Traci Williams ’AC
If the students’ slow participation in the PATHWAYS survey was any indication, Oct. 27’s snowstorm should not have caught Smithies by surprise. The campus social climate is cold! Tensions are rising. Trees are falling, and students of color are feeling like their voices aren’t heard. It is as if Smith College is unknowingly undergoing a version of the philosophical thought experiment, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
For years, the responses to this profound question have been a debate that is more about ethical connotations than actual trees falling in the woods. Be they in the Quad or on the lawn of the Neilson Library. An anonymous student remarked, “It’s as if even the trees have gotten tired. The snow didn’t make them fall. They picked up their roots [to leave.]”
The proof of the sound of a tree’s fall is dependent upon actual observation as well as an expressed knowledge of reality. The responses and resolutions to some Smith students of color experiences, (trees falling), are reflective of a lack of knowledge of reality, a (void of sound) that exists because the right person – the right White person – wasn’t around to observe the fall. Sadly, even the sincerest of allies finds it difficult to be objective. Knowing each micro and or macro-aggression is subjective, and understanding is about perspective.
“For example,” another anonymous student said, “if we are unaware of somebody’s suffering, does it exist? We can only be aware of it if they tell us or we infer it from our common humanity.” But, according to a different student, “[That] sound is within human experience. Outside of this it’s just air.” Just air is what some Smith students of color believe their voices are. Air with no movement. Stagnant.
Their air, their voice, has been forced to remain still because there is no common humanity. The sounds of a colored mouth are not always welcomed sounds in the Smith community. The documented sound, the witness, from a single, emotionally (and, at times, physically) fallen colored tree is not enough, always, to validate its experience or command attention in a white forest of selectively deaf ears.
Weaving Voices, an event that highlights the voices of students of color, offers a different forest to these students, a multi-cultural forest, where their collective sounds and experiences are not only heard but validated and appreciated by one another. Created in 2010, through a series of year-long conversations, by a group of students of color who recognized that many Smith events were particularly specific to individual cultural organizations and few spaces were available for students of color to gather together as a whole, and that this perpetuated the division amongst those students, Weaving Voices began as a platform to eliminate boundaries of color, class, religion, sex, gender and sexual orientation.
In its six-year history, Weaving Voices has established an intentional and inclusive community for all Smith students of color, fulfilling its promise to provide a safe space for storytelling and healing through the arts. With great appreciation for the work of its small body of founders, the ever-growing community of Weaving Voices has expanded its work to include open mics, writing circles, zines, an annual Senior Monologues and a community mural project.
To learn more about Weaving Voices, join Sacrah Arnold ’19 and Cai Sherley ’19 on Otelia Cromwell Day, November 3, 4:10 – 5:30 p.m., Neilson Browsing Room, as they present Weaving Voices Archives: Students of Color and the Fight for Institutional Change. Also, Weaving Voices invites you to its Open Mic, featuring artist Ally Garcia ’18, November 12,
7 – 9p.m., Graham Hall (Lower Level Hillyer).