OP-ED: Why was it so difficult to get funding for a students of color conference from ASWC?

Ye Rim Cho, Senior

I went to two ASWC meetings last week – one with the finance committee and one with the senate. A few students of color and I volunteered since we had to justify our request of $3,000 for transportation and lodging for the upcoming students of color conference. For those who aren’t familiar, Whitman hosted the first PNW students of color conference last year and, to continue on this legacy, the conference is being held at Gonzaga University this year.

Before I went into the finance committee meeting, I did not think it would be a big deal at all. My thoughts were, “In what world would they question an opportunity that will be incredibly impactful and empowering to students of color?” “ASWC is trying to improve on making Whitman a more inclusive and equitable space, so why would they question it at all?” I was obviously very, very wrong. We were pressed with questions like “Was there an interview process in picking the 30 students, so we can be sure that all students are serious about attending?” “How are you going to ensure that you will bring it back to campus after the conference?” “If there are no supportive spaces on campus for POCs, then why are you going off campus to create this space? Shouldn’t you be creating that here?” I understand that the finance committee has to do its job to ensure that ASWC finances are being used for the betterment of the student body, but I don’t think people who go on climbing/backpacking trips are badgered and pressed as much as we were. We are ALWAYS held at a higher standard, whether that’s in meetings, classrooms or other spaces like these. How can we be our whole selves when so much more is expected from of us? We need to stop demanding labor from students of color, especially women of color.

Merone Hadush, a member of ASWC who sits on the committee, explained that they should not be treating this request like any other conference they get requests about. This conference is about students of color reclaiming OUR time the purpose isn’t to come back and educate others on our experience. Even after this was explained, ridiculous questions that have already been posed were being asked again. There was slight hesitation on whether we should be funded by certain individuals, but it eventually passed unanimously. At that point, I didn’t care about the outcome – I just needed to leave that toxic space for my own sake because I started trembling with anger. I was astounded to see such power being abused right in front of my eyes.

This nonsense didn’t end after the finance committee meeting. Since it’s a request that is more than $1,000, senate also needs to vote on this issue. I went in, feeling prepared because there was no way they could question it more than it already has. I was wrong, again. Unreasonable questions were posed: “How could you say something like POCs are being exploited by white people and Whitman College? What do you mean by that, can you explain that?” (asking us to explain how we’ve faced racial trauma at Whitman in front of the entire senate) “What is your rigid plan of making sure you bring this back to campus?” (a question that’s already been asked and answered) and “We have to fund this. What would it look like if the whitest school in the PNW didn’t fund this? How would that make us look?” – when they should be asking, how can we support students of color more? How can we send more students of color? Many of the POCs on ASWC showed support and solidarity, but the six women of color who came as guests into ASWC were repeatedly humiliated and embarrassed over a finance request. I was emotionally drained and exhausted since we were clearly not being listened to nor being respected.

I believe questioning issues in a productive and non-toxic way is possible. But these questions were not productive or healthy – they were ones that came from an abuse of power. ASWC needs to work on regulating appropriate questions that are actually conducive to a healthy conversation. Thank you to the POCs on ASWC who are already working to make change within the system – white allies need to actively speak up and stand for these issues as well.

Now why am I writing about this? Because every single person on this campus needs to wake up and fight off white dominant ways of thinking. To expect people of color to continuously do this labor is exploitation. Those who identify as POCs need to also check yourselves and reflect on whether your white ideals and assimilation are harming other POCs. Don’t act in ways at the expense of other POCs. Kazi Joshua always asks, think and name off the five people that you’re closest with at this school – this will say a lot about you. If you named off five white people, then question why this may be. You need to critically think about how you may be perpetuating racism and segregation at this institution. To students of color who continue to fight to exist at this school, thank you. Your work is not forgotten and you all are continuing to radicalize Whitman College.