February 24th, 2021 marked the sixth annual DePauw Day of Dialogue in which faculty, administration, and students convene for an all-day discussion about the problems DePauw is facing and the future of the university. The theme for this year’s dialogue was, “Breaking Down Biases and Building Community”, and in her email to the university before the event, President Lori White wrote, “it presents an opportunity for us to explore the biases that sow division and prevent us from powerful and uplifting connections, even though most of us desire to build up our communities and the individuals within them.” I couldn’t help but zero in on one part of her quote: “most of us.” It’s a sad fact that not everyone feels the same about amplifying the voices of all students, and unfortunately, it is not totally uncommon to come across people who desire to suppress the voices and convictions of students of color, students who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, and more. However, the Day of Dialogue provides the opportunity to open doors of communication that have been closed, and have the uncomfortable conversations necessary to propel our campus towards collectively making positive change.
Furthermore, “collectiveness” is another important facet in the quest for the betterment of the campus, and it often seems to be lacking. While listening to those who were brave enough to speak up and make their grievances heard in the first large group session, there seems to be a divide between professors and students, which is natural, for one must consider the power dynamic between a student and faculty member. However, there must also be mutual respect and willingness to listen to both sides. It is evident that many students feel there is deep necrosis in the curriculum of DePauw in regards to discussing tough issues relating to power, privilege, and diversity in the classroom. One individual brought up the “Power, Privilege, and Diversity” credit requirement in order to graduate. I couldn’t help but think about AP classes in high school. How many of you actually took those classes to glean more knowledge in disciplines such as science, English, mathematics, etc.? How many of you took those classes simply to boost your GPA and/or receive college credit, potentially allowing you to graduate earlier? I am certainly guilty of both, although I took AP English classes more for the “fun of it” than credits. The PPD requirement feels like just that–– we are mandated to take a class that falls in that category to graduate, but shouldn’t we want to anyway?
One of the first sessions I attended was titled, “‘Real ‘White?’: Ancient Greek and Roman Sculpture, Alternative Facts, and the Fabrication of Identity” with Classical Studies professor Dr. James Wells. Dr. Wells began with the hard-hitting claim that classical studies is rooted in racism and the perpetuation of white supremacy, and the idea of pure whiteness as the standard of beauty is inherently flawed. Dr. Sarah Bond, a classical studies professor at the University of Iowa, wrote an article titled “Why We Need to Start Seeing the Classical World in Color”, disproving the common misconception that the pristine white marble of statues is what they actually looked like in ancient Greece and ancient Rome. The statues were most likely painted in vibrant colors, and the Liebieghaus museum put on an exhibit called, “Gods in Color: Polychromy in Antiquity”. The brief description for this exhibit reads:
Museum exhibitions of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures are striking for the dominance of pure white marble. But looks can be deceiving. These figures of gods and heroes were once richly clothed in vivid colors! We’ve known this for centuries–– so why does the image of whiteness still persist?
Dr. Bond’s article commented on the Archer from the Temple of Aphaia Aigina, and how it was originally painted but now it just looks gray. She continues to argue that the tendency for modern society to equate the whiteness of marble with beauty is not accurate, and this idea continues to influence white supremacy. The standard of whiteness does not exist. As one might expect, Dr. Bond’s article was not well-received by conservative social platforms.
In this same session, Dr. Patrice Rankin’s article “Time for Anti-Racism: A Way Forward for America and Higher Education”, was used as an example. Dr. Rankin argues that white supremacy is a default, and the only way to combat it is to actively be anti-racist–– saying “I’m not racist” or “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” isn’t enough. By the way, of course, you don’t have a racist bone in your body… Bones can’t be racist, but people can be. Dr. Rankin brought up the necessity of a “new abolitionist movement” because the time has come for individuals and institutions to combat innate, systemic, white supremacy.
The question: How can DePauw actively practice anti-racism?
The answer: TBD
One takeaway from this day of dialogue is that students are sick of the responsibility falling on us. It isn’t just our job to bring awareness to equity issues, implicit biases, and personal responsibility… It falls on faculty and staff as well. One student expressed her frustration with students being in separate breakout rooms from professors because progress must also be made in the classroom and curriculum, not just in regards to social interactions. Another student mentioned how the media plays a large role in racism, for the aesthetics of western cultures are used to perpetuate white supremacy. And finally, a testimony that has been on my mind since I heard it: Why does it fall on students of color to share their stories and experiences with a bunch of white students? Why do students of color have to share their pain in order to make a difference? The desire for betterment and inclusion at DePauw should be something desired by all DePauw students, but the only way to truly spur change is for all students and faculty to take the tough, uncomfortable conversations from the Day of Dialogue, internalize them, and refuse to be comfortable again until we, as a collective, see changes.