Op-Eds Opinion

Beckford: I am still hopeful that Black representation will improve

By Rowan Beckford
rbeckford@springfieldcollege.edu

Springfield College alum and current faculty member, Alanna Grady, wrote a piece in The Springfield Student several years ago attesting to a practiced distinction between Springfield College and “actual Springfield.”

She refutes it thus: “Springfield College is actual Springfield.” I find that I agree, but endeavor to think of the sub community that the College is to the city.

It is no secret that Springfield College and the city do not perfectly or outwardly resemble each other. Having spent most of my life here in Springfield, and all my college experience at SC, I realize that this point of conversation can go on for much longer than I have space to (or intend to) do here. 

I am writing on the occasion of Black History Month and the Black Lives Matter at Springfield College programming. More specifically, on this occasion, I am writing about the low retention rates and experience of Black students at Springfield College. 

I am now in my junior year. As a Black student, I suppose I will begin with why I continue to stay, and why might my Black peers not.

What I remember of my orientation largely consists of its promise of community. I think, from then on, any impression I have had of the college—praiseful or condemnatory—has existed in relation to this promise. 

So, when I say that I have chosen to stay and that I have never considered leaving, what I mean, in part, is that this promise has largely been made good on. 

Yet we know, if taken for granted, that the experience of one person cannot contain that of all persons; often, far too often, the experience of one blots out the experience of others. 

I hope to not participate in this blotting out through unwitting or careless language. Unfortunately, I can only do so much as gesture to the symptoms and complexities of grievances I have not had.

Perhaps the second impression I generated from my orientation is how white it is. I find it a common enough experience to be the only Black student in a classroom at any given time. 

In conversation with my Black peers, I have learned that is more the norm than the exception, as one would expect upon reading the demographics of SC (inverse to the demographics of the city). 

This is a neutral observation, in and of itself. But problems can and do arise around it. Speak to enough of your Black peers or scroll through the posts of Black at Springfield College (on Instagram:  @blackatspringfieldcollege), and you become aware of the myriad scenarios where, again, problems can and do arise. 

These are chiefly matters of influence, which is to say matters of power. Unpleasant to note, but true, and far worse to experience. It should be a virtue to bring people of various backgrounds together for the sake of “leadership in service to others.” 

All missions are written with some such idealism in mind, which is why the lack of fidelity to such lofty ideals is particularly troubling, if not heartbreaking or appalling.

One hopes that things do not have to get worse for more effective action to be taken. Speaking for myself, though I do not find myself alone, I find that the pretense of action—I cannot separate it from the mantra of “diversity and inclusion” (as with “multiculturalism” before it)—take precedence over efforts towards real change. 

Recalling Grady’s article, one finds that, though college administration speaks tirelessly of the greater community of Springfield, it does not do enough to warrant it. Too often the language highlights the perceived distance the campus has from the city; to want better for Springfield, largely made up of the same minorities we find on campus demanding to be heard, is to want better for Springfield College.

But how can we do that, if we cannot do so sufficiently enough on our own campus?

I am still hopeful. I do believe that efforts are being made for better. If I am harsh, it is only because I do see much good, and more potential, in this campus. And that I love it so much. 

And though initiatives based around racial justice and equity sometimes find themselves misguided, there are steps being made in the right direction, past performance. 

For one, there is the recent acquisition of Nicole Coakley to our campus as Assistant Director for the Center of Service and Leadership. I am pleased to read, in this same paper, that she intends to bring the sub community of Springfield College closer to the city of Springfield. 

We have the chance to do great things. I am still hopeful.

Photo: Rowan Beckford

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