Remember the Manifesta? Reparations are Due

Danielle Hirano, Senior, Class of 2019

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On April 25th, the Whitman Wire received “We Need to Thrive: a Manifesta,” collectively written by nine women of color faculty members. In a revolutionary spirit, they voiced their grievances about the “exodus” of women of color faculty members in 2018-2019 and the reasons for their departure. Women of color faculty expend disproportionate amounts of labor supporting marginalized students of color. In its demands, these women claim a right to monetary compensation. Instead of compensation, I propose we use the language of reparations. Women of color faculty have inherited the task of healing the injuries produced and reproduced by contemporary United States higher education.

 

Reparations is the compensation for an abuse or injury. The term is most often associated with compensation for the injuries endured by the descendants of Black slaves. These injuries travel across time and generations. Although the slavery was formally abolished in 1865, its residual damage extends far into the future. In “The Case for Reparations,” Ta-Nehisi Coates writes: “Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.” Our nation is still grappling with how to respond to these irreparable damages.

 

Whitman College reproduces racial privilege and socioeconomic stratification. This results in systemic barriers that people of color have to overcome in order to get into selective colleges like Whitman. These injuries too, travel across time and generations. In the report, Separate and Unequal, Anthony P. Carnevale and Jeff Strohl argue that “More college completion among white parents brings higher earnings that fuel the intergenerational reproduction of privilege by providing more highly educated parents the means to pass their educational advantages on to their children.” Elite, predominately white institutions reproduce systemic injustices whose roots can be traced back to the legacies of slavery.

 

Embracing affirmative action as a quick fix to deeper structural issues, the college claims to affirm diversity by populating itself with diverse bodies. This applies to both faculty and students of color. Once people of color are through the door, the college is not concerned with creating the conditions for them to “thrive.” Professor of Art History, Lisa Uddin says, “If you’re a [student of color] here…[you are] displaced from your home. Geographically displaced, economically displaced, racially displaced… to come into a space of hardcore whiteness and white affluence.” Uddin is also one of the authors of the Manifesta. Because of their tokenized status, faculty of color are expected to transform the social and cultural environment at Whitman through teaching, college service, and mentorship.

 

Faculty of color are more likely than their white counterparts to perform certain kinds of service and mentorship with respect to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Professor of Politics, Susanne Beechey states, “Certain faculty members are called upon to do particular kinds of labor at the institution…there hasn’t been a lot of change in terms of the actual distribution of that labor.” It is nearly impossible to say no to this work. Faculty of color rarely turn away students with whom they share certain experiences because as Uddin says “With mutual recognition comes mutual obligation.”

 

Additionally, college service and mentorship are prerequisites for faculty to obtain tenure status. According to the 2013 external review by Daryl Smith on underrepresented faculty retention, faculty of color are more likely to be denied tenure positions. Without the security of tenure, faculty are left in precarious positions. Disproportionate amounts of labor fall onto women of color faculty without an increase in pay or benefits. Thus, precarity is racialized and gendered. The college is profiting from the unrecognized labor of women of color faculty. This is exploitation.

 

As a female student of color, I understand why the authors of the Manifesta demand compensation. I’ve personally sought out mentorship, guidance, and support from a number of women of color faculty members during times of crisis. Marginalized students like myself rely on faculty of color to survive at Whitman. The nature of this labor is deeply personal and oftentimes traumatic. As the Manifesta states, these women are mentoring students through racism and sexism while also experiencing these injuries themselves.

 

This work ultimately compromises the emotional well-being of women of color faculty. It serves as one of the many reasons why they decide to leave. I was troubled when two of my greatest mentors, one being a woman of color, suddenly left the college. There was no time to process the loss. Their departures were brushed aside, not spoken of, and business continued as usual.

 

Let us acknowledge the women of color faculty members we’ve lost who can no longer imagine a future here. Many on our campus have lost educators, mentors, colleagues, friends, and members of their chosen family. We’ve lost profound intellectual projects, pedagogical styles, and classrooms cultivated out of love. The losses are endless. They can all be traced back to the injuries of U.S. higher education. These injuries perpetuate inequalities whose history includes residential redlining, the separate but equal doctrine, Jim Crow era politics, and ultimately, slavery.

 

After the publication of the Manifesta, President Murray addressed the Whitman community with an email. The email was full of empty promises that do not directly address concerns clearly articulated by the Manifesta. Without proposing any forms of concrete action, Murray writes, “Some of the demands may not be feasible for Whitman at this time.” Doing so, she effectively repeats Whitman’s failure to meet the needs of its students and faculty of color. This failure dates back to 1970 when the Black Student Union submitted six demands to President Sheehan. Given this history, I ask: If not now, when?

 

Murray’s email suggests that Whitman College remains unable to appreciate the debt it owes to its women of color faculty. Smith’s external review also revealed that there was “exodus” of women of color faculty in 2012. This is not the first time that this has happened. Without “institutional redress,” it is bound to happen again. The injuries of U.S. higher education have travelled across time and generations, and this generation of women of color faculty say that time is up. Reparations are due.

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