From student activists on complicity and final exams

Dear Deans,

This letter has been written in response to your message “Protests and Final Exams: A Message from the Deans in Dowling Hall.” There is a long history at Tufts of university administrators disrespecting student activism and invalidating student’s lived experiences, and we find that your messages regarding final exams exemplify this pattern. Last spring, Tufts students, many of whom were survivors of sexual assault, did work meant to be done by administrators on their own behalf and on behalf of other Tufts students, thus having to suffer through re-traumatization along the way. These students worked endlessly to reform university policies, something that they supposedly pay thousands of dollars to the university for administrators to do. The response they received from Dowling Hall indicated that their actions were not deemed important enough for them to receive academic relief. This message was repeated in the email sent out yesterday when you said that “involvement in any type of activity that is a student’s choice does not merit extensions or incompletes.”

Your message demands that students continue business-as-usual. Black students and those in solidarity with them would like nothing more than to study for their exams and go home to their families for winter break. However, business-as-usual has never been possible for students of color, especially for black students. Anti-blackness on this campus has made it impossible for black students to be just students. These students’ academic studies, social lives and mental health are all deeply impacted by the anti-blackness from many of their peers, their professors, their administrators and by the continued reminder from national events that black people have always had a target on their backs.

Your message demands that students get medical documentation of their distress from Health Services, a department criticized by students of color for not addressing their needs, for failing to provide counselors of color, for failing to help them cope with the racism they experience on this campus every day. Knowing that your services are inadequate and thus racist, we ask — how is continued genocide against black lives not enough evidence of a dire need for academic support? This begs the question: Will the extensions granted with medical documentation extend as long as white supremacy exists? As long as Tufts is racist?

Your message reads as a threat to students. It communicates that black students must prioritize their grades over fighting for their liberation or face the consequences. Rallying and protesting is not a choice, as you chose to describe it. If we do not act, we allow and perpetuate violence against those whom it affects. By forcing students into this gamble, you inherently keep many from acting and are thus ensuring that this behavior, ignorance and complicity in the existing white supremacist system will go on untouched. Suppressing student activism is equivalent to the support of oppression. When we are restricted from acting in full force, the glaring problems on this campus and beyond are strengthened.

Tufts lauds active citizenship, but not black citizenship. The exhausting, traumatizing work of black student activists on this campus is the epitome of active citizenship. But you do not recognize that. By refusing to acknowledge the need for and implications of protest and student activism, you blatantly ignore the concerns and experiences of black students on this campus for the sake of maintaining a façade of “active citizenship” that cannot exist for everyone. Tufts does not laud black voices, it does not laud anti-racism. Tufts lauds complacent, quiet and restrained white citizenship. And we refuse to accept that.

We strongly encourage you to reconsider your email, rethink your position and consider the violence of your words. Thanks for your time.

Update: Comments have been closed to prevent further hateful speech and ad hominem arguments.

  • golshivan

    YESSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • guest any

    Well if they didn’t get admitted to the school because of their ethnicity maybe we wouldn’t have this issue. What is this said prejudice? The only racism I see is the inflated grades handed out to reach quotas.

  • Guest

    This letter is awful and embarrassing. There is a “genocide” against black people? Asking people to take their exams is “a threat” and “violence”? Stay strong, Tufts administration. The silent majority of non crazy people supports you

    • Guest

      I’m guessing you’re white. It depresses me that I go to school with someone as ignorant as you.

      • Not the guest above

        What is this genocide you speak of? I have seen with my own eyes unequal grading in favor of an African American (who is my roommate).

        • lol white men are hilarious

          lol do you not have any knowledge of the past 400 years of Black people in America? How did either of you graduate?

          • Guest

            It is truly unfathomable to relate slavery 150 years ago to modern day America. Though 10 percent of the U.S. civilian labor force, African-Americans
            are 18 percent of U.S. government workers. They are 25 percent of the
            employees at Treasury and Veterans Affairs, 31 percent of the State
            Department, 37 percent of Department of Education employees and 38
            percent of Housing and Urban Development. They are 42 percent of the
            Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Pension Benefit Guaranty
            Corp., 55 percent of the employees at the Government Printing Office and
            82 percent at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.

          • Guest

            I’m not sure what the point is of the statistics that your posting. It is unfathomable to say that slavery doesn’t inform the racial system of today.

          • Mina

            You are disgusting

          • Mina

            You are.

      • Guest

        Actually, I already graduated. You know, because I took my exams.

      • Guest

        Its funny how you live in a world where students being expected to take exams is racist, but invalidating someone’s opinion based on their race is not.

        • Guest

          we live in a world where the system of racism against black people means that white people don’t have the ability or the right to comment about how they need to “get over it” or about how there is no racism. You’re not living it, you don’t know.

          • Guest

            “white people don’t have the…right to comment”. Thanks for making my point!

            FYI, I never said “get over it” or “there is no racism”. But you can keep tilting at windmills if you want, since that’s a lot easier than defending the position stated in the letter.

          • Person.

            Also, if white people don’t have the ability to comment on there being no racism, how do white people (i.e. the two authors) have the ability to comment on there being racism?

          • Guest2

            LMAO sooo why are you assuming the writers are white? I know one of them personally and she’s black so..?

          • Person.

            Doesn’t answer the question.

      • Donte

        Assuming someone’s race based on their opinion? There’s a word beginning with R that describes that.

    • Pedro

      I’m glad that you are affiliating yourself with the ‘silent majority’ who “supported” the war in Vietnam. Such a great endeavor in our history and your joking association with that statement is very telling.

      • Guest

        The phrase “silent majority” isn’t limited to that context. I’m not sure what this has to do with the Vietnam War

        • Pedro

          Silent majority in my mind is linked to Nixon’s popularization of the term in his 1969 “The Silent Majority” speech concerning the Vietnam War. Sure there are other contexts but that’s the most salient IMO.

          Regardless I was just trying to prod at this guy’s word choice and point out how mainstream white America’s discrediting of “crazy” current black activism is nothing new considering the context of previous generations’ movements and the blockages they faced due to the silence of the moderate majority.

          • Guest

            The reason I chose the phrase “silent majority” is because rationale people have been scared into silence because they are afraid of being called racist. Therefore the only voices that the administration hears is the few, the loud, the shrill.

    • guest

      Students are not saying they do not want to take their exams. What they are saying that this latest assault on black lives in this country, which has sparked an international movement many are comparing to the civil rights movement, is deeply distressing (particularly students of color and especially black students). These students are in some cases unable to put forth their best efforts in their exams at this particular moment because their safety and humanity as black people is being attacked on a daily basis, be it from anti-black police brutality or people like you dismissing them as “crazy” for 1) needing some time to process this profound violence (which for some is helped by taking action) and 2)needing to participate in/lead actions to demand substantive changes to systems that are deeply violent and dehumanizing towards black people. actions cannot be put off until later, because if they are, the momentum of this critical movement will die down.

      In light of all of this, I think it’s more than fair to say exams can wait a couple of weeks.

      • Guest

        There is no “assault on black lives” in this country. There were two separate and unrelated incidents that involved police killings of men who happened to be black. I’ve yet to hear a single shred of evidence that either incident was motivated by racism.

        In the first case, a violent criminal, fresh off of robbing a convenience store and assaulting its owner (who was a “person of color”, by the way), was confronted by a police officer. There is evidence that this criminal, a 6’3, nearly 300 pound man, charged the officer, punched him multiple times, and tried to grab his weapon. In the heat of the moment, the officer felt he had to shoot the man. Even if you doubt this sequence of events, this is a reasonable interpretation of the evidence, and there is no way that Officer Wilson would have been convicted if the case had gone to trial.

        The second case involved what can only be described as a terribly tragic accident. Eric Garner was not a threat, and he did not deserve to die. I’ve watched the video more than once and it is heartbreaking. But it is also clear from the video that the officer, while he probably used more force than was required to arrest Garner, did not intend to kill him, nor could he have reasonably expected that what he did would result in Garner’s death. As soon as Garner said “I can’t breathe”, the officer immediately lets go of the hold. This was not a “murder” in any way shape or form.

        Michael Brown and Eric Garner were not executed for the crime of being black in America. You won’t be killed for walking down the street. If you are afraid, that fear has been perpetuated by a media that loves to sensationalize everything and by political leaders like Al Sharpton who want to use you to aggrandize their own power.

  • Byron

    Stop complaining and take your freaking exams. There is plenty of time for activism and protests after. As a Tufts alum I am utterly embarrassed.

  • guest

    Excellent job! Movement rising!

  • guest

    The students posting such anti-black hate on this thread are just a sign of how far this campus has to go to overcome racism. Shame.

    • Person.

      It truly trivializes the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner to have students from a school hundreds of miles a way asking to be excused from exams because they cannot cope with the deaths of two people they have never met. College exists to prepare young adults for professional lives and as a professional you cannot hide your head in the sand when bad things happen. Show the world that you can protest and succed professionally, or else you just live up to the stereotypes.

  • David Pernick

    I’m all for the “Black Lives Matter” movement in general, but it’s extremely counterproductive to progress to throw around the word racism so carelessly. If a service is inadequate for Black students, then it’s inherently flawed and needs to be reformed. But “racist” implies that this is intentionally designed to discriminate against Black folks. Let’s put that word back in the holster so that we don’t shut down the conversations that need to take place right now.

  • Jon

    No one forced anyone to protest. Good for you for exercising your right to do so. You did so on your time, you made the decision to do it. If you did it without time to study, that is on you.

  • Activist against Ignorance

    Its all about prioritizing really. You can be an activist but you must first fulfill your commitments. Of which, is in taking your college exams when they are originally scheduled. You shall be held accountable for expectations. Don’t look for pardons or extensions. Do your work now, change the world later.

    • guest

      change the world later? really? clearly you do not realize what is at stake here.

  • Guest

    Tufts alum here. This article is disgusting, and it makes me embarrassed to be a Jumbo.

    As a Jew, I am frankly outraged that anyone would call what is happening in 21st century America a “genocide”.
    It takes away from the gravity of real genocides throughout history, such as the Holocaust, in which OVER 6 MILLION JEWS WERE KILLED IN ONLY FIVE YEARS.

    Get real, Tufts.

    • JDC

      “As a Jew, I believe the primacy of the Holocaust among other murders and will continue to use ‘as a Jew’ as a political tool to try to make this opinion appear more valid.”

      There, I helped.

  • Gia Rowley

    After reading many comments I want to add this.

    I can’t say it as well as this quote by Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” If you think about this deeply enough you can come to realize that the “decision” of whether to protest or not goes much deeper than what commenters are implying. People act as if going to protests is a positive decision (“I choose to go to protests”) but ignore the fact that if students were to choose to study for finals over their activism, this is not neutrality towards Ferguson and racism in America, it is a negative decision, the decision to not act–(“I choose to let white supremacy continue by not actively fighting against it”). Commenters and the administration are asking students to simply not choose to protest, but what they don’t realize is that this request is also asking students to perpetuate white supremacy by not actively fighting it.

    This letter does a great job of articulating my above point, and the authors said it best when they said that “suppressing student activism is equivalent to the support of oppression.” Anyone who questions the validity of this article needs to reconsider what it means to tell students that they should not be acting and protesting and re-consider how this perpetuates racism in America by suppressing movements against it.

  • Guest

    And the dozens or hundred of students that attended the protests and still managed to handle their academics? Is it fair that they stayed up, maybe for hours on end, to take care of their responsibilities? What about a number of students who will abuse the situation… how do you prove they were actually at the protests?

  • Donte

    Some things are beyond parody. I fear for the mental health of anyone who takes this article seriously. You’re in college. Stop spending your nights blocking the highway and take the tests for the classes you chose.

    Stay strong against this absurdity, Tufts admin.

  • Saba

    Fantastic piece, Maya and Taylor.
    Most of these comments just reify the fact that Tufts students (and administration) are socialised to be blind to the continued structural violence against bodies of colour, and especially black bodies. Of course, there is comfort in being the people who benefit from oppression.

    • Guest

      Genuine question, since I keep reading the phrase in the wake of these incidents. Why do people keep saying “black bodies ” to refer to black people? It strikes me as creepy and dehumanizing.

  • Tommy

    The real issue on campus is the privilege privilege exhibited by white and black students.

  • Acton

    Activist privilege means not having to deal with the consequences of standing in the street instead of studying for exams.

  • Guest

    For a lot of people who commented on this page, it must be nice not having to face institutional racism on an everyday basis. People of color continuously face microaggressions from peers, assume responsibility to teach their peers about social justice issues, face discrimination from the Tufts Police, faculty, and staff. I think this is good policy for mental health reasons.

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