• Claudia Rankine, Citizen 

Class Outline:

  • What can writing do for social justice?
  • What does it mean to be a citizen?
  • Pressures to assimilate
  • Microaggressions experienced at SMC


Initially after walking into class, I thought, “Okay, this is good. I think I’m really beginning to learn.” In retrospect, I had absolutely no clue what “learning” was. Honestly, I have never felt so angered and frustrated at my own school as I did today.

Our in class guest was Dr. Raina Leon, an incredibly knowledgable and inspiring professor at Saint Mary’s. We started the class off by doing the penny activity- which highlighted important events in every person’s life, as dictated by the year on the penny they received. After this ice breaker, we did a bit of self care and then dove into the conversation. Dr. Leon immediately stood out to me as someone special and influential on our campus as she took the time to carefully listen to each person who spoke, at one point commenting on how she works tirelessly to devote herself to listening thoroughly to those around her and truly being “in the moment.” From the moment she said this, I made it my own effort to do the same.

She asked, “What can writing do for social justice?” Then, “What does it mean to be a citizen? Of course this was in reference to the book, Citizen, we had just read the previous night by Claudia Rankine. It was incredibly interesting to hear over 40 individuals of all colors and backgrounds give their true opinion and response to that question. My definition was as follows: “To be a citizen is to be a part of a body of people who reside or occupy the same area. I would assume it would be a protective body and equal.”

The class went around after participating in literature groups and collectively spoke out about personal experiences at Saint Mary’s of micro aggressions. Some students spoke about being cut in the lunch line, or receiving the supposedly innocuous, “Oh, I didn’t see you there” response when asked about it. Others mentioned being overstepped at work or publicly disrespected based on their color. Dr. Leon jumped in and very calmly proceeded to paint the picture of one of the most frustrating examples of racism and discrimination I had heard that day.

She spoke about being forced to run circles around the administration and recreation center on campus in order to take a shower. As a professional who was leading a group of students out of the country for a Jan Term class, she didn’t want to shower in one of the dorm rooms. She went to our multi-million dollar rec center with dozens of brand new showers that are rarely used, and requested to use the facilities. She was not only turned away, but she was blatantly discriminated against by one of the women who work in the center. It was ridiculous hearing about all of the struggles she had to go through in order to do something as simple as take a shower. I thought, what if she had used her doctorate title rather than just introducing herself as Raina Leon? Would she then have been asked if she was a “real professor?”

How could a professional woman, like the white woman running the rec. center, be so blatantly rude and disrespectful? Not only to an academic professional- but to a woman, a black woman, a professor, a human? I was filled with anger and embarrassment on behalf of the institution I pay so much money to attend. I wished that I had known about this story as it was happening, wished I could have offered my own shower, or wished I could have had the power to have that racist white woman fired for her lack of professionalism and simple humanity. Why was this allowed? How can the administration of our school which publicly prides itself for promoting diversity and kindness employ people who directly go against those things?

I looked back at my original definition of a citizen and found myself profoundly troubled- it was clear to me that Dr. Leon was not a citizen of SMC according to this definition, nor were many of my BLM classmates- was I?

Learning Objective #1 – Identify issues on campus needing attention, as they relate to black students, staff, and faculty. 


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