At Skidmore, students of color are making their voices heard with the “I, Too, Am Skidmore” photo campaign.
Students who have worked closely with the Office of Student Diversity Programs (OSDP) are officially launching their campaign today, which photographs students of color to highlight the faces, voices and diverse experiences on campus. The campaign is inspired by a recent movement at Harvard University, “I, Too, Am Harvard.”
At Harvard, black students of color students who felt their voices were unheard or pushed to the periphery of campus culture launched the photo campaign after the premier of I, Too, Am Harvard, a play that explores Harvard’s marginalized black community, according to the campaign website. The campaign attracted national attention, using the hashtag “#itooamharvard,” and reveals a brewing tension between one of the nation’s best universities and its students of color who feel marginalized.
For many students, College can further aggravate already complex notions of what it means to be a person of color, says Tobi Ewing, one of the movement’s founders, who identifies as Black American. “To be a person of color is super complex, but it’s also complex here at Skidmore,” says Ewing, ’15. “Growing up you may have only experienced one perspective or one angle of a person of color.”
For Ewing, who was the victim of racial abuse by white students in a 2012 incident, intersectionality, a phrase used in academic circles that scrutinizes a cocktail of identity factors–among them: race, gender, socioeconomic status–is at the heart of understanding the experiences of students of color on Skidmore’s campus.
“To be a person of color and poor, may be different than to be a person of color and wealthy, or, a person of color from the inner city, or a person of color from Connecticut,” says Ewing. The Dayton, Ohio native was raised in a predominantly African-American and white community and admits that College revealed her own ignorance. College disabused Ewing of her own stereotypes about other students of color. Upon arriving to college, Ewing recalls encountering a black student who spoke Spanish, something she had never before seen.
I, Too, Am Skidmore recently produced a pamphlet, which include dozens of quotes from students of color. Many of the statements are responses on racial microagressions, as one student writes “My education was not handed to me. I earned it. Proud [Opportunity Program] student.” Other students of color simply took the time to address behavior infringing on their personal boundaries: “MY HAIR IS NOT A PETTING ZOO.” One student, simply quoted her transgressor: “You’re the whitest black person I know.”
Strengthening the voice of students of color has not been easy on a “predominantly white campus” (as the campus is described in I, Too, Am Skidmore’s pamphlet). For many students of color, an outsider feeling is augmented by the College administration’s practices. Ewing says that race-related programs at Skidmore reveal the College’s attitudes and priorities.
“We have many different programs here on campus and they’re supported totally differently.” Ewing is also critical of the College’s investment in the Office of Student Diversity Programs. The College currently employs two administrators to the Office of Student Diversity Programs. “Two people can’t possibly program for every different ethnicity, background and experience of students of color here on campus. I think [OSDP] does great and they’ve done a lot this past year, but it’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of pressure just for two people to try to program events for an entire campus…other programs have a full staff and it may just be three or four people but those three or four people make a huge difference.”
Race discussions have been heightened in the past several years and were exacerbated by an off-campus altercation between students of color and local Saratoga residents in 2010.
To abate racial tension on campus, Skidmore supported the founding of Inter Group Relations (IGR) in 2008. Originally founded in 1988 at the University of Michigan (currently at the center of a burgeoning national debate about affirmative action and race-based admission practices), IGR has evolved into a national program that exists on college campuses across the nation. Designed as a social justice education program, students facilitate discussions around social group identity and social inequality. At Skidmore, the program has become synonymous with race relations as students endeavor to explore the meaning of their racial and social identities. However, some students contend that the program is “not helpful for students of color, it’s more about teaching white folks about people of color experiences and not really learning together from each other’s experiences.”
Ewing feels that this behavior is endemic at the College, where well-intentioned efforts at allyship often inflict more constraint on students of color. “I definitely think there’s strong value in allyship here, and I think it’s not all for the wrong reasons but it’s not really hitting the goal of an allyship, which is being supportive,” says Ewing, who continues: “I think my problem with allyships here are that people—specifically white people—begin to speak for people of color and not support and back them in their own experience, and feel that because they’ve taken a class they know about this particular oppressive issue that now they can speak for a person of color…at that point you’re not being an ally you’re now oppressing me, which is weird if you’re supposed to be supporting me.”
Whether suppressed or unused, Ewing and other founders of the “I, Too, Am, Skidmore” campaign hope to give a voice to student’s of color on Skidmore’s campus.
“It’s in our mission statement: to show our voices. Our voices are valuable, we’re here. We, too, are Skidmore.”
The I, Too, Am Skidmore Campaign was founded by Kimberly Careces, ’14, Jasmin Suarez, ’14, Kiara Boone, ’15, Sofia Naqvi, ’14 and Tobi Ewing, ’15. To see the campaign in it’s entirety, visit their Tumblr.
On Tuesday, April 29 in Chapel at 7 p.m. for a dialogue about race, diversity, and inclusion on Skidmore’s campus.
Correction: April 27, 2014
An earlier version of this article misspelled an I,Too, Am Skidmore founder’s name. Her name is Sofia Naqvi not “Sofia Naviq.”