After attending the forum Wednesday night at the Af-Am house, talking with my friends who are women of color and standing in the Silliman courtyard to hear students address Master Nicholas Christakis, I feel drained. At night before bed, I think about what I, as a white woman, can do to support and love the women of color on this campus. I know many of the white women around me are asking similar questions.
But this is exactly what we shouldn’t be thinking. I should not feel drained by these conversations; the women who are voicing their sadness, anger and pain are so much more tired by these discussions than I can feel or understand. I need to get out of my own head and spend my energy listening to the voices around me that go unheard most of the year. Only through listening can I learn, and only through learning can I hope to combat hatred on this campus and beyond.
So, white women: listen first.
And don’t just listen in forums and large group discussions. Reach out individually to women of color you know. Remind them of your love and support. Many black women on campus have made themselves vulnerable before the entire community by sharing their experiences. Commend your friends for their bravery and for taking on a burden that shouldn’t be theirs to carry in the first place. It takes a lot to be a Yale student, and even more so for someone who must constantly fight for the right to be heard and respected.
The women who have come forward and who are leading these discussions are more than courageous; they are generous. They have no responsibility to educate us about racism. That is our own responsibility.
So, white women, educate yourselves. Lex Barlowe ’17, in her opening statements to the crowd at the Af-Am house on Wednesday, read a document written by the Black Student Alliance at Yale about changes that need to take place on campus to cultivate a more inclusive and safe environment. One demand was that an Af-Am and WGSS class be mandatory for all Yale students. Even if these classes are not currently mandatory, make them mandatory for yourselves. Go out and read about how racism operates in the lives of people around you. Read writing by black women, and read a lot of it. Read Audre Lorde. Read Claudia Rankine. Read Elizabeth Alexander, an amazing professor who’s leaving Yale this year (shoutout again to BSAY, who also demanded an initiative to retain faculty of color). Read, and forget about yourself while you do so.
On Thursday, Master Christakis interrupted students instead of listening to them. I do not believe that he meant to be so condescending and uncaring to the students he addressed. Intention is not all that matters, of course. He caused students a lot of pain, students for whom he is supposed be an advocate, and for that he owes an apology. But Master Christakis’ response also shows a lack of understanding. He obviously did not understand what it means to confront racism with respect and sensitivity. He should be listening, not talking, like Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway. He should be reading black women’s writing, not tweeting from the Silliman Twitter account.
White women, after you‘ve listened and read, it’s time to remember your role in all this. We need to step up. Many of the black women on campus are exhausted. As white women, we can use our privilege to support the black voices around us. We do not face the same violence and hatred as women of color do. As white women, we need to get in faces, we need to yell, we need to get angry and fight back.
But enough about what white women can do. We need to direct the conversation back to the experiences of people of color on this campus. At this moment, black women, who are so vital to our community, are hurting. Yale should learn to care for the women of color here, who, through speaking out, make our campus a better place.
Sophie Ruehr is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .