Refuse the Silence: being a woman of color at an elite college

Morgane Richardson, a 2008 graduate of Middlebury College, is speaking out about what it’s like to go to a largely white, elite college as a person of color. Ileana Jimenez, aka Feminist Teacher, interviewed her on her blog recently. An excerpt:

I could write a whole book on what I would have said had a microphone been provided! You know, as a student, I wasn’t thinking about policy changes on a big level. I was thinking about the day-to-day, “How do I survive here?,” “How do my fellow women of color survive here?,” “What can we do to make this a little more comfortable for us?” Ultimately, I wanted the college to hear our individual struggles. They made such a big deal about diversifying the school, but there was no integration, no real questioning of how we were doing day-to-day. As for when I wanted them to hear us, the answer is always. I always wanted them to hear us. There should always be a place for students of color to speak out and be heard, not just amongst each other.

I was heartened to read this interview for so many reasons. As a graduate of Barnard College, I often felt like the dynamics of race and class were only discussed among segregated groups, or pseudo-intellectual, depersonalized ways, rather than being taken on directly and with a sense of intersectional responsibility. Barnard is the all women’s college under the Columbia University umbrella–a very problematic relationship.

I came to Barnard thinking that I was incredibly lucky to have gotten in at all, and quickly learned that I would be typecast as both a second-class citizen (Barnard girls, purportedly, only went to Barnard because they weren’t smart enough to get into Columbia) and a slut (“Barnard girls to bed, Columbia girls to wed” was actually uttered with a semi-serious straight-face by many a Columbia man). I have often thought about speaking out about these heinous dynamics so that another first-year doesn’t have to spend precious college time and energy processing it the way I did, but been too distracted to get my shit together.

Richardson is essentially doing the incredibly unselfish and generous thing–making sure others don’t have to feel alone in the same way she did, giving them a resource to depend on in their time of similar need. She is putting together an anthology of writings and visual arts, titled Refuse the Silence, on the topic. Learn more and submit here.

Join the Conversation