Can I Speak?

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(On White Man-Splaining in Our Classrooms?)
By LIZZA RODRIGUEZ

So, Sarah Lawrence, How do we make room?

It is clear to everyone who considers themselves members of this campus community that Sarah Lawrence is meant to be a place where critical thinking and social action are mediated among all of us here—a branding of neoliberal pedagogy that treasures collective understanding as well as individual growth. It is this very curriculum structure that helped me decide on Sarah Lawrence over three years ago. After some time here, upon reflection, I ask that we question how inclusive our own classrooms are, as academic circles here can become extremely inaccessible sooner rather than later.

I have been in quite a few situations where I was the only student of color (more specifically, the only woman of color) in a small seminar. It is in these spaces, I’ve consistently felt excluded, silenced, and disregarded by my peers. It is in the very spaces I expected solace from that I feel as though I belong the least. When I do contribute, sometimes I’m met with hesitation or pushback. Often, addressing the classroom heightens my nerves; I bite down my casual Spanish accent as hard as I can, apologize for making a point in the first place, and eventually stumble before reaching my point.

Unfortunately, while most of my classes here have been marvelous and informative, some have placed me into pretty alienating situations. Frankly, I didn’t expect Sarah Lawrence to be diverse. I came here expecting a white area, with limited POC both in and around the community. I didn’t come here because of that; quite frankly if it weren’t for finding some roots in East Harlem, I don’t know how exactly I’d be coping 24/7. However, such is reality. Such goes the general demographic of our nation’s institutions—whether by the school or the jail, the prison pipeline leads to the same drain: the private prison industrial empire. Further, by way of local government, how the poor is disarmed (both literally, and for some, literally) and inhibited by the State in political socialization and voting habits (if able to register as a voter at all; racialized voter suppression was huge thing)

BUT ANYWAY….

I haven’t always felt particularly welcome in every classroom I’ve been in here; most of my friends can say this; it’s just known fact at this point. Let’s not be comfortable with this! It is very easy to dominate the conversation around the table; there’s a lot of points and key topics folxs may want to present that exceed the average modest hour and a half class slot. I’m a huge believer in productive dialogue and this community must consistently hold itself accountable for keeping that equitable conversation going in our respective academic (and artistic for that matter) spaces.

Despite my assumed identity as Disillusioned Senior—insert trademark symbol here—I really believe in this community and our ability to spark real change with the discussions we have in our classrooms amongst peers of differing identifications. Participate in inclusive conversation. Scale back your contributions in class whenever you begin dominating discussion. Be mindful of how certain voices in the room are banished to the periphery of the room; actively challenge this. It is wonderful to put forth, and equally as wonderful to hold back. Listen. Don’t get up, scoot over.

 

Lizza Rodriguez is senior at Sarah Lawrence College, with a particular academic focus in the African Diaspora. Born and raised in Miami, Florida, yet strictly Dominican, Lizza has made a home of New York and her campus community. In her spare time, you can find Lizza making a copious amount of Dominican food and reclaiming gendered slurs with her friends in AC-1 (AC Fun). Aside from writing for Even If, Lizza is also a poetry editor for the Sarah Lawrence Review.

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