#IAmEmerson? rally raises the bar

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • April 30, 2015

At issue: #IAmEmerson? demands college create and enforce cultural sensitivity training for faculty and students

Our Take: Tuesday’s walkout sets a solid precedent for demanding change on campus.

A student-led campaign titled “#IAmEmerson?” is demanding change and establishing courses of action to make that change happen. It specifically calls for “cultural sensitivity training” for professors and “culturally enlightening classes” for students, but also a broader recognition of the humanity of students of color. “We would like to see the sociopolitical issues occurring outside the classroom acknowledged and respected within the academic environment,” says its mission statement.

These are goals whose relevance and necessity are self-evident, to show that at Emerson, this school for artists and innovators, everyone is created equal. It’s abundantly clear that students of all races and ethnicities—particularly students of color—at Emerson aren’t satisfied with the state of the college’s diversity practices. So the demonstrations this week were, as President M. Lee Pelton said, a reflection of student bravery and tenacity, and also a reflection of the dissonance between students and faculty.

The #IAmEmerson? rally was an important act of resistance that isn’t often used at this campus. In recent years, students have raised concerns about the phenomenon of so-called “slacktivism”: When students at this school are dissatisfied, many are quick to voice their grievances in a Facebook status or through a tweet.

The #IAmEmerson? campaign is a reflection of the opposite. Tuesday afternoon’s demonstration was admirable for many reasons, including raising the bar for how students should go about advocating change within our campus culture and administration. They stood up, raised their voice and let their presence and opinions be known to students and faculty alike. They effectively earned the campus dialogue Tuesday, and the reverberations of that dialogue are still being felt from the classrooms in Ansin to dorms in Piano Row. 

Numerous professors have brought up the demonstration in their courses, some saying that they regret if they’ve made students uncomfortable and encouraging further discussions about race. Jabari Asim, an associate professor of writing, literature, and publishing and the editor-in-chief of the NAACP’s The Crisis magazine, sent out a series of tweets applauding students for “taking us to school”: “So proud of these brilliant, beautiful students speaking truths today,” he tweeted. “My door is always open.” And the account for Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services tweeted, “ECAPS acknowledges the existence of institutional racism and the pervasive impact it has. We stand with those who seek change. #IAmEmerson?” 

This demonstration follows a laudable history of protest at Emerson. In 1969, a year after Emerson’s Black Organization with Natural Interests, or EBONI, was founded, the group demanded changes to admit black students to Emerson and improve the campus climate for them. A peaceful but tense debate took over the college for several months that year, EBONI co-founder Moonyene Jackson-Amis told the Beacon in January. Hundreds of students staged walkouts from classrooms and sit-ins at administrative offices. In the last 46 years, campus conditions have evidently not improved enough—but the spirit of their fight is still alive and well.

Tuesday’s demonstration seems to have started a conversation that has gotten the faculty’s attention. We wholeheartedly agree Emerson should spend more resources on campuswide cultural competency training for students and faculty alike. And now, it’s incumbent upon students to continue to effectively push for high standards in higher education.