A Resolution for Everyone's Resolution List
January 22, 2015
Samantha Smylie ’17
Black Lives Lost To Police Brutality
John Crawford III
Timothy Stansbury Jr.
Von Derrit Myers Jr.
...and many more.
This subject is very touchy for me to talk about because it is near to my heart and it is the core of my identity. The lives of those listed above are important to acknowledge. Our society has made it apparent that the lives of those who are Black and Brown do not matter, but Black lives do matter. Black people are human. We are mothers and fathers. We are sisters and brothers. We are cousins. We are friends that you laugh with and cry to. We are teachers, police officers, lawyers, doctors, and much more. We are here. We will not be invisible anymore. Our lives are important.
Before I go into a heavy topic, I want to say Happy New Year's and I hope everyone reading this blog post has welcomed 2015 with open arms. I hope that you have a wonderful year.
At the beginning of every year it is a tradition to create goals for the entire year. I, on the other hand, opted out of this tradition. I did not want to create any New Year resolutions because it seemed impossible to plan for an entire year--most people fail. I decided that I need to take it day by day. Then I realized that I lied to myself--there is something that I want to do in 2015.
For 2015, I pledge to myself that I will amplify the voices of marginalized/oppressed people in every medium that I can. I will blog about my experiences as a low-income, Black woman on this campus. I will not be afraid to talk about my experiences in my classes. I will not feel ashamed of my identity anymore. I will challenge my professors to acknowledge my presence and to acknowledge the experiences of Black people in America.
When I arrived at Oberlin, I did not believe that being a low-income, Black woman on campus would negatively influence my experience. I grew up learning about Black History in America and took classes in high school to understand wealth inequality. I wanted to come to Oberlin to build on this and be around people who understood my experiences, even though they might not have lived them. For the most part, I was right. Through the Posse scholarship program that I am a part of, I met other scholars who worked on issues that I wanted to learn more about. I also met other Oberlin students who were doing social justice work on racism, sexism, and classism. However, I wasn't in the same spaces with these amazing people all the time.
My first year at Oberlin, I was surrounded by a lot of students who were unaware of their own prejudices. I experienced a lot of micro-aggressions, which are small instances of someone being prejudiced towards you. I also noticed a lot of misappropriation of my culture. I experienced a lot of people having guilt about slavery, which I understand is a step of acknowledging an issue--but these instances were taking the issue of racism and internalizing it to distract the conversation. I felt silenced a lot of times when I would challenge prejudices within those around me. There were plenty of times when I felt like I was not wanted because of who I am and the support I thought I had was not there.
Oberlin advertises itself to be a liberal campus that is accepting of all identities. When I first decided to come to this campus, I had faith in that idea. Oberlin has history to support its progressive ideologies. However, that is history. In my experience, Oberlin is a great place for some marginalized groups but is a toxic environment for others. The last week of November 2014, after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson--the police office who murdered Mike Brown--reinforced my experience. The political landscape of campus was very tense. Black students on campus, especially sophomores and freshmen, were ambushed with the amount of ignorance about police brutality in the Black community.
The trauma that Black students face in the real world went unnoticed by Oberlin's administration. Our cries for support were met by a small amount of faculty and staff. Anonymously, other Oberlin students dismissed what happened to Mike Brown and Eric Garner. From me, I did not feel safe on campus. I felt the need to hide. I felt drained.
When I was a senior in high school, I thought that Oberlin was the perfect place to be because of its raving reviews of being an open and accepting place. I bragged to my friends about how important Oberlin was in the abolitionist movement. I talked to my parents about how Oberlin was one of the stops in the notorious Underground Railroad during slavery. I talked to my teachers in private about the Anti-Vietnam War Movement of the 1970s, that Oberlin Students were a part of. I believed that students who applied to Oberlin wanted to be a part of this legacy and add to it. I know that my beliefs at that time might seem naïve, but not to me. I understood that every student had a wide range of experiences--we grew up in different locations, we have different religious beliefs, we have different cultural values; to simply put it, we had our differences. However, I thought that in selecting Oberlin, students would be willing to learn more about themselves as well as others and working together to combat oppression. I was quickly awakened from my dream.
Oberlin has used its history as a marketing strategy to attract students. Oberlin's activism is very selective and only certain issues are privileged while others are silenced, for example race relations. There are some students who wanted to come to Oberlin just because it is a high-ranking private liberal arts college, not because of its history in social justice. What Oberlin was in the past is nothing more than a business now. We need to find a way back to the old Oberlin. I believe that writing about my experiences it will provide prospective students insight to Oberlin's issues, current students will have a space to openly critique campus, and it will help me heal.
I do not want to completely discredit Oberlin. By talking to students of color at other predominately white institutions, I realize that it could be much worse. However, I think it's important to talk about how to Oberlin can get better and set an example for other institutions of higher education. Prospective students I do not want you to be afraid of applying to Oberlin because of my views. Nevertheless, I want to arm you with information for when you come to campus. I hope that my honesty will keep you from being blindsided once on campus.
Prospective students, I would love to answer any questions that you have for me or you can suggest to me what issues you are concerned with on campus. I will do my best to answer every question. For the questions that I can't address, I will seek advice from other students within the community, whom I have learn many things from. Here are some ideas of topics to help guide you:
- Rape Culture at Oberlin
- Mental Health Services on campus
- Queer/Trans* identities and finding support
- Being a person of color on campus
- Finding who you are as a woman
- Political Ideologies
- Being a Low-Income student
Issues in the world change the mood of campus. It is in your best interest to try to keep up with what's happening in the news. Here are some websites that you might find interesting:
Have a Great Day.
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Responses to this Entry
Sammie I love that you brought up a number of relevant points about activism, legacy and self-education.
The start of seasons (new years, new semesters, birthdays, etc.) offer a necessary opportunity to resolve to do better and one of the ways to make the most of that is to commit ourselves to becoming self-critical. A huge part of that is caring to do the research of issues beyond our immediate selves/communities. One thing that the #BlackLivesMatter movement has helped to do is to recommit sociopolitcal struggle to recognizing the viability of Black bodies once again.
And to build on that, yes, Oberlin is a part of those historic struggles for visibility and access for people of African descent. At the same time, Oberlin (as well as many other places and structures) participate in de-legitmizing visibility for these same bodies. So what is a I-want-to-do-better person actually supposed to do? You make a great first step suggestion by encouraging folks to resolve to actively participate in the work of self-educating. There are tons of resources and knowledgeable people to seek out and I love that you made a point of expressing that!
Posted by: Alex on January 24, 2015 11:10 PM
Thank you so much for this post, Sammie. I love that you mentioned amplifying marginalized voices as a goal for the year. That's something I've tried and probably mostly failed to do in recent months and this post is a great reminder to commit to that and do it for real.
I want to echo Alex's thoughts on self-education. It's crucial and I believe it's the place that people most often fall short. Classrooms, peers, and teachers are all so important to learning, but I think that real learning happens when you're filling in the gaps that those other resources have left and synthesizing information for yourself.
Overall, great post, keep doing what you do.
Posted by: Emily W on January 25, 2015 10:44 PM
Thanks for the commenting Emily! As a politics minor, I understand the news is very important because you have to know what is happening in the world at that very moment. However, I learn best when I am emotionally connected to a topic and that only occurs in my small interactions with people. At Oberlin, I learn so much more when people are telling me their personal histories. I value hearing those narratives. So, my advice to others would be to tell them to go found a group a people, that you feel comfortable with, and talk to them about different issues.
Posted by: Samantha Smylie '17 on January 26, 2015 12:14 AM
Thanks for the comment Alex!! I really think that self-educating is important. I did add resources for reading, but I understand that reading is not for everybody. Self-education has to be more active than sitting at home and reading material. You must walk a mile in someone's shoes in order to really understand their experience. Self-educating yourself can be talking to others around you or finding a group of people, who you are comfortable with, to converse with. Go to a museum and interact with different displays or listen to music. There are other ways to access the narratives of marginalized/ oppressed people. So, on my journey of highlighting experiences of marginalized people, I can talk about doing those things. Have a good day. :)
Posted by: Samantha Smylie '17 on January 26, 2015 12:26 AM
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