Dear President Neuhauser,
I received a letter in the mail about one month ago from the Advancement Office thanking me for my last donation and asking me if I would like to make a donation again to the school. A few weeks later, my phone rang with the very recognizable 802-654-2000…
As a student, I remember volunteering to do the phone drives where we would call alumni asking for money in exchange for free pizza. Hungry college students almost never pass up a chance to get free food. (Am I right??) Now, as a working mom of two, giving back to the school that gave me so much is important, but something that I prefer to do when it makes financial sense to me.
After reading the latest article on SMC in the Free Press and speaking with my fellow alumni I will no longer contribute to the college.
I remember walking into Lyon Hall in August of 2001 with my family. My roommate had already arrived and we began unpacking into what would be our home for the next year. Looking around the halls I thought “wow, here goes nothing.” I was nervous, as most college freshman would be, as this would be the longest that I had ever been away from my family. I was also nervous, though, because well– I was different.
Growing up in a large Jamaican family in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn my interactions with white people were few and far in between. There were some teachers at school and some people at my parents’ jobs. That’s it. I didn’t have any white friends, nor did I know any white kids my age. So I took a huge leap of faith walking onto a college campus with about 1,800 students and less than 1% of those students were female students of color. As a member of the Founder’s Society on campus and a tour guide, it was my duty to be knowledgeable on the history of Saint Michael’s College. Therefore, I know that the college, which was an all-male school began admitting female students in the 1970s and since the 1970s the entering graduating class of 2005 held the largest class of females of color for the school to date.
All 7 of us.
So you can understand how a girl coming from a background filled with people of color could feel a bit of a culture shock when moving in with all white students. I was afraid of being called out for my differences. I was afraid of being called “the N word.” I was afraid that people would think that I was only there because I was black; that people would know about the school’s quest to diversify.” Even though I graduated high school with honors and scored well on my SATs, I was afraid that I was a fraud and that maybe I didn’t belong there.
I would say that I was your ideal SMC student- I was a member of the Founder’s Society, member and senior captain of the cheerleading squad (Go, Knights!), member of the MLK Jr. Society, Resident Assistant, Orientation Leader, M.O.V.E. volunteer, I studied abroad, and was a Dean’s List student, all while working 2-3 jobs all four years (“Welcome to Cumberland Farms, please pump when you’re ready.”).
I loved Saint Mike’s. I loved that place so much I didn’t go home for the summer after freshman year. I stayed on campus being a summer RA, taking classes, and just enjoying all of the beauty that Vermont had to offer in the summer.
Let me repeat myself: I didn’t go home.
You see, Saint Mike’s was my home. I never experienced one ounce of prejudice or racism while on that campus. Ignorance? Yes. There were many “can I touch your hair?” and “Oh! You’re from Brooklyn, New York? So have you seen someone get shot before?” moments. But people don’t know what they don’t know. I learned that very quickly. My white friends would wash their hair in the shower and go outside for class and the only thing that I could think was “Oh my GOD you’re going to get sick!” because my Jamaican mother had taught me that people don’t go outside with wet hair. Ever. (I still believe this, by the way)
People welcomed me. People talked to me. People asked their questions because my friends and I made it okay for them to do so. The professors, the staff– there was never a time when I felt uncomfortable or like I was not supposed to be there. Did I feel different? Absolutely. I dressed differently, my hair was different, my “New York accent” was heavy, and frankly there was no way that I could not know that I was different. 7 freshman black girls. On a campus with 1,800 students.
One look around Alliot Hall let us know that we were different. In fact, I remember at one of our roundtable discussions led by the Multicultural Student Affairs Office, reminiscent to a current-day “AMA” on Reddit, one student asked “why do all of the black students sit together in the lunchroom?” To which I responded “why do all of the white students sit together?”
See how that works?
Maybe we were coddled. Maybe people made an extra effort with us all to protect us. Maybe we were special.
Or maybe people at the school just valued everything that Saint Michael’s College stood for.
Imagine my surprise upon hearing that black students have been called n***ers, posters have been defaced with swastikas, the words ‘Make America White Again’ and a muslim student was accosted at Father Mike’s funeral.
The Saint Michael’s College website reads:
“Our passion for social justice means we don’t just talk about improving the world. We have a history of it. Part of the Edmundite legacy is the vital role they played in the Civil Rights movement in the South.”
The same society that fought for civil rights now has students spreading racist, xenophobic, bigoted, discriminatory speech on campus. I am extremely disappointed in the lack of swift action from administration. These students should be found and expelled immediately. In a video recorded by a local media station you, Mr. President were quoted as saying:
“We all have a responsibility for the culture that’s created here. It’s not just ours. It’s the student’s’ responsibility to create that culture here. Think of how much of the day you have ruled here. We have to help you. I have no doubt about that. But you have to help us build that culture.”
The correct answer should have been something along the lines of:
This type of behavior will not be tolerated on our campus. “No matter what your spiritual and religious affiliation (and even if you have none at all), you’ll be welcome and comfortable at Saint Michael’s.”* The founding fathers of this school would be extremely disheartened and appalled by recent actions. As we know, “The Society of Saint Edmund has a meaningful presence on campus. Their inclusive nature, caring ministry, tradition of hospitality and passion for social justice are at the heart of on-campus culture.*” We plan to fully investigate these recent events, which includes seeking out and disciplining all involved students. Moving forward, we will work as an administration together with the students, faculty, and staff to ensure that everyone will continue to feel safe to call Saint Michael’s College their home.
You had one chance to say the right thing. To show with your words and then your actions the true representation of what the Society of Saint Edmund and Saint Michael’s College stands for. You had the opportunity to not place the onus on the students, but instead take leadership (as a president should do) and assure the students that you would do everything in your power to work with students, faculty and staff, to get to the bottom of this issue.
Now my experience at SMC is unique to me and me alone. Speaking with other alumni of color, you may find a different story.
I often equate being at Saint Mike’s to being in a bubble. Well, that bubble has been burst and what are you going to do to move Saint Michael’s forward and work towards healing those who have been severely broken by these events? The college needs to take a look at itself from the inside out. Times are changing, sir, and how does the college plan to change along with the times? Conversations need to had on campus, not just amongst the student body but the faculty and staff as well. Inclusion, white privilege, identity, microaggressions, culture, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism– these are just some of the topics that need to be covered. This cannot be a one-time conversation, but rather an ongoing dialogue to truly create the culture that SMC hopes to achieve on campus.
Do the right thing, President Neuhauser. Change starts today.
Dawana W. Hug
Class of 2005
*Quotes taken from the Saint Michael’s College website