Responding to the Manifesta

Dana Walden, Opinion Columnist

By now, all of us have read it. Or all of us should have read it. If you don’t know what I am referring to, stop here and read the Manifesta, online or in the last copy of The Wire. You will be better for it. I read the Manifesta the morning it was published, and have been contending with it ever since. Like many Whitman students, faculty members and staff, I did not know what I was getting myself into when I opened issue 11 of The Wire. I was not expecting to read a Manifesta written by women professors of color, and I was not prepared for the questions and frustrations the Manifesta would raise about the Whitman institution.

As a white student at this primarily white institution, I have agonized over writing this response. I wondered if I should even write it, if I have a right to speak on this issue. I still don’t know that I do, but I am choosing to use my platform to further this conversation because I refuse to put the emotional labor of continuing this discussion on those who have started it. As a community, we need to talk about this. This is not solely a faculty issue, nor is it solely an issue for people of color on campus. We are all responsible for working to create an equitable environment, which means, together, we are all responsible for figuring out how to address these complaints.

When I first read the Manifesta, I didn’t know what to do with it. This was the first time I had heard of a campus-wide “exodus of women faculty of color.” It wasn’t surprising, but I had never realized that professors were leaving, and I, along with many students, have been grappling with the lack of transparency surrounding these issues. More than that, I have had to confront my own apathy regarding these complaints. It’s not like the faculty have stayed silent — the voices of people of color are not amplified on this campus and often go unheard.

Obviously, Whitman is not listening. If those with institutional power were, I doubt the Manifesta would have been published in The Wire in the first place. The stated values of the college are not lining up with its actions, and we should remain critical of these imbalances. The structural oppression imbued in Whitman’s operations has very real consequences for our professors, and we cannot and should not expect them to address and publicize their complaints. We cannot task them with the work of fighting this institution alone.

As students, we must support our professors. We must stand behind our professors and embolden their collective voice. We must stand behind our professors in solidarity. We must stand behind our professors in our classrooms, in our conversations. But we must not patronize them. We must remember that, in publishing the Manifesta, our professors are elucidating their demands for the “public good.”

As students, we must learn from our professors. In publishing the Manifesta, they have done what is radical and necessary. They have shown us what resistance and resiliency look like at a college institution. They have shown us how anger can be useful and productive. To the women professors of color who authored the Manifesta: I am angry with you. We are angry with you. This student of Whitman College supports you. We support you. We are listening. Hopefully, this institution will learn from you as we do. To the women professors of color who authored the Manifesta: Thank you.