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Campus Climate: A conversation on how to be an ally and preventing injustice

Irene Rotondo

The 50-year-old promise of “A Day to Confront Racism” at Springfield College was finally fulfilled. Thursday, March 25 marked the College’s first ever undertaking of this event, brought to the school by their own alumni of color. The Legacy Alumni of Color group had first demanded this day of reckoning in 1971 in a list of demands they created, as students, to present to the president and administration of Springfield College. Their voices were denied back then, but the College is making reparations by following the Legacy’s lead in the fight for social equity on campus.

“A Day to Confront Racism” consisted of four panel-led discussions of varying topics related to anti-racism, all leading up to Ibram Kendi’s keynote address on anti-racism that evening. The panel most unique to the others was “Campus Climate: A Moderated Conversation with Students,” purely because all panelists were undergraduate and graduate students. They all also happened to be women.

The discussion began at 2:40 p.m. led by Dr. Stephanie Logan, Chair of the Department of Education, and Felicia Lundquist, Director of Multicultural Affairs. The student panelist group was comprised of graduate student Shannan Fields, second-year MSW student Ocean Eversley, third-year undergraduate students Brianna D’Haiti, Nora Fitzgerald, Molly Coates, Lexie Blake, and Sabrina Williams, and second-year undergraduate student Paris Lizana.

Each panelist possessed different skills and leadership roles within the College, and all had different majors that qualified their expertise in speaking on varying topics of racism. The event was organized so Logan or Lundquist would pose a question, either from the audience or from their own list, to the panel as a whole. Whichever panelist felt knowledgeable and comfortable could answer.

The first question asked was, “From your perspective, what keeps Springfield College students of European ancestry, or white students, from listening to their BIPOC colleagues, and believing their experience of racism on campus?”

Fitzgerald replied that she felt the timing of the Black Lives Matter Movement in tandem with the COVID-19 pandemic was unfortunate. She said she thinks that her fellow white students are not as keen to react to situations unless they are physically presented to them, and COVID-19 has completely revolutionized the way people interact with each other.

Coates was in agreement with Fitzgerald, and felt that the pandemic severely hindered people’s view on the world and views on interactions.

“We’re in a largely bubbled-off situation, where we socialize with only 4-6 people, whatever CDC says that week, and we’re living in a world in which we’re focused on getting through the next day,” said Coates. 

“We’re focused on how many hours we’re spending on Zoom, as opposed to what we could be doing to make sure our community is open, not necessarily to disease but open to making change.”

Other panelists, Blake and Lizana, stated that they thought white Springfield College students simply are unaware of their privilege, and are usually consumed with thoughts of what would benefit them personally rather than those around them.

“I think it’s just a question of humility; if you want to be a good ally to BIPOC individuals, it’s just important to surround yourself with people who don’t look like you,” said Lizana.

“Once you’ve stepped out of that boundary… you’ll find people that have different experiences and you’ll be able to relate to them better, you’ll be able to connect to them better, and you’ll be a better ally in the long run.”

The conversation segwayed into the panel’s second discussion question: “What makes someone a good ally, accomplice, or co-conspirator?”

Fitzgerald made it a point in her answer to emphasize that white people should not be at the forefront of the movement, or leading the fight. She explained that to be a good ally, white people need to step back and start listening. 

Lizana and Fields were in agreement, stating that white people needed to start taking the instances of racism they face personally. 

Fields said, “I think what it takes to be a good ally is the need to see a problem as a personal problem, not as your friend’s problem or your relative’s problem.

“Because when you frame it as your own problem, you’re going to respond to a situation differently,” she added.

Lizana agreed, “I really think being a good ally is being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes without becoming the shoes yourself. It’s important to be able to understand and empathize with POC about their experiences without taking it on, or saying, ‘I’m a POC, this is what I’ve experienced,’ there’s a big difference between those two.”

Other than allyship, Logan and Lundquist wanted to know what were some of the panelists’ other thoughts on how to reduce racial injustice on campus.

Many of the panelists thought that the problem of racism is not even on most students’ radar unless they were POC and if it was noticed, there was more of a fear of being accused as a racist than there was actually being an anti-racist. Williams declared that this type of education should be interwoven into every aspect of the classroom, so it becomes second-nature instead of performative.

“It shouldn’t be, for lack of a better word, the Black clubs on campus being the only ones advocating for these types of things,” said Williams.

“I think teachers can find ways to talk about this kind of stuff in the classroom, like we’re going to go out into the real world…. and we’re going to meet all different types of people. And if we pretend that we’re not going to meet people that are completely different from us… we’re never going to be prepared, and that’s what we’re paying thousands of dollars to do.”

Eversley had similar thoughts to Williams, even going as far to suggest an entire program students should be required to partake in every academic year. 

“I think it should be mandatory that students should take certain courses, and they should have to have some type of passing grade– not a C, but a B+ or better,” she said.

“Because, who are we allowing out into the public when they graduate with a BA, or a degree? Who are they going to be intermingling with, with this disease? This virus of racism?”

Logan and Lundquist then proceeded to open up the floor to questions from the audience. The audience wanted to know as much information as possible from the panelists: if they, as female students, felt supported by the men on campus, some advice for careers in social justice law, and the difference between an ally, accomplice, and co-conspirator.

They also wanted to know how to use your emotions to fuel anti-racist efforts, dealing with the burden of anti-racism work, and how to continue this conversation into the summer.

One by one, the panelists filled the audience with strong advice and reasoning regarding their questions. They suggested looking at the intersectionality of feminism and racism, because feminism pertains to anyone who identifies as a female and is therefore a broadly reaching group.

D’Haiti related, saying, “If anyone knows me, they know I get angry about a lot of things, but they also know I back it up with a lot of action. That goes along with being an ally or being an accomplice; it’s the actions that you do.

“If you’re angry, how are you going to fuel that so you can have an initiative, have an event, have a program? Put out some resources so people can educate themselves… you won’t see it change right away, but knowing that she did that and it might affect someone down the line is a huge relief… just take the problem head-on, and use your anger as a woman to your strengths.”

If there’s one takeaway from this panel, it should be that every student on the Springfield College needs to get out of their own way in becoming an anti-racist campus. White students need to lower their voices in order to raise BIPOC student’s voices about issues that might only be experienced by their group, but directly affects every SC community member to their cores.

Photo: Springfield College

Additional Day to Confront Racism Coverage

Moving the Needle: A conversation with the Legacy Alumni of Color

Springfield’s connection to John Brown, Abolitionist and Accomplice



“The Past is the Present” focuses on impact of 1619 Project

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