I stumbled across Morgane Richardson's Refuse the Silence project via a link on Twitter. Immediately, it made me think of a discussion in the comments section of an earlier Y&F post about where the stories and conversations around the non-archetypical Millennial experience were and the need to bring attention to these stories as a means of fleshing out and adding dimensions to the (at present, pretty flat) media portrait of Gen Y. There are interesting people out there doing interesting, culturally significant work that has nothing to do with selling us luxury cars (I wish this was a joke) or advising us on how to leverage our blogs into a middle management future; they should get a bigger spotlight.
I approached Morgane about doing an interview for Bitch about Refuse the Silence and she graciously agreed. I don't think she'd mind if I referred to her as a fellow Cassandra when it comes to rightly cautioning against generalizing from individual or subgroup experience to that of the whole or using an averaged-out set of characteristics and experiences as proxy for or the public voice of a diverse, heterogeneous group (be that women of color, or Generation Y in general).
If you have your own questions for Morgane, I think we might be able to arm-twist her into answering a few of them in the comments section.
What was the impetus for starting Refuse The Silence?
When I was a student, I was incredibly active on my college campus, especially with the organization, Women of Color. So naturally, when I graduated I made an effort to stay in contact with the new leaders of Women of Color on campus.
During that time, I noticed that incoming women of color were beginning to have the same concerns my peers and I had: "The college got us here, but what are we supposed to do now? I don't fit in," was the fear that I was hearing.
I knew that I had to help… enough was enough, you know? I realized that there needed to be more of a long-term plan to help women of color on campus.
For once, I wanted the college to hear what these students were saying, what their struggles were as individuals and not, solely, as a collective.
What sort of reaction have you had so far?
There has been a really good response to Refuse The Silence. I think Women of Color in elite colleges have been waiting a while for someone to ask them how they are doing, what they are feeling, what changes they want to see take place. Most people want to be heard and everyone deserves it.
Refuse The Silence is focused on elite liberal arts colleges. Is there a particular reason for this? Why not all colleges?
I get that question a lot! You know, when I initially came up with the idea for Refuse The Silence, I wanted to capture and give voice to the experiences of women of color at every single college in the United States. After about a year of working through ideas, and speaking with friends, mentors and the like, I realized that if I was actually going to put together a plan of action based on the submissions I received, I needed to focus on a smaller group.
Plus, as a graduate of an elite liberal arts college, I knew of particular issues facing women of color on campus and I felt that I had a greater understanding there then in other institutional environments. Thus meaning, I can bring about change more easily because I have a better understanding of how those institutions function.
That being said, I hope to have the opportunity to do a similar book on Women of Color in colleges/universities throughout the United States… Anyone interested?
In what ways are these institutions failing women of color and/or not addressing their needs? Do you think there are commonalities with the experience of other visible and non-visible minorities in these settings?
To be honest, this is tough question and by answering it on behalf of Refuse The Silence I will be making assumptions about what the women in this project have to say.
Speaking only for myself, I think these institution fail women of color when they believe that all women of color have similar needs or views of academia. They fail when they give in to stereotypes. I have found that Women of Color at the college I attended are dealing with some different issues then when I was there two years ago... and that is to be expected when the student body, curriculum, college recruiters and the like, change.
This is not to say that there aren't commonalities, because I think there are many. For the most part, elite institutions fail to address the needs of their entire student body of color by focusing on increasing racial statistics and omitting the importance of retention. They do this by not recruiting faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds and/or by not having a curriculum that represents their entire student body. And then there is ignorance and blatant racism happening… professors asking for the "black voice" or "Asian voice," etc. in class and racial epithets written on students' walls… and institutions not asking their students how they think such occurrences should be dealt with.
And, do I think there are commonalities with the experience of visible and non-visible minorities in elite liberal arts colleges? Yes, of course! I have no doubt about it and I would love to get their stories as well!
What do you hope the outcome of Refuse The Silence will be? Who is the audience for this project and how to you plan to disseminate your findings to them?
Eventually, I will sit down with a team of students, graduates, academics, and activists to create a suggested plan of action (in the form of a book), based on the submissions I receive, to better assist women of color in elite liberal arts colleges. The findings will then be given to the administrators of such schools and hopefully, those suggestions will be implemented.
I am in the beginning stages of exploring the options of publicly tracking implementation to ensure that those suggestions aren't lost, so to speak.
I want to make certain that those changes are made, even if it takes 20 years, but my main hope is that women of color students continue to have a platform to be heard.
That being said, it would be wonderful if Refuse The Silence became a virtual and physical forum that women of color students and academic institutions always have access to!