Ghavri: You're Not Woke

Letters of solidarity do not change the experiences of marginalized students.

by Anmol Ghavri | 2/16/18 12:30am

Like many of my peers, I was baffled at the guest column published in The Dartmouth claiming that it was implausible that this year’s First-Year Trips director and assistant director could have disproportionately selected women for the Trips directorate based on merit alone. The author of the column “You’re Not Tripping” has every right to hold his views, but I am not going to legitimize them by repeating them here.

A binary seems to have been created where one can either support the author’s right to free speech — whether or not an individual agrees with his views — and thus are normalizing the views expressed in the column or stand in “solidarity” with minorities and women on campus through allegedly woke keyboard activism. I would like to offer a third approach. Instead of making the controversy over this column about them, their conspicuous “woke-ness” and the organizations they are a part of, students should highlight and support in word and deed the ongoing bottom-up work done by students and student organizations dealing with representation, advocacy and protection of minorities, LGBTQIA+ students, people of color, women and low-income students.

The views expressed in “You’re Not Tripping” have received excessive attention, and the author will have to live knowing that these statements are a record of his immaturity and entitlement. That this column was published amidst the “Me Too” movement and at the beginning of Black History Month shows an incredible tone-deafness and lack of perspective on the part of the author. Nevertheless, I hope he grows in his remaining time at the College and comes to think in more sophisticated terms about representation, discrimination, intersectionality and their manifestations on campus.

The fact that it took an instance of people of the author’s background — white men — not being adequately represented in an organization for him to be outraged shows that he has not considered that his background has always been a boon for him in most endeavors. That this was the spark that lit his sense of injustice shows his silence on ongoing underrepresentation of women and minorities in myriad institutions and organizations. It seems he cares more about representation when white men are suddenly underrepresented than the far more common experience of discrimination going the other way.

As a person of color and first-generation American, it was certainly reassuring that so much of the campus community holds more nuanced views on diversity, representation and the everyday struggles of marginalized students based on the myriad statements and messages of solidarity that were sent out last week. However, I would like to offer a more sobering interpretation of this controversy that moves beyond the dichotomy between freedom of speech and letters standing in solidarity with the need for representation and diversity.

The vitriolic and simplistic views expressed in “You’re Not Tripping,” along with the messages of support and solidarity, do not fundamentally change a single thing about the real experiences, alienation and burdens faced by minority students. I agree with Matthew Magann ’21’s column in The Dartmouth, “An Unjust ‘Solidarity,’” which contends that “claiming that an op-ed constitutes violence … trivializes the all-too-real violence faced by oppressed groups.” Strongly worded statements, letters of “solidarity” and attempts to appear woke through keyboard activism do nothing to change the everyday alienation and institutionalized burdens placed on these students. What do students or student organizations’ purported solidarity mean in practice?

Rather than making the controversy ignited by “You’re Not Tripping” about student organizations and students themselves through letters of solidarity and Facebook comments, members of the Dartmouth community should return agency to the organizations and women and minority students who put their beliefs into practice. It’s important to recognize the work, past and ongoing, by student and administrative organizations to implement change, represent some of the most marginalized students on campus and make their lives better from the bottom-up beyond typing and emailing letters.

As just one timely example, Dartmouth’s Coalition for Immigration Reform, Equality and Dreamers has been extensively engaged with the current immigration debate and are working and lobbying to protect immigrant students at Dartmouth whose livelihoods and safety are in danger every day because of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program’s limbo status. Their work is particularly important because of Dartmouth’s lack of action regarding the potential for state violence in the form of deportation and denial of resources to its undocumented students.

Dozens of identity-based organizations provide an outlet for minority students to express themselves and lobby on behalf of their communities. Student advocacy, mentorship and training organizations have been and will continue to work toward improving the Dartmouth experience and campus safety of low-income, first-generation and minority students, students of color, LGBTQIA+ students and women on campus. These organizations include, but are by no means limited to, the Movement Against Violence, the numerous identity-based organizations housed under the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, the Student Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault, Dartmouth Spectra and Asian/American Students for Action. The community should highlight, support and engage with their work.

The publishing of “You’re Not Tripping” immediately changes nothing — it only reveals what we should have already known and what women and minorities have long known. Students should know that some of their peers hold these simplistic views and are ignorant of the everyday struggles of minority students who feel the need to justify their presence and value in spaces on campus. If people truly care about the representation and lives of women and brown and black bodies and are not just looking to be conspicuously woke, they should put those values into practice in both word and deed and support and highlight students and organizations and their activities to effect actual change. If students actually want to stand in solidarity with marginalized students, instead of bombarding Dartmouth’s listserv with messages of solidarity because of a juvenile op-ed to the point where these messages lose meaning, they ought to take action and get involved with organizations doing work on the ground.