Exploring racism and privilege

Mount Holyoke has developed a series of forums to focus on race and anti-racism.

By Keely Sexton

With the nation’s eyes fixated on the systemic abuses aimed at those with marginalized identities, Mount Holyoke has continued its efforts to hold space for its community members to heal, think, talk, and probe the issues. 

This work, in addition to the College’s financial contributions to prominent organizations focused on equality, is intended to increase awareness and action on racism and bias both on campus and outside.

This part of the ongoing series of virtual forums were focused around Black lives, including sessions on Black parenting, Black joy and liberation, Black students’ healing circle, , Black incarceration, Black trans lives, and supporting Black workers. While some were open to the public, others were specifically for people who identify as Black.

The focus on the most vulnerable people — those who are incarcerated, transgender or otherwise more marginalized — was a deliberate choice, explained Kijua Sanders-McMurtry, chief diversity officer and vice president for equity and inclusion. “When we center the people who are most vulnerable, we are taking care of everyone else,” she said. 

As Mount Holyoke reckons with and addresses its own actions and inactions that have contributed to racism, these events will continue as a way of ensuring that the community embraces all of its members equitably — and to challenge all members to examine and consider their own role in perpetuating or pushing back against racism.

Sanders-McMurtry said that her hope is to include the entire community in the work of anti-racism.

“You do not have to be in a position of power to effect change,” she said, noting that a climate of exclusion is perpetuated by subtle communications and gestures, as seemingly innocuous as commenting on racialized differences such as names and hair, creates deep divides within a community that worsen if not addressed. 

“Anti-racism is daily, ongoing, persistent work,” she said, encouraging individuals to grapple with their own challenges honestly. 

“Interrogate who you are. To reach others, we first have to know ourselves,” she said. “Oftentimes the most learning can come when you are resisting something within yourself.”

In the spirit of challenging and dismantling racism within its own gates, Mount Holyoke will continue to not only host events, but will also roll out new models to address bias within the community and to further empower community members to challenge racism as it shows up in their own lives.

“These events are not meant to be the cure,” said Sanders-McMurtry. “Showing up is a step, but everyone has to do their own work.”

Anti-racism events and programming continue to be developed and expanded on campus. Check the calendar for new offerings.

Related News

Kijua Sanders-McMurtry (lower right) and Angelis Liriano ’22 (upper right) spoke with Connecting Point about the action plan to ensure the College would be “persistent and uncompromising” in addressing all forms of implicit and explicit racism.

MHC’s anti-racism action plan discussed

Mount Holyoke College’s Kijua Sanders-McMurtry and Angelis Liriano ’22 were on Connecting Point to discuss the College’s anti-racism action plan.  

Hanna Schoenbaum ’21, English and film double major, did an internship at Lambda Literary, focusing specifically on its website and social media platforms.

LEAP 2020!

Students reflecting on their internships through the annual LEAP 2020 presentations demonstrated the depth and breadth of the liberal arts.

As part of its extended discussion around this year's Common Read, The 1619 Project, Mount Holyoke College welcomes Martha S. Jones to discuss her research, her family history and her connection with the College.

Martha Jones talks about her book “Vanguard”

Mount Holyoke College welcomes Martha Jones to discuss her book “Vanguard,” how Black women defied both racism and sexism to fight for the right to vote.   

As part of Mount Holyoke College’s ongoing voter education and mobilization effort, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion hosted political commentator Melissa Harris-Perry and Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to talk about voting

Voting and voter suppression

Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and writer Melissa Harris-Perry talked voting and voter suppression as a part of Mount Holyoke’s voting series.

Mount Holyoke College was recently named a First-gen Forward Institution by the Center for First-generation Student Success.

Mount Holyoke wins First-gen Forward honor

Mount Holyoke has received national recognition for its demonstrated commitment to advancing first-generation college student success.

Find more stories >