Engaging the Community

Anthony Gabriel Santacruz

“ ‘Critical’ does not mean destructive, but only willing to examine what we sometimes presuppose in our way of thinking, and that gets in the way of making a more livable world.” – Judith Butler

When our community gathered at the all-community meeting and the public forum was taken over by a few specific vocal students, there emerged an understanding of who represents and advocates for students. Assuming that the students who spoke out represented the wider campus community, their statements should also be supported by everyone they claim to represent. This was in fact not the case. Their positions are not radical. The methods they deploy are not new. I do not see a shared willingness to engage with the entirety of our complex community. Hampshire College is our community, and during tumultuous times we must hold each other accountable. My question: is there a nonviolent approach?

The embrace of conflicting and contrasting narratives is at the core of what needs to be centered in order for the most vulnerable members of our community to be heard. Operating within a binary, or even on a rigid spectrum flattens critical difference. The community is being challenged to simultaneously unlearn internalized anti-blackness and to radically engage in critical understandings and practices of decolonization; do right by our hearts at the expense of braving the irrational; and recognize privilege within while daring to speak out against abuses of power. However, when I look at recent “Actions of disruption”, I am compelled to point out the [(un)intentional] effects of dehumanization, objectification, oppression, and erasure of bodies in our community. When specific people dominate and control community discourse, they need to be accountable for the amount of space they inhabit and the implications of the mode of communication they enact.

It is vital that the most vulnerable voices be heard and supported at every level. In every instance, we must center our perspective from that of the most disadvantaged one in order to engage with the realities of living in an oppressive environment. We must also be critical of the dominant, most vocal students and hold them accountable for perpetuating the violation of others’ right to participate in dialogue, and the silencing, re-traumatizing norms they have embraced. It’s essential to uplift and bring to light erased complexities of all peoples’ histories. Otherwise there is an inherent robbing of agency and dismissal of voices that share one collective community identity especially when the beliefs of the collective community do not fall in line with the group claiming to advocate for everyone. Sweeping public generalizations that systematically categorize and inflict violence on other bodies is a continuation of White Supremacy strategies that prevent the entire community from embracing difference and collectively organizing against racism in all its forms.

A key strategy for this has to be creating and holding spaces to hear and look at differences and at conflicting realities. It helps reveal context-driven understandings of the present. In the current climate, the potential to generate new realities after embracing multiple truths is being constricted, right at the heart of our need to organize and collaborate together. There is a clear, shared understanding that the most vulnerable voices need to be heard and incorporated into understanding the workings of power, but there also needs to be a shared willingness to engage in dialogue with the community as a whole, a willingness to meet and listen to people where they are. The community needs to imagine together and brave the possibility of establishing a new system that discontinues the mirrored structures of oppression—so that we may see each member of our community for their entirety, and create ways to collaborate while being aware of difference among us and the urgency to create and enable change together.

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