On April 5, the social science division of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences hosted “The Global Rise of Far Right Extremism,” an event to discuss the systemic place of white supremacy in the world and here on campus. Presented in Alumni Hall, the event began with a viewing of the documentary White Right: Meeting the Enemy, where award-winning director Deeyah Khan speaks with members of white nationalists and Neo-Nazis to attempt to uncover what it is that drives individuals to hatred and mistrust. This was a crucial piece to provide context when proceeding to examine ourselves through a round-table style conversation, led by members of Lesley’s faculty and staff.
Given the polarization and extremism which can also be seen within the American landscape, the presentation was very timely. Panelists, who included Moderator Dr. Nafisa Tanjeem, Sociology Professor Dr. Arlene Dallalfar, Global Studies major Jocelyn Martinez, and Political Science Professor Dr. Michael Illuzzi, discussed issues ranging from affirming the university’s dedication to protecting immigrant students, to policies being passed by the Trump administration that destabilize the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.
The most striking part of the presentation came from the students attending and participating, as they attempted to answer what could be done to mitigate white supremacy in today’s world, and specifically on our campus. A resounding issue commented on by many students was the lack of coordination from faculty, administration, and students to effectively practice what we preach with our diversity standards. Students noted that time and time again, within classroom spaces, students of color were by and large expected to carry the weight of educating not only fellow peers on issues relating to race, ethnicity, and even sexuality and gender, but also the professors who are teaching the course.
The frustration of having to educate the educators from whom they are paying to receive instruction was palpable, along with the issue that if these classes are featuring authors of color dealing with issues of social justice, they are often recycled and reused. The diversity quota has seemed to be met, without practically providing anything new or educational for the student body. The conclusion was that professors should have the ability to further communicate with adjuncts and each other to exchange course materials, in order to insure that we as a university are providing stimulating material for each course and not recycling old and tired popular readings.
At one point, a member of the crowd asked the students to raise their hands if they were attending because they were promised extra credit. A majority of the room raised their hands. This illustrated perfectly the points made around changes on campus. A common sentiment from the part of students was that if the administration cared about promoting diversity outside of the buzzwords, this type of presentation should be mandatory and provided to every student and faculty member.
How do we show up for each other? This was a major question at the crux of almost every discussion during this presentation. Did we, whether students or the administration, show up for the friend of a presenter who had to discontinue her education at Lesley when Trump’s Muslim travel ban prevented a student from Yemen from returning? Do we show up every day as people with privilege to take the weight off of our friends and students when they face active racism or microaggressions? Do we show up for ourselves when we allow for neo-liberalism and feel-good social justice practices to keep us from recognizing that the issue is systemic and won’t be challenged with armchair activism?
An amazing point was made that President Obama was known as the Deporter in Chief for his prolific deportation record. It was said that it doesn’t matter what face presides over the White House, Democrat or Republican. The era of distrust and hostility are pushing every ideology to extremism, infused with unmitigated capitalism and misplaced anger. The center of white supremacy stems now from issues so insidiously entangled with our political system that electing a member of the opposing party will not quell the growing hatred coming from the far right.
Those of us who oppose the white power movement have to understand that these issues of oppression are written into our system. Thus, massive reconstruction of racist and sexist structures has to take place; and this only happens when we put our money where our mouth is and speak to those we disagree with. Creating dialogues oriented around solutions, as we involve ourselves in movements for social justice, is the only way we as a country, and furthermore, we as a student body, can move forward in the face of this ongoing wave of terror and hate we see around us. And above all, we should begin be asking ourselves: how can I show up for the other today?