Legitimizing Prejudice

Mount Holyoke College is a diverse school. We all know that. We take pride in it, and for many of us it was a decisive factor for applying and enrolling. Diversity signals openness, respect, curiosity, and an overall higher conscientiousness for individuality. Nevertheless, beyond the attractiveness of diversity in anything from colorful pie charts, promotional posters, and perhaps our own Instagram feeds, diversity is more than a conceptual asset. Diversity is a responsibility. Attending a school in which you encounter people from backgrounds and experiences unlike your own implies that many cultural encounters, which we know almost only in quasi-mythological fashion, will become a daily reality. Stereotypes and generalizations which we know only conceptually —in theory, in the public imagination, or in internet culture— are fleshed out. It is then that our prejudice transcends our unapplied etiquette and is put to the test in on-campus interactions. Do we legitimize prejudice? If so, how?

Prejudice rests on preconceived notions without actual experiences, but what happens when these experiences are led by prejudice itself? Undoubtedly, Mount Holyoke accepts, fosters, and promulgates political correctness, but does that mean that prejudice ceases to exist? Is prejudice at Mount Holyoke nonexistent, or could it have dangerously, to our oblivion, permeated our day to day?

Our prejudices do not make us evil. We are well intentioned, but even positive beliefs can contribute to systematic oppression. We are sharp and we make fairly accurate observations, but the mental maps we make bind us to single paths. Prejudice is an unfortunate form of security against an unknown world of otherness. Representations —for as negative as they may be— place groups on the grid. Mount Holyoke is well aware that it must defend the cause of positive portrayal, but this does not ensure an understanding of the sentiments, needs, and desires of those unlike us. The very act of defending perpetuates a dynamic of higher power and superior wisdom.  The legitimized prejudice of Mount Holyoke is one murked by political correctness. We need to abandon the social script of Tumblr and Twitter. We need to understand each other as individuals with whom we can converse and share the human experience.

As students who value the pursuit of knowledge, we need to--above all--admit how little we know. As open as our minds are, the span of our lives is not wide enough for us to live it all. I think we ought not to be afraid of admitting our ignorance. Assumptions—even if born out of the most credible of sources—are, nonetheless, assumptions. It is this very intellectual security—that we are informed and correct—that breeds a form of legitimized prejudice. The truth is that no amount of documentaries, books, or articles can fully prepare us for encounters with “the other.”  Let us not make the very stone of intellect on which we ground our education become the wall that limits us from interacting as equals. Let us come to conversations less with impressions and more with questions. A question in the face of unawareness is not a loss, but a step for victory over ignorance. A conversation need not be a test, and a gap of information need not become a crack. A gap of information is an invitation for knowledge to be poured into and for understanding to flow. Let us not fear shallow tides or crashing rapids; let us make Mount Holyoke College a body of water in constant motion.

The Mount