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In response to “A Seat in the Honors Academy”

Published: October 18th, 2017

I am very late in reading your painful article having likely been caught up in final exams at the time it was published (May 2017).  But its power and pain eat at me just as strongly today, now in October of 2017. 

I am one of the “white” professors of Brooklyn College.  But unfortunately, I know too well of the pain, loneliness, and isolation that comes from being told, directly and indirectly, that you don’t belong, or aren’t good enough—often for qualities about yourself you have no control over.  I have had this experience many times in my life and in many different places and I know how painful and real it is.  So, I have great empathy for the pain I hear in “A Seat in the Honors Academy.” Despite this, I cannot know what the experiences of you and those you write about are like (in particular the racism and Islamophobia).  I hope, therefore, that my words below do not in any way trivialize these experiences and I in no way wish to compare my experiences to those of others.

Rather, I wish to share something I have learned here at Brooklyn College.  This is that unfortunately, the experience of being told that one is an “other” is something that most Brooklyn College students have in common with one another.  Almost all BC students (including honors students) that I meet have been told or made to feel like they don’t belong in one way or another.  Sometimes it is because of their ethnicity, race, or religion.  But typically what students report to me (and I most frequently meet pre-health students) is that here at the college, what tends to be the central way in which they feel marginalized is because of their educational or class backgrounds. 

There are vast differences in the educational backgrounds and preparations of students here at BC.  There are also huge socioeconomic differences and inequities.  Sometimes it can be challenging for us as faculty to create a space that is safe and equitable for all learners given these vast differences.  But this is our responsibility, and something we need to do better at: in our classrooms, in our offices, in meeting spaces and other social settings.  I myself find this challenging, even to this day, and I have been teaching for almost three decades.  What helps me the most is when I can learn the individual stories of my students, including those of my honors students.  So I work hard to do this.  And I find that my students often surprise me, that I sometimes make assumptions about them and their backgrounds that are not true.

I am truly glad to see the programmatic series “We Stand Against Hate” here at BC, but I think underneath that phrase, what truly can unite and can empower us, and help us to move forward is that “We [Can All] Stand [Together] Against Othering,” whereby I mean that almost all of us can unite in a common stand against the marginalization that we each experience in various places in our lives.

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