Top row, from left: Corrine Bancroft '10, Geoff Hicks '09, Stephanie Tafur '10; bottom: Robyn Gibson '09, Amy Tannenbaum '10, Kye Lippold '10

To many Hamilton students, the Days-Massolo Center may feel as familiar as the campus furniture. But 10 years ago, the Center didn’t even exist — it was in part through the efforts of the Social Justice Initiative (SJI) that the DMC opened its doors in 2011. Seven SJI alumni who were instrumental in pushing for the establishment of a multicultural center on campus spoke with members of the Hamilton community in a virtual panel on March 4.

Geoff and Robin Hicks ’09, Robyn Gibson ’10, Stephanie Tafur ’10, Kye Lippold ’10, Corrine Bancroft ’10, and Amy Tannenbaum ’10 recalled their experiences as members of Hamilton’s SJI, a group that attempted to foreground conversations about racial and social justice in what they said was a largely indifferent and at times unwelcoming campus climate. 

The panelists all seemed to agree that this climate helped catalyze the formation of SJI and encourage its increasingly active and visible role on campus. And while some students were certainly drawn to the group and its mission, many others held a negative perception of SJI, leading to divisiveness that Gibson described as frustrating. “It became SJI versus others — and really, we were all about unity,” she remarked. 

Lippold shared data from campus surveys he conducted, which corroborated the impressions of SJI members that their group was unpopular among Hamilton students at the time. Among all student organizations, SJI ranked near the bottom in terms of popularity, with about as many students in opposition to the group as in support. “That always kind of struck me at the time because I thought well, you know, we're doing all this great work,” Lippold said. “But there was definitely a lot of opposition to the idea of SJI as an organization.”

Tafur added to this by reflecting on the emotional burden of such a negative perception. “We had each other, we had the other groups that we were a part of ... but we were walking around and people didn’t like us, administration didn’t like us,” she said. “And so instead of sometimes feeling mentored or built up or understood or heard, we felt like we were just a problem.”

When asked how SJI was able to maintain a sense of community, Geoff Hicks tied in lessons he learned while fundraising for alumni development. Listening to stories from the past, Hicks said he noticed how others had built communities in the face of adversity. “I wanted to hear from those who still showed up despite the scars ... for me, the most bold people were the Kirkland women,” he said. “[They] endured all kinds of horrific things, but also celebrated the most authentic and beautiful community.”

To wrap up the conversation on a more positive note, Gibson characterized the backlash faced by SJI as a marker of the group’s power and encouraged students to devote themselves to causes they are passionate about. “For every single movement, people did not like the people doing the moving and shaking,” she said. “And so thinking about what matters to you, what's good for your own self care and your future and what you're willing to contribute — I think those are all questions that we all ask ourselves.”

Hamilton is working to achieve an inclusive, equitable community where all individuals, without exception, feel valued, empowered, and treated fairly. For more information, visit Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.


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