As many of you know, this year’s theme and title for the Symposium is “The Past is Ever Present: Unmasking Systems of Oppression and Inequality”. What was the thought process behind this theme? How was it chosen? What does it mean?
Coming up with a theme is a weighty task, which was spread across board meetings in fall semester. We would brainstorm names and themes, then come back to debate them a week later after we had time to mull them over. We needed a name that could encapsulate a variety of discussions related to social justice while still guiding and framing the Symposium. Last year’s focus was on identity, and how individuals define themselves and find their own spaces. As we considered the events of the past year, we chose to take on the hierarchies and systems that act out oppression. In the news we’ve seen protests for racial justice in the face of police brutality, we’ve seen protests for better handling of sexual assault on college campus – here at Whitman and throughout the country – we’ve seen protests for action on climate change and raising the minimum wage, and so many more. So many of these protests are challenging real systems and bureaucracies that would prefer they stay silent and we wanted to bring that to the forefront for this year’s Symposium. While these protests are recent and ongoing, the issues they call attention to are nothing new. The issues of the past continue to affect us today and we wanted to engage the Whitman community through discussion of how manifestations of oppression and inequality from the past continue to take its power through structural, institutional, and systemic oppression in the present.
I’ll leave this post with a story from this morning’s New York Times, where an injustice of the past came to kinder resolution – this morning the nine men of the ‘Friendship Nine’ had their trespassing charges thrown out for a sit-in they staged in South Carolina in 1961. The judge who vacated their charges stated “We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history… Now, as to the Friendship Nine, is the time and opportunity to do so. Now is the time to recognize that justice is not temporal, but is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.” Read the full article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/29/us/south-carolina-court-clears-friendship-nine-in-1961-sit-in.html?ref=us