Editorial Voices, part 1

Hello! I’m Hannah Foltz, class of 2013 and current PhD student in rhetoric at the University of Texas at Austin. This summer, I’m working with the Humanities program and the Archives and Special Collections team. I’ll be scouring the College’s archives, documenting and studying depictions and erasures of marginalized populations in historical materials. Because of my disciplinary background, I am most interested in the archives’ rhetorical role, or in other terms, how the records and materials we deem worthy of saving define the im/possibilities of not only historiography, but also of popular conceptions of identity and belonging.

This week, I took on the Davidsonian, the college’s weekly newspaper. In an era of “fake news” and “activist journalism,” we’re used to scrutinizing our new sources. We typically associate this with verifying claims; today there are dozens of resources devoted to this goal, including FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, and CNN’s ongoing “Facts First” features. However, our consideration shouldn’t stop there. In this post, I’ll use historical issues of the Davidsonian to illustrate the power of the editor, not only in issuing opinions that claim to be representative, but also in choosing which stories are told and how.

In the late 50s and early 60s, the Davidsionian’s masthead proclaimed: “The News and Editorial Voice of Davidson College.”  For the most part, editorials in the Davidsonian ran unsigned. Although a note in small font clarifies that “unsigned editorials are by the editor,” these articles’ framing as the “voice of Davidson”—rather than the voice of an individual—suggests they are incontestable. One gets an artificial feeling that the piece speaks for the whole community.

Thus, the editor plays a strong role writing history: a researcher referencing the Davidsionian may get completely different perspectives on college opinion depending on who was at the publication’s helm. Because the Davidsonian’s editor changes every year, this means the tone and coverage of the paper can—and does—change dramatically between consecutive issues.  

For example, consider the following editorial positions from issues of the Davidsonian:

“The editorial policy we consider most vital to the future of Davidson takes precedence over all of those enumerated in this column. If it is violated Davidson will lose far more than she will gain. We oppose the admission of Negroes to Davidson—now or ever.”

“It is disappointing to see prejudice sneak into the meetings of the policymaking body of the college. This prejudice is almost unavoidable to a person who was reared in the South. But try as we have to find one, a significant justification of a segregated Davidson is almost non-existent.”

With such divergent arguments, one might assume these excerpts represent different eras. After all, remember that the Davidsionian’s masthead claims the paper is “the news and editorial voice of Davidson College”—for public opinion to have swayed so significantly, considerable time must have passed, right? Wrong. The first passage is from 15 January 1960. The second is from 16 February 1960.

In all likelihood, the student body’s consensus on integration did not change dramatically during those 32 days. What did change was the editor of the Davidsonian. The former position was articulated by editor Ed Armfield Jr, who graduated in January 1960. The second position was penned by Dick Smith, who assumed the role of editor on 5 February.

Editorial impact goes beyond editorials, of course. The previous year, the school’s trustees had voted against opening admission to black students. Rather than settle the issue, this sparked even greater controversy. In response, under Armfield’s leadership, the Davidsionian provided significant coverage—articles, interviews, speech excerpts—to figures such as Thomas R. Waring, notable proponent of “states’ rights” and segregation. It also republished inflammatory racist editorials from publications around the South, as well as 19th-century Davidson addresses that bemoaned abolition and civil rights. Armfield’s Davidsonian portrayed Davidson as a reactionary campus hostile to integration. On the other hand, Smith’s Davidsonian took a progressive activist bent, even going so far as to publish a special “Trustee Issue” that not-so-subtly devoted the majority of its content to persuading the board to reconsider their decision on desegregation.

The “truth” of public opinion probably lay somewhere in the middle—an unofficial Chapel poll in 1960 showed 297 against integration, 121 for immediate integration, and 178 for providing a path for integration. The contrast between the poll’s indecisive results and the Davidsonian’s (two) editorial stances underscores the rhetorical power of the editor. This individual chooses what is recorded as representative opinion. He (or she, after 1977 when Catherine Landis became the first female Davidsonian editor) chooses what stories are told, what figures are profiled. His or her decisions will inevitably shape how histories are written. In evaluating both present-day and historical news sources, we must consider editorial intent and influence. Who is reporting and who is editing? How are opinion pieces framed and flagged? Which stories and perspectives have been included and which have not? Perhaps most importantly, who benefits from drawing attention to this story or promoting this viewpoint?

Stay tuned next week for part 2 of this series, which examines outside influence on the Davidsionian’s editorial board.

Guest Blogger: Bob Denham ’61 In memory of Leland M. Park ’63

“TERSE VERSE FOR LELAND, RETIRING FROM THE E.H. LITTLE LIBRARY, DAVIDSON COLLEGE”

We bid adieu
With thanks to you
For making Little big.

Your tenure’s been
To now from then
A grand and noble gig.

You said, “I read,
Therefore I need
[Apologies Descartes]

A lot more cash
For books to stash
If we’re to stand apart.”

Your firm belief,
As Little’s chief:
The book is learning’s heart.

O Leland Park,
You’ve left your mark
By making Little large.

That all should read,
That was your creed.
And your director’s charge:

If they erase
Books’ central place,
Circumference won’t enlarge.

Your stacks expand.
Six hundred grand,
Plus lots of other perks,

Like maps and scores
And data doors
And, as for tools, “RefWorks.”

As Little’s czar
You set the bar
As high as Chambers’ dome,

And thus you made
An A plus grade:
Tome after tome and tome.

We you salute
For your repute.
Now Little’s number one.

You filled the stacks––
Few gaps or cracks––
We say, O Park, well done!

Now your car’s Parked
And you’ve embarked
On your retirement years,

We quaff a stein
With thumbs up sign––
Hip, hip, hooray. Three cheers.

    ––Bob Denham ’61 

Guest Blogger: Dahlia Krutkovich, “Petition for Jewish Studies at Davidson College”

Hey everyone,

A group of students has been organizing to create an interdisciplinary Jewish Studies program at Davidson. This comes as part of a broader response to the events of last semester (the Pittsburgh shooting, “Hitler did nothing wrong,” and the neo-Nazis on campus).

This wouldn’t be possible without the work of students who came before us. We acknowledge and admire those who fought for Africana and GSS at Davidson and those continuing to advocate for Asian-American Studies, Indigenous Studies, and other initiatives that will ultimately make Davidson a place more people can call their own.

We hope that you’ll sign on, but we also want to answer your questions in person. Members of the working group will be at the tables by the fireplace in the Union this Monday to Friday from 11 to 3. This petition and its signatories will serve as proof that the Davidson community sees this as an urgent need. Talk to your friends, professors, alum friends and parents, etc. Thank you for your support.

Petition for Jewish Studies at Davidson College

1/27/19

To the Davidson College community:

The unmasking of Davidson students with neo-Nazi affiliation in November 2018 has left many students to wonder about Davidson’s commitment to its curricular and social values. We believe the creation of a Jewish Studies program at Davidson is crucial to the College’s wellbeing.

This is not the first time the College’s commitment to religious inclusion and academic integrity has been called into question. Less than 50 years ago, Davidson refused to hire a Jewish professor because he denounced a tenure policy that required professors to promote Christianity on campus (1). In response to student outrage and national attention, the first Jewish professor in Davidson history was hired two years later, in 1979 (2).

The Anti-Defamation League reports an 89% increase in anti-Semitic incidents on American college campuses between 2016 and 2017 (3). Over the same period of time, FBI Hate Crime Statistics Report show a 37% increase in anti-Semitic incidents nationwide (4).

Just a few months ago, we confronted anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism on our own campus. Though our push for Jewish Studies is a response to homegrown white supremacy, it is also informed by conversations Jewish students had following the exposure of the radicalized students’ twitter feeds. Suddenly, Jewish students were burdened with explaining everything from the differences between Reform and Hasidic Judaism to the concept of conditional whiteness, while also processing neo-Nazism so close to home. Even though non-Jewish students were willing and eager to learn about Jewish identities, it is unacceptable that these conversations were catalyzed only by tweets including “gas the kikes” and “I don’t actually give a ____ about Jews getting shot up” (5).

Although Davidson already offers some Jewish Studies courses, two or three classes a semester is not enough; a more complete curricular program in Jewish Studies would humanize and demystify Jewish culture, history, and identity. The student authors of this petition are advocating an interdisciplinary Jewish Studies program, which would span at least three disciplines and include at least one tenure-track position devoted to the study of Jewishness, be it through Religious Studies, History, Political Science, Anthropology, Sociology, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and/or Literary Studies. We envision Jewish Studies courses as dynamic, enriching spaces where students can more deeply engage with their academic pursuits.

Of the twenty institutions Davidson cites as its peers, nine have interdisciplinary or formal Jewish Studies departments, while eight others have access to programs or offer a significant number of courses devoted to a more expansive study of Jewish identity (6). If Davidson wants to maintain its status as a leader among other top colleges and continue to expand beyond its origins as a regional institution, adding a Jewish Studies program must become an immediate priority.

As an institution of higher learning that claims to serve as a “place where those who live, work, and study see differences as an opportunity to learn about themselves,” we have a responsibility to learn from our differences, engage with complicated topics, and combat ignorance with education (7). We hope the foundation of an interdisciplinary Jewish Studies program will move Davidson towards a greater, more inclusive understanding of Jewishness. Community support is vital to our success, so we implore those of you invested in the future of Davidson to show solidarity.

To demonstrate your support, sign your name below.

Sincerely,

The Student Working Group for Jewish Studies

References:

1. http://library.davidson.edu/archives/davidsonian/PDFs/19770422.pdf
2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1977/04/25/christian-nc-college-rebu
ffs-jew/bff9b129-00d3-499e-8978-5da6a9b3cfb0/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.9ac
82f27a402; http://davidsonjournal.davidson.edu/2010/03/another-news-story/
3. https://www.adl.org/media/11174/download
4. https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2016/tables/table-1;
https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2017/topic-pages/tables/table-1.xls
5. https://twitter.com/WorkersCarolina/status/1060331304741453824?s=20
6. https://www.davidson.edu/offices/institutional-research/peer-institutions
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/u/1/d/1mnuIWvvhtnU_A4ubsWBnjcclX-H2
KjWRak37valaPFc/edit?usp=sharing
7. https://www.davidson.edu/admission-and-financial-aid/diversity

Guest Bloggers: Abby Fry, Mia Hodges, Hartlee Johnston & Erin Major, “Digging in the Davidson Archives: A Look at HIV and AIDS at Davidson”

Throughout this semester, we have been involved in an independent study class under the guidance of Dr. Wessner investigating the biological and social impacts of HIV and AIDS. We each entered this class with our own particular interests and experiences in this realm – Mia worked at the Mwandi Mission Hospital, Abby conducted research in Ghana on reproductive healthcare, Hartlee worked at an LGBTQ+ health nonprofit, and Erin worked at a harm reduction organization and needle exchange program. We were each able to bring our individual experiences to deepen our group’s discussion of the various scientific papers and books we read and movies we watched.

As the semester went on and we began to discuss what we wanted our final project for this class to look like, the topic of HIV on Davidson’s campus emerged. Though we each had knowledge of the AIDS Crisis both in the United States and abroad, none of us had ever heard much about the ways in which our campus was impacted by these events. We decided to expand the existing programming for World AIDS Day to encourage students to better understand the history of this infection both broadly and on Davidson’s campus, as well as to see that HIV is still an important and relevant issue. Our goal was to tie in several parts of campus for a series of exhibits and events that would be visible to our entire Davidson community.

Through the extensive and much appreciated help of the Archives and Special Collections staff, we were able to find pictures of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in the Johnston Gym (now the Union) and records of the group that brought the Quilt here in 1994, as well as photos from their trip to Washington D.C. to be a part of the showing of the Quilt on the National Mall. We explored how the LGBTQIA+ community has grown on campus and found the documentation of the formation of different groups such as F.L.A.G. (Friends of Lesbians and Gays), Q&A (Queers and Allies), and YANASH (You are Not a Stranger Here). Some of our favorite things to explore were the Davidsonian articles that documented the slow progression of the discussion surrounding HIV and AIDS on this campus juxtaposed next to articles about the regular goings-on of the school.

Glass exhibit cases filled with artifacts and articles about AIDS at Davidson

World AIDS Day exhibition

 

Additionally, we were shown Quilt squares made by Scotty Nichols, the former director of RLO, who made these pieces to honor Davidson students and staff who had passed away due to AIDS. To read about these students, see their pictures, and hear the ways in which Scotty honored them, was a poignant reminder that Davidson was not immune to the effects of the AIDS Crisis.

Many of these artifacts from the archives are currently on display in the Library, but many more will be shown during Common Hour (11am-noon) on Tuesday, November 27th and Thursday, November 29th in the Library Fishbowl. In addition, the documentary “The Last One” about the making of the AIDS Memorial Quilt will be screened, and four blocks of the Quilt will be on display for that whole week (Nov. 26th – Dec. 2nd) in the Union Atrium featuring the squares of four Davidson students. On Friday, November 30th at 4:30pm, the Visual AIDS presentation will be held the Wall Atrium. Please join us for any and all of these events, as well as taking a look at the display cases in the library.

Poster listing World AIDS Day events

World AIDS Day Events 2018

We would also like to extend a sincere thank you to everyone in the library and across campus who have provided their expertise, time, and materials to this project!

Guest Blogger: Andrew Rippeon, Ph.D. Visiting Assistant Professor of Writing, “More Frankenstein”

Broadside with the silhouette of a human with cross hatches of green surrounded by quotes regarding monsters and Frankenstein

Broadside Celebrating the Bicentennial of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Halloween 2018

It’s been 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s story of a creature created in a laboratory.  In the cinematic adaptations, the creature is stitched together, composed of body parts taken from corpses and medical specimens (and a famously “abnormal” brain).  Given this collage-like nature of Frankenstein’s creation, it seemed fitting to mark both the bicentennial of Shelley’s publication and Halloween 2018 with an “exquisite corpse”-style letterpress print.  In the Surrealist technique of the exquisite corpse, multiple authors or artists contribute short fragments to a single composition, with the result being a collaboratively composed final work that often demonstrates striking, unexpected juxtapositions.    

In our practice of the exquisite corpse, volunteers from Professor Sample’s WRI-101 course (“Monsters”!) visited the new and developing Letterpress Lab in the Wall Center for a brief overview of typesetting and letterpress printing.  After an introduction to the anatomy of moveable type (including the face, foot, belly, shoulder, and beard of the individual pieces of type, known as “sorts”), and the basics of typesetting (upside-down, from left to right), students selected typefaces and then set short quotations they’d brought with them, drawn from their readings in all things monsterish.  Some had chosen extracts from novels, while others had more theoretical excerpts.  When typesetting was complete, the students’ individual quotations were then gathered together onto one of two mid-century Vandercook proof presses, and locked into place in the bed of the press.   

The following day, students returned to print their type on large-format sheets previously printed with an appropriate background: a monsterish, vaguely human silhouette emerging from a visually noisy background.  Perhaps appropriate to the occasion (a celebration of what is sometimes called the first work of science fiction), these background sheets were produced on the letterpress but by means of a decidedly twenty-first century technique known as “pressure printing,” and in this specific case enabled by the technology of the laser-cutter in the college makerspace Studio M.  Pressure printing is a little bit like stenciling, but rather than applying pigment onto a sheet through a stencil, the stencil itself is placed behind the sheet, and the pair are run through the letterpress.  Ink transfers unevenly from the press to the print—a “mistake” in traditional letterpress practices!—according to the presence or absence of the material behind the printed sheet.  In this case, a negative and then a positive stencil were used to create, respectively, the background field (silver) with a silhouette removed, and the foreground figure (variably inked) with the background removed.  Hand inking of the figure produced a stitch-like effect, which continued the monsterish and collage-oriented approach to the print.  In the short edition (limited to 40), no two prints are the same.       

 

Guest Blogger: Emelyn Schaeffer “Wealth of Colleges: A History of Learning and the Texts that Help Us”

My name is Emelyn Schaeffer and I am from Atlanta, GA. I am approaching my sophomore year at Davidson and I am thinking about double majoring in English and Gender and Sexuality Studies. I am excited about working in Archives and Special Collections this summer, learning more about how the library operates, and discovering more about Davidson’s past.

Davidson’s two libraries, the Main and the Music, house many interesting volumes just waiting to be opened and explored by students eager to learn.  As a student, the Library often feels like more of a social hub than the Student Union, the tables packed with students studying together or planning group projects, sharing fascinations and frustrations about their classes. I have no way of knowing if this is what the library looked like throughout the history of the college, but the Original Davidson College Library gives us a peek into what students of the past studied.

The Original Library used to be housed in the Davidsoniana Room, where the works of alumni and faculty are available for students to use, but was recently moved to the Rare Book Room. This move gave me a chance to compare what my predecessors read to what I read.

Bookshelves containing the Original Davidson College Library and the personal library of President Morrison, the first president of the college

Original Davidson College Library in its new location in the Rare Book Room

 

One of the books we have in common is Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nation, though admittedly the green-covered and gold-embossed copy belonging to the Original Library looks much nicer than my yellow paperback. The work inside the Algebra textbooks also looks rather familiar – one of which, written by Davidson Mathematics professor Major (later General) D.H. Hill, contains the note, “This book was published in 1857 and was considered an excellent text, tho’ it is chiefly notable for the strong sectional feeling it displays (Note Yankee and wooden nutmeg problem 41). James G. Blaine referred to it in the U.S. Senate in an effort to keep alive Northern hatred for the South.”

As is likely expected, there is a plethora of books on historical, religious, and linguistic subjects. Historical texts include Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Jackson, and the Marquis de Lafayette. Students simultaneously studied the history of the Church and natural theology, along with the works of several philosophers. Languages studies included Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

This is just a sampling of the books the Original Library contains. If you want to learn about this or any of our other collections, you can head on over to our website to contact us or schedule an appointment!

 

Guest Blogger: Emelyn Schaeffer, “The Years Flew By in Colors”*

My name is Emelyn Schaeffer and I am from Atlanta, GA. I am approaching my sophomore year at Davidson and I am thinking about double majoring in English and Gender and Sexuality Studies. I am excited about working in Archives and Special Collections this summer, learning more about how the library operates, and discovering more about Davidson’s past.

This weekend is Alumni Reunion Weekend for Davidson and we are collecting some publications written by members of the classes attending to showcase during Saturday’s Avant Garde lunch. It is the class of 1963’s 55th reunion and they are being honored with an induction into the Avant Garde. With this in mind, we took a peek into what life was like on Davidson’s campus in 1963.

The spring issue of Scripts ’n Pranks – a literary and satirical magazine published for students to showcase their classmates’ work – in the 1962-1963 school year is called the “Mud-Luscious, Puddle Wonderful Issue” and features an Alice in Wonderland inspired cover.

Cover of Scripts 'n Pranks showing Alice in Wonderland characters gazing at Alice in a swimming hole filled with alcoholCover of Scripts ‘n Pranks April, 1963

One of the editors commented on a collection of pictures of “The Young Turks.” The Book Review speaks of W. Wolfe’s Youth Movements as a satirical novel, but declares, “All true satire bears a moral viewpoint, since otherwise the satirist would have no enduring purpose, but Wolfe lets his outrage ruin his art.”

Scripts 'n Pranks black and white advertisement, showing the same individual on every seat of a planeScripts ‘n Pranks Advertisement

The class of 1963 was the first one for which Inklings was published, a collection of writing from the class during its freshman year. It includes a mix of genres, from fiction to articles on current events. Back-to-back articles include “How Great Thou Art” and “Man in the Age of the Hydrogen Bomb,” which could point to some mixed feeling on the future of the world.

Cover of Inklings, 1963, Writings by Freshmen

Cover of Inklings, 1963

The annual – Quips and Cranks – of 1963 discusses heritage and college as a game that must be learned in order to succeed:

Cover of Quips and Cranks Cover 1963, green cover with the title written forward and backwards

Quips and Cranks Cover 1963

“When the student is apart from the crowd, he allows himself to think, talk or joke about Davidson. It is then that he questions his purpose in life, wonders what his career should be, and estimates what he has learned and accomplished. In that moment, alone, he leaves the game, looks at it and himself, and is shamefully conscious that he has grossly underestimated the goals he must attain in order to be a well educated man. In these moments, alone, the student has realized his failure and has made himself more aware of the ideals he must fulfill. He will once again attempt, no matter how fruitlessly, to succeed.”

In the senior section, the editors added:

“After graduation, the senior finds time to evaluate his college achievements and to look at his future. He realizes that he has had little time during the past year to play the game of college and wonders whether the game taught him anything about himself or was even adequate preparation for this ending and beginning. It does not seem as important as he first thought, and, perhaps, if he had not played, it would not have made any difference. But, as he rationalizes, can a student accomplish anything without the game?”

While I, as a Davidson student, laugh a little at these passages because of how they echo some of my own thoughts as I look towards my future, I hope the alumni of this class now look back on their time at Davidson with a heart full of pride and love for a place that properly prepared them for all they thought to attempt and succeed in doing. Many things may have changed on this campus and in this world in the last 55 years, but the traditions we share – the Freshman Cake Race, the Honor Code, outlets of creativity, hard work, and love of this school – will forever connect alumni and students.

*lyrics from Dan Hill’s “Growing Up”

Guest Blogger: Emily Privott, “150 Years in the Making: Davidson College’s Mace”

I am a senior Religious Studies major at Davidson College. I am interested in the historical and social components of religious traditions, particularly Christianity, and how religious faith influences one’s worldview.  This summer, I have the pleasure of being a Research Assistant for Archives & Special Collections. I am excited about this opportunity to contribute to “Around the D”!

Last weekend, Davidson College held its 181st Commencement. Featured prominently on the commencement stage, on the right of the speaker, is the Davidson College Mace.

Commencement 2018 showing mace on its stand on the dais with President Quillen

Commencement 2018

Hand-carved by Mr. Jack Ramseur ’31, the Davidson College Mace was presented to the College on January 29, 1988, in honor of the College’s Sesquicentennial Celebration.

Full length Mace in its protective case

Mace in its protective case for archival storage

In medieval times, maces were traditionally weapons of war. Carried by knights or royal bodyguards, maces were used to protect royalty during processions. By the 14th century, maces assumed more ceremonial functions. The ceremonial mace, usually about four feet in length, survives today as a symbol of authority. Carried by the Chief Marshal in the commencement procession, the Davidson College Mace ceremonially marks the beginning of commencement proceedings.

The carving on top of the mace represents the cupola of “Old Chambers,” which was the center of the College’s academic life from the late 1850’s until its destruction by fire in 1921. Below the cupola is the eight-sided base of the dome of the present Chambers building, which was rebuilt in 1931. Forming a circular band just below this base are the words Ne Ultra from the college seal and the words of the college motto Alenda Lux Ubi Orta Libertas (“Let Learning Be Cherished Where Liberty Has Arisen”).

Davidson Mace, showing motto, Ne Ultra

The college seal, designed by Peter Stuart Ney.

Mace showing Alenda Lux and Eumenean Hall

Eumenean (“Eu”) Hall

 

The knop of the mace consists of four wide and four narrow panels. Each wide panel represents symbols of the College, while each narrow panel reflects the College’s historical ties with the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Mace showing Philanthropic Hall

Philanthropic (“Phi”) Hall

Under the “Orta”, there are three Christian symbols with Presbyterian associations: the star of epiphany, the holy spirit descending in the form of a dove and the burning bush. Davidson’s Presbyterian heritage is further reflected in the mace’s carved crosses.

Mace showing the the sesquicentennial logo,

The sesquicentennial logo, designed by James Burkey Belser ’69.

 

Guest Blogger: Jalin Jackson, “I Don’t See Greek: Diagnosing Blindness and Redefining Inclusivity at Davidson College” Part 2

This is part two of a two-part post.

           Interestingly, this back-and-forth surrounding the black fraternity debate in 1989 was covered by a writer for the Charlotte Observer, Ricki Morrell. In her coverage, she mentions opposition within Davidson’s fraternities and dormitories against the idea of a black fraternity on campus.[7] In a short column commenting on Morrell’s piece, President of Patterson Court Council Bennett Cardwell sought to provide a clearer picture of where the Davidson student body generally was in terms of the debate. In a piece titled “Story Is One-Sided,” Cardwell identified Tom Moore as “a random senior” dissenter whose opinions did not “in any way represent those of the student body in general.”[8] Cardwell assured that the opposition to diversifying Patterson Court was much smaller than Morrell led everyone to believe; he even stated that many white students were in favor of the idea of a black fraternity.[9] Second, Cardwell rejected the notion that there were “white fraternities” at Davidson, assuring his audience that there were black members in the fraternities on campus.[10] At the time, the members in Davidson’s six fraternities comprised about sixty percent of the student body. If Cardwell was the voice of reason in this debate, then given the fact that the interest in diversifying Patterson Court persisted as time went on, why did it take until 2003 to bring any black fraternity to Davidson College?[11] Aside from later concerns of sustainability from Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc., the college still holds a large portion of that responsibility.[12] Some within the Davidson College community continued and continue to faithfully adhere to the inclusivity argument against diversification, reinforcing Davidson’s culture of color-blindness. Historically, when that argument did not work, some attempted to augment it by expressing concerns of the further fragmentation of the Davidson College community. These arguments lend themselves to the notion of minimal representation. If color-blindness has been Davidson’s modus operandi, the goal of minimal representation is Davidson’s subconscious impetus.

color photogrpah of 15 women of the AKA sorority in 2008

Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sigma Psi Chapter 2008

 

Minimal representation in this context refers to Davidson College’s tendency to strive for the bare minimum in terms of social representation so as to diversify and simultaneously be able to maintain color-blind tendencies as the institution evolves. That way, the college can comfortably fight for change and minimize social backlash on campus. The push for minimal representation is especially evident given Davidson’s decision to establish the BSC so early in the institution’s history of diversification, yet struggle with the diversification of Patterson Court for such a long time. The reluctance to establish any sorority on campus primarily due to the presence of eating houses also illuminates the desire for minimal representation. In a letter dated December 1,1997 and addressed to the President of Davidson College at the time, Robert F. Vagt, several members of the Executive Committee expressed why the college should not allow any sororities on campus. The committee stated their arguments clearly: sororities are organized around social exclusivity, eating houses are an inclusive system, and academic life would be adversely affected.[13] At this time, all of Davidson’s Patterson Court institutions were predominantly white and no sororities existed. The Executive Committee’s letter exposes the same trope evident in the 1989 black fraternity debate: the inclusivity argument, and other arguments to fall back on should the former fall through. Davidson reveals itself to be suspicious of diverse social forms and exposes its affinity for the status quo.

Insignia for sorority AKA with motto

Alpha Kappa Alpha Insignia

 

A status quo is not an inherently bad thing. However, when we consider Davidson College’s constant need and desire for structural improvement, using color-blind materials is not the way to go. In fact, it is a contradiction. Color-blindness has to be removed from Davidson’s toolbox if we are to improve this institution. If Davidson directly or indirectly utilizes blindness as a tool for its enhancement, nothing is actually ameliorated, hence the status quo. Some at Davidson College still pride themselves on their color-blind ideologies, and other types of blindness as well. Color-blind arguments coupled with minimal representation kept black fraternities off of Davidson’s campus until the early to mid 2000’s. The 1989 black fraternity debate and later opposition against sororities are prime examples of the resilience color-blind ideologies have had within the Davidson College community. That is to say that Davidson College, as the institution exists now, has been compromised, just like the United States. Nevertheless, Davidson’s flaws are to be neither accepted nor celebrated unless the status quo is something we enjoy seeing.

 

Bibliography, Part Two

[7] Ricki Morrell. “Black Davidson Students Push For Black Fraternity,” The Charlotte Observer, Article, November 21, 1989.

[8] Bennett S. Cardwell, “The Story Is One-Sided,” 1989.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ricki Morrell. “Black Davidson Students Push For Black Fraternity,” November 21, 1989.

[12] Lincoln Davidson, “Alpha Phi Alpha marks 10 years at Davidson College,” November 3, 2013.

[13] Executive Committee, “Sororities at Davidson College,” Letter to College President, December 1, 1997.

 

Guest Blogger: Jalin Jackson, “I Don’t See Greek: Diagnosing Blindness and Redefining Inclusivity at Davidson College”

This is part one of a two-part post; the second post will be on Wednesday of this week.

I am a Class of 2019 Africana Studies and Latin American Studies double major at Davidson College from Camden, New Jersey. My interests range from the social and cultural intersections of the African diaspora and Latin America to the political and linguistic disparities between the two.

In the United States, many criticize the system for its failure to provide change inclusive enough to satisfy diverse populations. This system, whose evolutionary apparatus has been a combination of racism and white supremacy, cannot improve as long as its inconsistencies remain unchanged or are changed without its history in mind. In my opinion, Davidson College has done a decent job at separating itself as an institution from the greater system within which it exists. While the college has undone most discriminatory practices, blindness has been a leading instrument in the college’s push for improvement throughout its recent history. A system built on blindness – whether color-blindness, class-blindness, or any other form – is as flawed a system as one built on racism. This is not because one or the other is more prone to oppression, but instead because blindness does not work toward its own eventual goal of undoing structural oppression and underrepresentation. Davidson’s present reality of incomplete social inclusivity and color-blind ideologies can be attributed to its history of color-blindness as an apparatus of change in Davidson’s social realm. Contradictions of inclusivity within Patterson Court organizations, arguments against the diversification of Greek life, and minimal representation on campus have prolonged Davidson’s improvement historically.

Davidson College’s preference for color-blindness does not mean it is incapable of making anti-racist decisions. In terms of black student admission, Davidson had its first African American alumnus in 1968 with Wayne Crumwell, officially admitting him in 1964. This goes against the common narratives of near universal southern pushback against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that called for scholastic integration.

Black and white photograph of Wayne Crumwell, portrait style, 1968

Wayne Crumwell, Class of 1968

 

Just five years earlier, the Davidson College Board of Trustees insisted that 1959 was not a time when the “admission of Negroes” was in the “best interest of the College, of the Church, of the Students, or of any Negroes.”[1] In that same vein, in a pre-1964 majority report by a few higher-ups at Davidson College, there were some interesting arguments against the admission of African Americans to Davidson College. These ranged from how the college would have to “lower the quality of its education” to how the admission of blacks would encourage miscegenation, which was outlawed at the time.[2] Yet, as soon as the civil rights law compelled Davidson to comply with integration, the college as an institution did so relatively quickly. In addition to that, by 1970 the Black Student Coalition was founded on campus.[3] Davidson’s speed in diversifying its student body and providing representation for its minority student demographic are evidence of the college’s ability to push toward anti-racism and cultural representation despite strong opposition within the community. However, following the increasing level of diversity on campus in terms of gender and race, Davidson began to favor a color-blind ideology that guided decisions that would soon alter the appearance and atmosphere of the space.

By 1989, Davidson College had six white fraternities in Patterson Court. In that same year, a student debate regarding whether to introduce a black fraternity to Patterson Court surfaced. On October 25, 1989, a white Davidson College senior named Tom Moore wrote a piece responding negatively to one written by a Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., interest group a few weeks earlier. In his piece, Moore argued that a black fraternity “would segregate the campus” and that assimilation is the “best way to improve lines of communication”; he even contends that a black fraternity sounds like “the rationale for the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine” and that minorities on campus should just assimilate because Davidson’s predominately white social circles reflect the social reality of America.[4] Although radical, Moore’s comments illuminate the basis of the inclusivity argument that: existing social organizations at Davidson are already inclusive and the exclusivity of a different organization would fragment the campus. This inclusivity argument, as one will see, goes on to repeat itself throughout Davidson’s evolution. In response to Moore’s statements, black junior Darry Strickland published in the November 1, 1989 edition of the Davidsonian what would be the opposite pole of the debate. Strickland called out Moore on his “ethnocentric attitude” and communicated how black males at the college were forced to assimilate into white fraternities if they wished to participate in Greek life on campus at all.[5] Even though white fraternities at Davidson College were not allowed to racially discriminate explicitly at the time, there is a reason that black male students interested in Greek life were not joining these fraternities at the college en masse. The organizations may have been inclusive on paper, but not diverse enough. They maintained their inclusivity, neglecting why it failed in the diversification of white organizations. Although this contradiction of inclusivity was not necessarily the fault of the existing organizations on campus, Moore failed to acknowledge what black students wanted.

black and white photograph Melissa Givens, portrait style, 1989

Melissa Givens, Class of 1989

 

Black senior Melissa Givens makes this clear in the November 1, 1989 edition of the Davidsonian as well, providing more insight into how blacks fared in the Davidson social scene. In her commentary, she calls on Moore and the Davidson College community repeatedly to “accept and celebrate the differences” as opposed to recognizing them without their celebration, as the college had been doing.[6] In other words, some within the Davidson College had been viewing differences as divisive, including Moore. I agree with Givens that assimilation silences those voices that are not a part of the majority. Her argument combats color-blindness directly and is one of the earlier moments of analysis identical to mine.

 

Bibliography, Part One

[1] Davidson College Board of Trustees. Meeting Summary, 1959.

[2] Davidson College Admissions Committee, “The Majority Report of the Admission of Negroes to Davidson College.”

[3] “Black Student Coalition House Showcases New Student-Painted Mural,” Davidson College News, September 11, 2013.

[4] Tom Moore. “Here’s how a black fraternity could be a bad idea,” Davidsonian Column, October 25, 1989.

[5] Darry Strickland. “A black fraternity is not an insidious plot,” Davidsonian Column, November 1, 1989.

[6] Melissa Givens. “A frat is not separate but equal—just different,” Davidsonian Column, November 1, 1989