Since June, the Instagram account @DearPWI, Dear Predominantly White Institutions, has been sharing stories of Black, Indigenous, and people of color at predominantly white institutions of higher education in the United States.
Out of the 79 colleges that have been featured in testimonies on the account, the College comes in at fifth place for appearances, with six posts. Our close neighbors, Bates and Bowdoin, come in at first and second, with 13 and 11 posts, respectively. Submissions about the College have highlighted racism experienced by students such as 2018’s Akon Day, racist “jokes,” and microaggressions.
@DearPWI is a general account for students of color at any PWI, but many schools have their own account. @BlackatColby is one such account, where Black students, prospective students, alumni, and faculty are welcome to anonymously share their perspectives on the College. @BlackatColby agreed to answer a few of the Colby Echo’s questions.
The account shared that their original goal was to “collect and share stories and incidents that have otherwise been forgotten.” In this, they drew a distinction between natural and strategic institutional memories; sometimes, events are forgotten, but other times, they are erased. Two examples of the latter were given: In 2009, when two students of color were arrested in the Pugh Center, and in 2015, when racist Yik Yaks garnered ire and protest.
Along with reminding the College of their history, the account’s efforts are directed at adding to the school narrative, being more transparent about the Black experience here.
“We’ve made friends, had amazing opportunities, and taken wonderful classes, but we’ve also had negative experiences directly related to our race,” they said. “Pushing the school and forcing them to be accountable is part of how we show our love,” they said.
While the account comes from a place of love, the reception to it has been less friendly. The account is anonymously run, a decision that they described as being “never really a real choice.” In the three months since the page went live, they have received threats from other anonymous accounts that were seemingly made for the purpose of disparaging them. According to the account, this is not a circumstance specific to the College: “The reality of Black@ accounts is that there are some people who would prefer these stories not be told.”
There has been more well-meaning criticism as well, coming from those concerned that the account was not genuine and that it was being run by a white person looking to exploit black pain and experiences. While anonymity helps with protecting those who submit their experiences, it raises a certain level of suspicion.
“…these students were absolutely, unequivocally right in their concern and hesitation,” they admitted, “and it speaks to the fractured environment of the Colby community that the account was met with so much suspicion.”
The account is careful not to feed into “trauma porn,” where “students would move from post to post in a show of performative allyship, feeding off any negative experiences, and not making any active changes in their behavior.” One preventative measure is the regularity with which they post. Submissions come in decent numbers, and they plan to post all of them at some point, but by doing so more slowly, the account hopes to invoke thoughtful deliberation on each post.
Ultimately, the account says, they hope to see real change on campus.
“…We would like to irrevocably alter the environment of institutional racism at Colby and transform Colby into an equitable, anti-racist institution,” they stated, pointing to multi-cultural housing, an expansion of the diversity, equity, and inclusion team, and the hiring of more faculty of color as tangible goals to show that the College is “committing to not only enrolling but actively supporting students of color, academically and mentally and providing stronger acknowledgement that they have heard and are hearing the stories of Black students, past and present.”
“Colby has already taken the first steps, but the next ones will be significantly harder.”
*All opinions expressed are those of the BlackatColby representative and not indicative of the College nor all the Black students at the College*
~ By Su Hyun Park `24