive, even accusing them of contributing to a culture that “ignore[s] or attack[s] the diversity of identities and beliefs around them.” These diversity panels, however, were not created for his comfort or for the entertainment of individuals who attend only to feel like self-proclaimed “fearless” heroes of conservatism or to satisfy a half-hearted attempt at understanding. Rather, they were created to discuss and spread awareness about issues that affect people of color, women and the LGBTQIA+ community — not to cater to the needs of white, heterosexual, cisgendered men.

Moreover, citing anger to derail the arguments of minority groups is a classic tactic used by privileged groups to disregard these arguments. Although angry men are seen as assertive, intimidating and influential, women are dismissed as emotional and irrational. The damaging trope of the “angry black woman” likewise serves to dismiss rational feelings and opinions that are inconvenient to privileged groups. The common sentiment that anger invalidates arguments is thus a product of kyriarchy — which takes into account intersectional systems of oppression, unlike patriarchy, which only focuses on binary gender.

Additionally, anger is a product of passion. Those who become angry in an argument do so because they care that much and have that much at stake. Anger should not be used to dismiss, but to support certain arguments. In a country where a disproportionate number of unarmed people of color are killed by the police with no justifiable reason and where the number of transgender women being murdered is at an all-time high, it is understandable that those with similar identifications would be angry. To minority groups, diversity panels are not just about slight discomfort — this is about their lives. For those who do not share such identifications, it is not nor ever will be their place to dictate what is “appropriate.”

Finally, Farkas’ column implies that systems of oppression do not exist and portrays minority groups as complainers who have no one to blame for their problems but themselves. Farkas writes, “Whenever I hear someone blame ‘systems of oppression,’ for something that is wrong in his life, I see a desperate person who is trying to place his faults onto the shoulders of others.” But personal flaws cannot explain the disproportionate number of people of color in prison and the systemic — and often fatal — violence against women and the LGBTQIA+ community. Rather, this appalling reality is the result of oppressive systems that privilege white, heterosexual, cisgendered men at the expense of everyone else.

To support his discriminatory opinion, Farkas then quotes former College President Ernest Martin Hopkins as stating, “...the greatest weakness in American society at the present day is the disposition of individuals to avoid responsibility and to delegate this to outside agencies.” These are the words of yet another white man reaping the benefits of systems of oppressions — and at a time when Dartmouth excluded women, no less. As such, this person’s words are old in both time and in concept, and the fact that Farkas seemingly identifies with them is disturbing.

No privileged group is entitled to minority groups’ spaces or time. If a white, heterosexual, cisgendered man who shares Farkas’ views seeks spaces where he can be fully and completely comfortable, then he need only walk outside — and I would be happy to show him the door.