Sunday, February 17, 2008

Simmons College update - response to hate mail

The open meeting that divulged the details about the hate mail sent to an African-American professor at Simmons College occurred on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008. The campus newspaper, The Simmons Voice, appears weekly on Thursdays. I had little expectation of my letter being printed in the Feb. 14 issue. And, it wasn't.

News of the incident did make it to the front page. It was located in the bottom left hand corner. Below the fold. Left hand side. Underneath a large square picture of a t-shirt with a red mouth. Handwritten in large letters with a marker on the shirt was "Silence Kills."

Anyone who has studied media knows that the upper right-hand area of the front page is the most prominent place for a story to run. The story that ran in that position was "Guns are coming to Simmons." I think the 'guns' story is of importance. It communicates to the student population that security guards will soon be armed while also describing other security measures being implemented in response to the Virginia Tech incident last spring. I also can see its relevance to the recent N. Illinois University shooting. But, the article's slant bends towards what will happen, not what just happened.

The 'hate crime' incident is RIGHT NOW and has implications of great importance. I will say that the paper was delicate in handling the topic. They didn't name the professor; they didn't quote or describe the contents; therefore, they didn't have much substance to deliver in the article.

Please, keep in mind that this a weekly college paper. I don't know when they deliver their content to their publisher. I'm used to The Daily Free Press who stay up until 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. to deliver breaking news. And, The FreeP has a website where they can update content instantly.

Here's my fear. That the incident, the culture that propagated it, and the issues that surround it will remain abstract as long as they are restricted to the pages of a weekly paper. As of today, I haven't seen anything appear on the homepage of MySimmons, the place that has all the news fit to post for the student (grad & undergrad) body.

There have been four official mentions of the incident available to undergrads as of now.
  1. the "Urgent Communication" email sent from President Scrimshaw alerting the Simmons general community of the incident and that an open meeting will occur
  2. the change of location for the meeting
  3. the "congratulatory" email sent from President Scrimshaw that praised the response and lessons learned at the open meeting
  4. The Simmons Voice article - "Simmons professor targeted in hate crime"

Here's what was said in the "congratulatory" email from President Scrimshaw:

Dear Students:

Thank you, Simmons! The standing-room only community gathering yesterday to condemn racism and affirm our commitment to an honest, open, and inclusive community was heartening. Already we have gotten some good suggestions for follow up. Yesterday, we heard about steps we can all begin to take now as individuals to make our community more welcoming and more respectful - a smile, a hello, acknowledgment for every one who helps make Simmons operate so well each day, and being there for each other. In the next weeks, I will be meeting with the Diversity Council, BAFAS members and President’s Council to talk about how we can translate our concerns & energy into action. I commit to sharing next steps through your student leadership. This was Simmons at its finest and I am very proud of our community.


I will be waiting to see what the next steps are and how Simmons is going to be sure that its undergraduate students take their share of the load. I have an appointment with President Scrimshaw next Tuesday at 3:10 p.m.

I declared that I would take my share of the load in my various identities. As a friend and daughter, I have reached out to many to let them know about what happened. And, I want to thank you for all of your responses. Your words and conversations have made my world safer and brighter.

As a student, I sent a letter to The Simmons Voice. I spoke to the president of the Student Government Association urging her to recreate the warmth and strength in Wednesday's forum for the student body. I plan to attend next week's SGA meeting.

As a librarian, I did reach out to co-workers and my boss. I wanted to post a link to my blog about the incident on the Access Services blog, so that the librarians would come together as a whole to discuss issues raised at Wednesday's meeting. One thread of discussion was how the library is perceived as unwelcoming, specifically to young black students. I don't believe this is true on a fundamental level, but the perception is seeping out there. As I don't think the library is rotten at its core, constructive remedies could be applied to stop the misunderstanding.

I'm still trying to formulate how to respond as a Dix Scholar and an artist. BUT, I WILL BE DOING SO, BELIEVE ME.

As an African-American, I'll be approaching the Dean of Multicultural Students, Lisa Smith-McQueenie. And, I plan to attend the next meeting of the Black Student Organization.

As a human, I am looking people in the eye. I'm smiling at them. I infuse a little warmth in my interactions. And, I'm so glad to say: it's working!

Much love,

Two of my favorite things: space and football

On a positive note, it should be recognized that there is an African-American on the shuttle space team that's currently orbiting earth. His name is Leland Melvin, a former football player that turned to science when an injury ended his pro football career. He has an excellent entry on the NASA web page that explains how playing football gave him skills he utilizes on space missions. So cool! And, in case anyone didn't know, the current commander of the International Space Station is Peggy Whitson, a female.

The link to his website entry (which includes two mp3 interviews) is right here.

NASA is a world unto itself. This is a place where grown men sincerely and emphatically utter "Darn!" as an expletive. And, they're not being ironic or's serious when you hear "darn."

When the astronauts are up in space, Houston and ground control usually beam up a song to start off each day. Ground team asks family members to select a song for each astronaut. The first day after the shuttle meets up with the space station, usually the flight commander is serenaded in the morning. On the day Melvin was on tap to move the European section of the space lab from the shuttle to the space station, Houston beamed up "Fly Like An Eagle" to start Melvin's day. His sister picked it out. They just mentioned the song title, so I don't know if it was the Steve Miller or Seal version.

Anyway, this definitely cheered me up after a disturbing week at Simmons.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Taking My Share of the Load

Someone tried to take down a faculty member of my college this week with a piece of vicious hate mail. I won't repeat verbatim what was written in this post, but I will just say the phrases "Go back to Africa" and "Remember the Jena 6" were used.

An open meeting was held to address the situation. Professors, college staff, and administrators flocked to the meeting. Indeed, the room wasn't big enough. Unfortunately, I didn't perceive a student presence as strong.

Too many students did not witness the positive reaction and beautiful show of support that the meeting evoked. I wrote this piece and submitted it to the student newspaper immediately afterward the meeting. I also approached the president of our student body and asked her that the SGA provide an opportunity for students to experience something like it.

Taking My Share of the Load

Stepping into the meeting, I asked my professor, “Is this for students?” I was unsure because I recognized dozens of staff, professors, administrators and librarians, but I counted the number of students on two hands.

I am not condemning the student body. All Simmons College students have the daily challenge of slicing hours of the day to accommodate our assignments, jobs and opportunities. I almost didn’t show up myself. Almost.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had hate shouted at me on the street or calmly directly at me in a classroom. Maybe because I’ve experienced how hate can keep my eyes down and make me hold my breath until I reach home. I know about the burden of hate and I would never let someone carry it alone. That’s why I showed up.

Professor Bailey stood and spoke the words that were meant to close mouths, lower eyes, and halt steps. These words weren’t meant for just Prof. Bailey. They were an assault on us. Our community. Our Simmons.

But, we were not bowed down. Of course, there was suffering and there was outrage. Then it happened. All of us present stood up as one and transformed shock and outrage into resolve and purpose. Instead of showing tears and shame, we created laughter and hope.

We resolved that the courage and support visible in that room would not end at the door. We would not let the memory of this meeting fade as deadlines and paperwork approached. Each of us as individuals would take the shared lessons and carry them out to those who were absent.

We learned to acknowledge each other. Now, our gazes will meet and we will trade smiles. We learned not to stay strangers with each other. We will not remain silent when another person says or does something hurtful. Because we will first hold ourselves accountable, we will not hesitate to hold others accountable as well.

Simmons College will be stronger because this burden does not rest on one set of shoulders. I have taken my share of the load, but it will be lightened as I stand up and speak to others in my role as a student. As a friend and a daughter. As an artist. As a Dix Scholar. As a library worker. As an African-American.

Because I am you. We are a community. We are Simmons.