Challenging Anti-Blackness and Anti-Semitism Together

September 17, 2020

Dear students, 

I am reminded every day that the work of fighting oppression rooted in a hierarchy of human value is essential to our ability to survive and, let alone thrive in tenuous times like these. I am inspired by the words of anti-lynching activist and suffragist, Ida B. Wells-Barnett who said, “the way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” In fact, her activism, like so many of ours was in part inspired by the injustices she witnessed including the unjust murder of a friend. It is not enough to name our commitment to anti-racist and anti-oppressive work, we must do this work even when it is uncomfortable as this is the hard labor of truth telling in moments of crisis. 

We are navigating a period in time where our voices and our actions matter now more than ever. And, I hope you know that I remain steadfast in supporting our campus community in the fight against inequality and injustice. I am reaching out to you today to share a reminder that we welcome student feedback, questions and input on the antiracism action plan. We are hosting a general student session tonight at 7:00 pm Eastern time with the College’s leadership team to hear your thoughts so we can improve and build upon the plan for the future. If you’d like to attend, please register by visiting this link: Anti-Racism Action Plan Feedback Session. You can also share your feedback by emailing antiracism@mtholyoke.edu. All are welcome to participate in tonight’s feedback session. 

Our work is meant to be expansive, evolutionary and consistent. The anti-racism action plan was launched in August of 2020 after a summer of incredible pain felt by so many people who identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Color. The assault on Black bodies in particular was overwhelming and yet we saw students work together to create spaces for sharing personal experiences. The voices of these students were constantly in the hearts and minds of those of us who serve as leaders of the College. The result was the beginning of anti-racist strategies that are meant to directly challenge ableism, anti-Blackness, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia and all other forms of oppression. 

I feel strongly that in this work, we also need to challenge any and all efforts that perpetuate a hierarchy of oppression. We can encourage people to do the introspective work of interrogating biases both within and outside of their communities but do so while rejecting powerful stereotypes and tropes about any group of people. Several weeks ago, a Chabad at the University of Delaware was burned. This attack on a sacred space for Jewish students on that campus is reminiscent of the Nazi symbols that were painted on walls at campuses around the country earlier this year, including nearby Smith College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. These are acts of violence meant to instill fear and send painful reminders to Jewish people everywhere. 

These overt acts of anti-Semitism work in tandem with everyday microaggressions, silencing and dismissive forms of anti-Semitism. As we move forward, I recall the words of Rabbi Joshua Lesser, in his reminder that “our communities are never static” and that our work of anti-racism and combating anti-Semitism “must be a continuing process” – one that is rooted in learning, community and the dignity of all peoples. The recent violent affront to the global Jewish community is also a call to action - every one of us should speak up about these horrific crimes and work to support Jewish members of our Mount Holyoke family. 

In our own community, there have been specific concerns about the perpetuation of stereotypes and tropes that further marginalize and target Jewish people. This honestly breaks my heart as I know firsthand how damaging this can be to our ability to listen to each other. It is clear that there are people not affiliated with Mount Holyoke that are seeking to further deride members of our campus community. We know that bias in all of its forms leads to the perpetuation of violence and further divisiveness that creates continued harmful interactions in our community. I am grateful for the space afforded to me and others by our Jewish students and reflect deeply on how hard our Jewish students have worked to explore difficult dialogues around important issues both within their own diverse community and in solidarity with others. 

The challenges we collectively face are white nationalism and white supremacy. I urge each of us to find places for solidarity, healing, in-depth education and opportunities for reflection as Ida B. Wells-Barnett pushed us to “turn the light of truth upon” these wrongs. I wanted to share with you additional programs, action steps and events that are embedded in the plan. The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is committed to acknowledging, healing, reconciling and restoring relationships and I will do my part to provide further clarity on the vision going forward. 

We want to be clear about efforts that we will take to challenge all forms of oppression including anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and to remind you that we see this work as intersectional and inclusive of a wide range of issues related to ability, gender, sexuality and much more: 

  • The Anti-Racism Action Plan is an intentional effort to acknowledge the past harm experienced by BIPOC community members, and to go yet further in working broadly toward the anti-racist policies and practices that will eradicate racial and ethnic hierarchies. It is meant to be intersectional and inclusive.
  • A number of BIPOC scholars will join us this fall as lecturers, presenters and to provide training and workshops for faculty and staff particularly to improve the experiences of BIPOC community members who practice a wide variety of faiths, including Islam and Judaism which are specifically targeted in racist tropes.
  • A part of the plan is to examine and acknowledge the College’s history around a host of issues related to BIPOC people, and that also includes an understanding of the College’s engagement with and attitudes towards the Jewish community, and the Jewish experience at Mount Holyoke. 
  • Along with the many programs challenging anti-Black racism, the College will build upon work we’ve started and host a teach-in focused on combating anti-Semitism, with a specific focus on building stronger allyship with the Jewish community adding to the incredible work facilitated last spring by the Division of Student Life on the history of bridge building in Black and Jewish relations. 
  • We will continue to invite speakers who educate us about the rise of white nationalism, the proliferation of anti-Semitic discourse online, the specific attacks on Jewish and Muslim people in our work to illuminate the need for allyship in these areas. 
  • The College will continue to examine how Christian normativity has created a hierarchy in its systems, and will address policies and practices that perpetuate this norm. 
  • The College leadership will provide more opportunities for community members to engage with each other, with a focus on the experiences of marginalized religious communities, directly addressing incidents of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia whenever they arise and ensuring that faculty and staff are equipped to respond to these incidents in the classroom and in co-curricular experiences.

I remain honored to be in service to you in the work of diversity, equity and inclusion. I am so hopeful for what we can continue to co-create together. I hope you join me in sending our best wishes for a sweet and happy new year to every member of the Jewish community as High Holy Days begins tomorrow with the observance of Rosh Hashanah. 

In solidarity, 

 

Kijua Sanders-McMurtry
Vice President for Equity and Inclusion
Chief Diversity Officer