Introduction to the Opinion Section
The Information School Student Services office hosts periodic “study breaks:” opportunities for students and staff to gather, eat something, and celebrate a holiday. On April 28th, Student Services issued an invitation to a Cinco de Mayo study break. The flier publicizing this event featured a caricature of a mariachi, a flier that most of our readership has in its inbox and which will not be republished here.
Members of the Information School community complained that this flier perpetuated racist stereotypes about Mexicans. In response, on May 4th Matt Saxton, Associate Dean for Academics, sent an email announcing that the study break had been “postponed.”
An ambivalent response to this situation is understandable. After all, many of us are extremely wary of anything that might resemble censorship. Some of us will spend our work lives in public libraries buying books that we personally find offensive, inaccurate, or stupid. We might spend our time explaining to patrons that, yes, that guy can look at whatever he wants on the web even if it is creepy and gross. So, even if we agree that the image was inappropriate, was cancellation of the event not a bit extreme?
On the other hand, this is not a public library. This is the Information School, a place where a group of people has gathered for the purpose of learning, a goal best achieved in an atmosphere of mutual respect and caring. Though it is a near certainty that Student Services intended no harm with its graphic design choices, can it be said that their flier helped foster an atmosphere of respect? That it was created with loving attention and care? Many of our community felt it failed on these points, and imagery that makes our surroundings seem less comfortable, safe and respectful is a threat to our primary goal as a group.
Though the story could have ended with the cancellation of the event, our admirable student body used it as an opportunity for dialogue. The iDiversity student organization organized a meeting on May 9th where all students were welcome to voice their concerns. From this meeting a document was created and presented to staff and faculty. This was not a list of grievances against the iSchool; instead it pointed out that race could not be simplified into white and other and that each group has its own history that could not be adequately addressed with a blanket policy. It also admitted that these issues are large and complex, and that the iSchool could not possibly be expected to “solve” the problem of racism.
In this issue of the Silverfish, we asked representatives from the iDiversity student organization to comment on issues of race and diversity at the iSchool. We hope you find the articles by Marisa Duarte and Cortney Leach engaging, and that the dialogue around this important issue continues at our school.