Moving Towards a More Empathetic Hamilton

By Editorial Staff

This editorial does not seek to summarize the events involving race, inclusion and privilege that occurred in the last week; this week’s cover story thoroughly covers those issues. This editorial also does not seek to condemn either The Movement or its detractors; Facebook and Hamilton Unscrolled, The Movement’s Tumblr blog, are filled with opinions on the matter, ranging from eloquent treatises to half-baked rants.
What this editorial does seek to accomplish, however, is to place this week’s developments, particularly The Movement’s re-vamped Tumblr page, in the larger context of this year and to offer our thoughts on how a productive discussion of race, inclusion and privilege could take place.
On the first count, that of context, we must remember that our campus community has been trying to establish a multivocal dialogue about race since the beginning of the 2013-2014 academic year. In October, following the Real Talk series’ cancellation, a student group called The Movement covered the campus with posters and chalk art, reminding the Hamilton community of the ways certain voices are silenced here.
Though The Movement seemed to disappear following the catharsis of the resulting town hall meeting in October, during which students and professors aired their frustrations with Hamilton’s social and academic life, conversations about privilege and difference did not cease. On the positive side, a group of Writing Center tutors recently launched a survey, asking students to help the student body establish a “language of difference.” The survey, which is still live, asks students to share their confusions about addressing difference, as well as things they feel are essential for their peers to know about difference. The Spectator encourages all students to contribute to this effort.
But their effort, though commendable, is far from a cure-all. Just last week, Nancy Thompson emailed the entire campus community about an incident of vandalism: the words “white power” had been etched into a men’s restroom in the Field House. Although there is no reason to assume a Hamilton student is responsible for the vandalism, the presence of such loaded phrases on the Hill should give us pause as community members.
In the wake of all of these events over the last year, The Movement’s release of its constitution and re-launch of Hamilton Unscrolled reads like a response -- and an important one at that. However, for many, the group’s approach has served only to echo one of the sources of local bigotry that it seeks to condemn: Hamilton Secrets. Because these students have spread their message anonymously, as their peers have expressed ideas online without having to reveal their identities, they have created a rift between themselves and the campus where they hope to create a better sense of unity. Yet, what makes The Movement significantly less problematic than Hamilton Secrets is that the group is available by email to explain the demands enumerated in its constitution. Similarly, their site managers regulate the content of their site without suppressing thoughtful critiques. But until the members of The Movement make their identities known--at the very least, to administrators and faculty--they will not be able to foster curricular change. 
The most important issue to consider beyond The Movement’s Tumblr, though, is that of how to talk about controversial topics such as race, inclusion and privilege without force-feeding students familiar language about the importance of diversity that goes in one ear and out the other. It is a tricky balance: make the discussion too vague and students wonder why they should care in the first place; make the discussion too accusatory and students end up attacking each other. As The Spectator has stated in past editorials, the school could add more components to orientation and the first-year curriculum that encourage students to consider the variety of backgrounds their peers have come from, though deciding how to structure a class without running afoul of the aforementioned criteria would prove a difficult task.
The reality is that there is only so much the school can do to “make” a discussion occur. The deepest and most profound relationships at Hamilton usually take place among students with a shared interest--be it athletic, academic or extracurricular--and are the result of mutual choice. Required classes and additional committees may offer students more information, but the ability to empathize with others cannot be taught through a PowerPoint presentation or even a seminar. It is a decision we make every day when we encounter people whose experiences are not our own.


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