Frequently Asked Questions of Concerned Students 2015 #IAmFordHall2015

1.Why are you telling me it is violent to ask you certain questions? I just want to know more. Why are you all preventing dialogue from happening? How can we be productive if we don’t have productive dialogue?  

Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians...gay men…[and trans folks] are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.” (Lorde 284)

-  Audre Lorde. “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”. Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Thought   

One form of violence sustained by white supremacy is the incapability for our oppression to fully translate to white faculty, staff, and peers. White supremacy and white privilege sustain each other’s stratification in our society. White privilege is the unconscious participation within systems and institutions that establish whiteness as the norm. One of the many violent symptoms of white supremacy is a structural and shared blindness that makes our struggle illegible to white bodies.

When we are approached by white students, feverishly and obsessively demanding language from us on what is going on, why we matter, why they feel left out, etc. amidst tons of intense work in which we are creating and disseminating accessible literature about our demands and updates, living in several days now of occupation, trying to finish our personal homework while fight for our personal protection, studying for finals, forgetting to eat, skipping work, actively organizing, facilitating joy, calling our families, loving our partners, loving ourselves, and fighting against the relentless exhaustion of racism, these interrogations of our movement (which is not a movement only isolated to Brandeis, as Black Lives Matter, is a national and international movement) become violent for us.

To ensure our own safety, we are demanded to coddle the fragility of white supremacist ignorance. We are demanded to make others feel comfortable, in spaces we have carved out as safe, in order to ensure our continued safety. This is equally violent. We want people to stay informed and abreast on our updates! We want folks to ask questions! We want and encourage critical dialogue! However, we refuse to engage with anyone who believes the safety and liberation of students is an opinion - who themselves would not stand for questions that at their core ask, Why do you want to matter so badly? Haven’t we given you enough? Will you make yourself feel more unsafe for me by telling me why you don’t feel safe so I can tell you how you should feel?

We are being demanded to answer why we matter and why we want others to believe that as well in the very space we are occupying and reclaiming while we simultaneously work towards other measures of deconstructing our oppression. Those interrogations become very distracting when there is available literature we are actively sharing and writing in order to share what this work is about. Marginalized people, offering up this education, is a gift! Please take it as such.

This text serves as defense for our community to protect us from microaggressions and the whip so often echoed in the English language. When we are then asked to explicitly, kindly, and briefly state to someone why this is violent for us and then to have them dismiss the threat and trigger the violence they are enacting upon us creates, perpetuates our unsafety and is often traumatic for many of us. If a person of color tells you that what you are doing or saying is violent to them, reflect on this admonition, and then please respect their safety and request to leave their vicinity, as opposed to perpetuating said acknowledged violence!  

It is not easy to live daily life as a Black person at a private white institution. It is not easy to live as a Black person, anywhere. It is not easy to not feel cared for at the very place that has offered up language for yourself to demand care from it. Black people’s ensured safety and liberation is not an opinion but is somehow always made into one and this serves as a covertly violent measure in which we are consistently demanded to prove why we ask for recognition, representation, truth, justice, and care from our university.  

2. Why not other people of color too? Why the focus on Blackness?

Number 5 of “The List of Demands[1]” by the Concerned Students 2015 states that the Psychological Counseling Center must, “employ additional clinical staff of color within the Psychological Counseling Center in order to provide culturally relevant support to students of all backgrounds.” The reason we do not use “people of color” as an umbrella term for this movement is because systems of oppression do not work in a nuanced intersectionality against all people of color in the same ways. Intersectionality is not a universal experience throughout oppressed groups. Systematized anti-blackness is quite specific. People who experience intersectional oppression have the specificity to microscopically reflect about the horror and affect of oppression while utilizing their specific experience also assisting in its deconstruction. Black folks, and specifically Black women, experience a distinct and specific locus of white supremacy as their oppression is often intersectional.[2]

Black lives among all communities of color (for Blackness is diasporic and not exclusive to American exceptionalism[3]) are the most marginalized group. Thus, the oppressions within other racial minority groups is magnified throughout the experience of Blackness. However, in a larger sense, all of the demands inherently help the entire Brandeis community. Movements that ensure liberation and equality for the most marginalized communities ask that unjust structures be identified, examined, and changed, eventually helping all people. Our demands insist on putting an end to structural power being used intentionally or unintentionally to reinforce inequalities based on race.

For example, Number 3 in the “List of Demands” by the Concerned Students of 2015 requires Brandeis University to: “Implement educational pedagogies and curriculums that increase racial awareness and inclusion within ALL departments and schools.” [4] Hence, this initiative considers the violent spaces, language, and sense of displacement experienced by and directed towards students of color when faculty, staff, and other peers communicate violently towards them - this includes racially insensitive language when students of color are asked to speak on not only their personal identity, but also on behalf of their entire race on a particular issue as a representative of a diverse cultural group that is not monolithic but is demanded to become one-dimensional for easier digestion.

We hope that these issues will be addressed with a culturally conscientious, intensive, and detailed training that includes methods of NON-violent communication for Brandeis faculty, staff, and students to better care for students of color.
In all communities of color the people who are the most melanated are the most marginalized. These demands are focused on the Black people and oppressed people of all cultural backgrounds, not just African-Americans, and our liberation will ultimately provide freedom for all. Furthermore, the occupying movement welcomes people of color with their demands as well, we support you all, we are concerned about you, and we SEE you, so allow your voices to be heard in solidarity with the Concerned Students of 2015.

3. Whiteness struggles too! Why are Black people complaining?!

The struggles of this movement are ones that call the safety of Black lives into question. The question is not, Are white people also living hard lives? but rather, Are white people fearing for their lives with the same nuance Black people are fearing for their lives? Whose lives are statistically more likely to be spent in prison? Whose lives are more likely to be executed at the hands of police? Whose lives and experiences are more honored and recognized in practice both systemically and relationally at Brandeis? Black people are demanding change because we are experiencing a naturalized genocide that is not only severely explicit in the media, but also in the deafening absence of our representation at institutions of higher education.This systemic oppression is not only evident on college campuses, but also in the larger macrocosm of structural violence experienced by Black people, including but not limited to: the disproportionate, mass incarceration of Black and Brown bodies both domestically and globally, nationwide residential racial segregation[5], the premature deaths of Renisha McBride, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and the horrendous and untimely murders of many other innocent Black people. If you live in a country, in which everyday, for 365 days a year, a life is taken, an exorbitant amount of folks from your community are imprisoned, your children remain under-serviced in education, resources, and support for hundreds of years in comparison to their peers without pause, that becomes a prolonged, structural genocide. Black people are in a domestically and globally violent relationship to the powers of white supremacy, as we have been met with barriers that have been written into law both explicitly and implicitly.

4. I agree with the cause, but why occupy the space?

The simple answer is space = power, recognition, legitimacy, and a sense of belonging. To upset power you must repossess space. Historically, Black bodies have been perpetually displaced from citizenship, property and our humanity through ways in which trauma inscribes itself upon our bodies, through social and genetic inheritance. This is a response to our sense of displacement and lack of access to communal and diversified space. Emotional space means building community that works for us and physical space means putting pause on ‘business as usual’ in the administration to demand a space that implements equity for students of color. Occupying space also shows the extent to which people are committed to these issues as they are willing to put their most precious asset on the line (their physical bodies and spirits).  

5. What are these violences and injustices people are talking about? Can you give examples?  

First and foremost, this is a violent question because it essentially implies that the need for proof of harm is more important than addressing the harms. When this question is asked, it invokes this sentiment instead, “I don't experience violence, so I don't feel it exists. Would you mind in addition to experiencing these violences, do the labor of explaining them and proving that they are real?”

Example:

Person 1: I have a stomachache. Please stop only providing food that upsets my stomach.

Person 2: Can you prove how and why your stomach hurts? Can you give examples of this pain? I can eat this food and I'm fine! How do I know for sure you're not lying?

Think about the trust that goes into believing someone when they say they are experiencing something that you don't see or feel. Think about the aspects of people's identities that expose them to certain injustices (or discomforts) that they should not have to prove exist just because you are a student at this university or a human in this world and not experiencing them.

6. Why are they demanding so much? Are these demands reasonable?

These demands are not only calling for direct action but also serve as a performative gesture to emphasize that our bodies are in a constant state of perpetual emergency that we are demanding to be remedied by our administration. We demand this administration to acknowledge and further foster a safe environment for students of color that is met by way of our demands. If our demands are not met, the university perpetuates their complicity in our unsafety. Through not answering our demands, they imply that our safety, our freedom, our rights, our presence, our breath, are unreasonable. What can be said about these demands is that they are attainable. Interim President Lisa Lynch has already detailed in her most recent summary of events[6] the ways in which she believes some of these demands are attainable and are in development. However, not enough has been done in the effort to foster spaces where Black bodies can safely exist in community at Brandeis.

Historically, similar arguments have been made about creating spaces for Black people within institutions. For example, in 1969, the Black students that paved the way for this moment at Brandeis, occupied what was once previously known as Ford Hall, and fought for an African and Afro-American Studies department amongst other demands.[7] This occurred in light of similar excuses our current administration outlined implying there is not enough funding, not enough candidates, not enough time, and not enough support. And yet, those demands were met and now we have a African and Afro-American Studies department today.

Their demands probably seemed equally outlandish in 1969, but their resilience was unwavering and today, we stand gifted with their labor at the hallmark of a rigorous, critical, and invested AAAS department, that through interdisciplinarity, intellectualism, and intersectionality, enacts immediate social transformation. It is important to think of the ways in which the AAAS department is seen as commonplace within Brandeis, though when cited historically is especially distinct. The administration and adamant critics love to position social change as unreasonable and unmanageable when in retrospect they continue to reap the benefits of our labor.

7. How can I help?

https://www.facebook.com/fordhall2015/photos/a.983260328403029.1073741829.981571998571862/983540701708325/?type=3

 


[1] “List of Demands presented to Brandeis University by Concerned Students 2015” on November 19, 2015 at 1:30pm

[2] Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review 43.6 (1991): 1241–1299. Web.

[3] Gerund, Katharina. Transatlantic Cultural Exchange: African American Women's Art and Activism in West Germany. N.p.: Bielefeld, 2014. Print.

[4] “List of Demands presented to Brandeis University by Concerned Students 2015” on November 19, 2015 at 1:30pm

[5] Charles, Camille Zubrinsky. “The Dynamics of Racial Residential Segregation”. Annual Review of Sociology 29 (2003): 167–207. Web.

[6] Lynch, L. “A Message to the Brandeis Community”. Email sent from Lynch to Brandeis community at large. Nov. 22, 2015. Web.

[7] “The Student Occupation of Ford Hall”, January 1969, Brandeis University Archive. Web. https://lts.brandeis.edu/research/archives-speccoll/exhibits/ford/occupation/index.html