Negative reactions to last year’s show of activism prompted students and faculty to create a safe environment for important issues to be discussed. This idea took the form of Lingua Franca, the first gathering held last Wednesday, at which students, faculty and staff discussed “Why do people self-segregate at Bates?”
Annakay Wright, a member of the class of 2017, organized a die-in last year in Commons to “spark and encourage conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement. Many of us on campus felt like, besides a few attempts by black-led groups on campus, no one was truly interested in discussing what was and is happening in our nation in terms of the criminalization of black bodies that have led to the death of so many black individuals by law enforcement,” Wright said.
After the die-in, Wright and fellow protesters were shocked by a number of negative and racist comments on Yik Yak. They, therefore, printed the yik yaks out and compiled them on a board with the Bates mission statement.
The board was “a means of a juxtaposition to compare what Bates says it is and what some Bates students actually believed,” Wright said.
After delivering the board to President Clayton Spencer and meeting with Associate Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Crystal Williams, the wheels were set in motion for the development of Lingua Franca.
“From my perspective, part of the challenge we all face on campus and in the country is that it is increasingly difficult to engage in frank, respectful, and open conversation with people who you don’t know and may hold fundamentally different ideas and beliefs,” Williams said. “So another hope is that Lingua Franca provides a space in which people can be truly curious.”
Wednesday’s discussion centered on the issue of self-segregation at Bates. Panelists started the forum, offering some comments as a framework for the small group discussions that followed. The panelists were Director of Research, Analysis and Planning Ann Marie Russell, Lisa Choi ’17, Associate Dean of Students for Residence Life and Health Education & Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Counselor Erin Foster-Zsiga and Associate Professor of Psychology Helen Boucher.
Choi, a sociology and politics major, sent out a survey last Short Term in which one of the questions was “based on respondents’ perception of how other students formed groups,” Choi clarified in a follow-up email. Sharing three or less of the following characteristics defines someone as “different.”
The six characteristics of difference were race/ethnicity, socioeconomic class, club activity, sexual orientation, class year and varsity sport. According to some of the survey results, 94 percent of students/respondents believe varsity sports is a frequent reason/characteristic that other students form groups, 80 percent of students/respondents believe class year is a frequent reason/characteristic that other students form groups and 73 percent of students/respondents believe race/ethnicity is a frequent reason/characteristic that other students form groups.
After the panelists spoke, much of the discussion centered on Commons as a space where self-segregation is evident, noting instances where students of the same race, class year or sports team tend to exclusively sit together. As Williams explains, in addition to fostering more conversation at Bates and beyond, “a wonderful result of these forums would be if organic solutions—when appropriate—about topics we discuss emerge.”
Commons was a predominant concern raised by many forum participants; therefore Williams sees an opportunity for “students themselves [to] create, employ, and own” a way of breaking barriers in the dining hall.
Wright hopes the conversation continues outside of these forums, in the dorms, in Commons and in their classes. “We need students to engage with each other in these types of environments because it makes us a better community and better citizens of this nation,” Wright said.
Darrius Campbell ’17 was a participant in Wednesday’s forum and questioned the sincerity of the Bates community in upholding the college’s values.
“I believe that Bates takes pride in values that simply do not exist,” Campbell said in a follow-up email. He pointed out examples of when those values are contradicted, particularly instances of exclusivity in Commons and the generalization that all Bates students are nice – even though discriminatory slurs have been directed at Campbell himself.
“I just want the administration to see that the Bates they try to promote with commendable and respectable values is actually struggling to accept that everyone is equal and no one is better than anyone, because even through different trials, we are all here and getting the same education… a Bates education,” Campbell said.
“Lingua Franca” means a language adopted as common between speakers whose native tongues differ. In that spirit, Lingua Franca is an opportunity to discuss issues in a respectful environment, as well as move into other spaces and platforms for discussion to implement solutions. More forums are expected for the coming academic year.