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What I Would Have Said

Yesterday, Pomona College held a teach-in on Marston Quad, a usually-deserted lawn in the center of campus. Faculty from across the curriculum had been invited to speak, and after their brief talks, the mike was opened to anyone else who had something to contribute.

I’ve spoken a lot lately, at a series of faculty forums, and frankly, I’m a little tired of listening to myself. I wanted to hear from my colleagues yesterday, and then from the students, and so I didn’t speak, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I need a sort of public expiation of the guilt that I feel for not having spoken up, not just yesterday, but every day leading up to now. If I had spoken, I’d like to have said something on the order of this:

My name is Kathleen Fitzpatrick. I’m an assistant professor in English and Media Studies here at Pomona College. I’m standing here before you today because I want, loudly and explicitly, to take responsibility for what happened on our campus last night.

I didn’t smash the windows. I didn’t slash the tires. I didn’t hold the spray paint. But I hold myself responsible nevertheless.

I’m responsible not because of what I did, but because of what I didn’t do. One of my classes and I spent time discussing the events that have taken place on campus this semester — the cross-burning, the photo scavenger-hunt, the online threats against a student, the defacing of a calendar, the graffiti in a dorm shower — and I was proud of all of us for having done so. But we did so because it was easy; the material we were studying at the moment folded well into a discussion of the events.

I failed, however, to address these issues in my other class this semester, because I couldn’t find a way to make a connection to the material we were studying, because such a connection would have been difficult.

And I failed, in the class with which I did address these issues, to take a moral stand, to express my outrage, to label, in no uncertain terms, these “events” as racist and homophobic, and utterly, utterly unacceptable in this community.

I now know, painfully, the results of such a failure.

Every time a white person of conscience fails to speak out against racist remarks, racism is made to feel at home. Every time a straight person of conscience, a man of conscience, fails to speak out against heterosexist or misogynistic comments, hatred is made comfortable, made to feel as though it belongs, made to feel as though it has a legitimate place in our community.

I am responsible for the pain visited on this community. Today, I am owning up to that responsibility, and to my responsibility for ensuring that it doesn’t happen again.

Many of us have been very careful, perhaps too careful, to avoid making others feel unduly guilty about these events this semester, trying to assure one another that we don’t think we’re racists, that we don’t think we’re sexists, that we don’t think we’re responsible for what has happened. I want to see that stop today. I want us all to examine our consciences, to find the ways in which we are all racists, all sexists, all homophobes, all responsible for the fear that others feel on this campus today.

It is only in taking such responsibility that we might be able to grow, to overcome these failures, to become a community worth living in.


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