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Letter to the Editor: An Open Letter in Response to Criticism Involving Frelon and Its Directors

First and foremost, we want to apologize for the amount of time it has taken for the Directors to respond to the campus in this public of a manner. After many discussions, we’ve decided that using the platform of our K email would be the most effective way in which to reach the majority of our campus community. Many of our peers are angry at our lack of formal and public apology regarding Frelon’s proposal of racist t-shirt usage and incorporation of twerking into the Senior Dance. Through this letter, we’d like to both respond to this anger while also thinking proactively about what’s coming next for the future of Frelon as a student organization.

In not formally and publicly saying: “We’re sorry” for what happened regarding those events, we hope to not have been perceived as denying our wrongdoing. As your peers, friends and students who aspire to be as conscientious about racial issues as possible, we hope that you can recognize our preexisting efforts, and acknowledge that, much like yourselves, we are still learning.

The acknowledgement that was published to Facebook was not intended to undermine the gravity of the issues at-hand, but rather, to acknowledge the mistake that we had made by using the image of Mr. Miyagi and by incorporating twerking into the Senior Dance. With that said, the lack of technical apology on that page and thereafter was intentional on our part. During the times that we had made the initial marketing decisions and had chosen to choreograph the twerking, we had no malicious intentions to be hurtful or insensitive. We refrained from formally apologizing because we did not feel that that would be the most sincere and genuine way to correct the mistake that was both unforeseen and unintentional. As to be conscious of our wording we thought that the common phrase of  “I’m sorry” might be patronizing, and still are figuring out what the phrase means to us in certain dialogues. We thought that it might imply a position of authority or hierarchy to those who felt (and feel) offended—as if to say, “I’m sorry that you feel that way. But I simply cannot understand.” However, that does not mean that the image or choreography was not racist. As we reexamined our decisions in this process we became more aware of how the image and the choreography was both insensitive and racist. Therefore, we made the executive decision to not use the image or the choreography in our respective show.

We apologize if our campus community was disappointed in the decisions that we made to address these issues. However, we cannot change the actions that we previously took. We can only learn from our mistakes and apply the things we have learned to become a more critically aware and inclusive student organization. Racial consciousness is a process that—as students and people living in and out of our time at K—we’re all still learning.

We acknowledge that offenses have been made and we acknowledge that our decisions as Directors have contributed to many hurt feelings of our campus community. We hope that in moving forward we continue to have conversations regarding race and racism on our campus as it is manifested in the institution and its student organizations. We hope that everyone can recognize the action (and inaction) that has ensued since the final Frelon performance, and hopefully, that the positive learning experiences we’ve had since that time have been greater than the grievances committed. As we move forward in our director selection process we hope to apply some of the lessons that we have learned and to make productive changes within our organization and our performances.

We hope that if there are any unresolved questions, comments, concerns or suggestions for how Frelon can productively discuss and address issues of racism, please do not hesitate to address one of us. Also, if there a further desire to do so, we’d love to open up the campus to facilitate greater conversations about institutional racism, beyond the confinements of this short and concise letter.

Thanks for reading, and happy end-of-6th-week, Hornets.

Lux Esto,

The Frelon Directors:

Francesca DeAnda

Rachel Pieciak

Madeline Vermuelen

Caitlin Donnelly

Jack Massion

What Happened at Frelon

By Chelsey Shannon and Alex Subbaraman

“These people seem really misguided”: a remark overheard less than an hour after the conclusion of last week’s speak out on the quad regarding the spring Frelon show—“these people” meaning people of color. We are two of “these people,” two seniors of color who have been profoundly affected by the recent events on campus, particularly the (lack of) response from the Frelon directors. Though not directly involved in the speak out, we appreciate the honesty and space it created, and want to emphasize the importance of extending these issues into a sustained and collective dialogue. Failure to do so is facilitating a campus culture that is not truly progressive and not collectively accountable. Because we believe this is a conversation all members of the campus community should be involved in, we offer this response from our perspective as both seniors and students of mixed racial heritage.

While we fully agree with the sentiment that macro-level systems of racism and oppression are at play at Kalamazoo College, the institution cannot be used as a scapegoat. As noted by Lillie Wolff ‘04, “we’re all always participating in something larger than ourselves—social systems”; in other words, human actions and the institution dynamically shape one another. So, a crucial part of dismantling institutional racism is practicing person-to-person accountability and accounting for.

None of the Frelon directors have publicly apologized for the racially insensitive choices surrounding the spring performance. Deep accounting for these mistakes is only accomplishable through an apology that is both direct and accessible to the entire campus community. While the directors issued a collective statement in which they “acknowledge the ignorance” of their actions, this statement was posted in a Facebook group and seen by approximately 50 students, all of them seniors and most of them white. Additionally, the statement was not an apology, but an acknowledgement, effectively designed to head off any public conversation about the issues—an intention underscored by the request that any further discussion take place with the Frelon directors in private.

Treating these issues as personal or private undermines their seriousness and removes them from the public sphere to which they properly belong. Such privatization of rightfully public discourse is effectively censorship. Yes, the Frelon spring show is an eagerly awaited event into which the directors put a lot of time and energy. However, this commitment doesn’t exempt the directors from critique, and neither should critique be received as insult. Constructive criticism of offensive actions is a way for community members to respect the community; it is caring for our collective container. Similarly, conversations like these should not be treated as gossip or spectacle, expected to fade from relevance in a week or two; rather, they are work, they are progress, they are positive re-shapings of our College culture, and should be held as such.

Our comments don’t have specific reformatory recommendations; rather, we are asking all members of the campus community to seek first to understand. To listen. This is not something we’ve “slept off” or chalked up to the buzz of third week. This has genuinely troubled us as members of this community, as people of color, and as peers of the Frelon directors. This book must not be slammed closed. We, however, close with a quote from Dr. Jaime Grant’s piece “Emptying the White Knapsack.”

“Listen. Listen more. Listen when you are uncomfortable.”

 

In case you missed it: What happened at Frelon

By Olivia Nalugya

Saturday’s Frelon show was concluded by a student protest about institutional racism as perpetuated by Frelon Dance Company. According to the student protestors, the event was a general call for institutional reform at Kalamazoo College.

During the action, Student Commission President Darrin Camilleri ’14 made opening remarks about the need for institutional reform on campus and the efforts to make the campus a welcoming environment for everyone including students of color. “As the chief advocate of students at Kalamazoo College, I took it as my responsibility to stand in solidarity with those treated unjustly,” Camilleri said, at the Student Commission meeting on Monday.

Justin Danzy ’16 followed Camilleri’s introduction during the action and read out grievances against Frelon Dance Company.  The group was accused of refusing to approve the student protestors’ fliers for posting and also taking down the ones that were posted before the show. There were also comments about lack of cultural acknowledgement of some the dances featured in the show.

Danzy also mentioned the lack of concern for institutional oppression among the Frelon Directors evidenced by their absence on stage during the action. He however apologized during the Student Commission meeting for he was later informed that there were indeed a couple of Frelon directors on stage at that time.

Student Commissioners Andrew Kim ’17 and Lucas Kushner ’14 described the action as insensitive and inappropriate for such a celebratory moment. Lucas felt that instead of it being ‘a collective call for action, it turned out to be a polarizing in a lot of ways”. However student commissioner Cassandra Solis ‘16 thought it was far from insensitive since it was staged at the end of the show. She maintained that such actions are bound to create discomfort among various people but that this discomfort is also part of the point trying to be made. Danzy indicated that action was not intended to divide the student body: “It is not about being anti-white if you stand up for people of color. You are not merely going against the majority,” he said.

Frelon Director Jack Massion ’14 urged the entire campus community to take this as a learning experience. “I think it is more important to look forward instead of backward,” he said. Further discussions regarding the issue will take place on Thursday of this week at 11:30 a.m. on the lower quad co-facilitated by Dr. Reid Gómez and Dr. Shanna Salinas.