*by Sydney Kopp-Richardson, Edited by Bryan Carter of The New School’s Social Justice Initiatives
Two years ago, a support group of students, activists, academics and friends affiliated with The New School began spending their Fridays discussing their personal and unexpected encounters of racism, sexism and other types of oppression here at the university. During these informal meetings, we developed a bond and steadfast commitment to social change to begin in this place that we expected to be a safe haven given its historic foundation. We concluded that the university community needed to begin an open discussion about institutional racism and its effects on the education, personal relationships, career prospects and well being of The New School’s students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders.
We began by organizing independently and hosting community meetings on campus entitled Got Racism with the goal of organizing university stakeholders interested in the deconstruction of institutionalized racism and bringing students shrouded in isolation into communion with like-minded activists. The size and energy of these meetings confirmed that we were not alone in our experiences: racism was alive and well in our post-racial, progressive university. We were dedicated to ensuring that the university addresses these topics and that its history not serve as a deflection from the critical work that needs to be done.
Eventually, suggestions to bring The People’s Institute For Survival and Beyond to The New School to host their Undoing Racism and Community Building workshop began to build steam and become the focal point of our efforts. Several persons affiliated with the university had attended this workshop in one form or another and attested to its effective capacity to understand the deep roots of racism under which many suffer and a few benefit. Finally, after resistance from several persons and institutions in the university, the workshop will take place this January, training forty members of our university family how to undo the racist structures that hinder social change.
This workshop is an important first step towards deconstructing the institutional racism hampering The New School’s ability to provide the whole breadth of opportunities and resources to its students, employees and the broader community. Thanks to the work of those Friday night activists (most of whom have graduated) and The New School’s Students for Social Justice organization, we can begin not only the conversation, but also constructive work to making our university a more socially just home.
Can racism be undone? For the sake of those who sacrificed everything in this pursuit and the sake of those to come, I must believe that it can. Moreover, given the lessons I have learned both inside and outside of classrooms here at The New School, I believe that it can be undone in this place. However, we must commit to the work. This workshop is only a beginning. It is the follow up that matters. What resources will the university commit to the deconstruction of institutional racism? What sacrifices will each of us make to do the same? Whether you are participating in this workshop or just learning of its existence, it is up to each of us to make the investment in cultural change here at The New School and beyond. In the words of New School student, activist, and Social Justice Committee member Rashid Owoyele, “This is a call to action for the current generation of New School students to participate in creating our own legacy instead of resting on our laurels.”