Mel Mendez, Jordan Starck ’12, Tamara Munroe ’12, Kaneisha Gaston ’13, Alex Gitten, 2008
Authored by Ramona M. Davis ’21 in “Black Student Activism at Davidson College“
last updated 02.09.2021
This next photo represents the activist event that prompted the creation of the Student Initiative for Academic Diversity. On May 2, 2012, students had a bake sale that sold racialized cookies at different prices to emphasize pay discrimination against minority groups. Students organized this event during Convocation in 2012 in response to Davidsons non-decision on Asian professor Dr. Hun Lye and general anger around the lack of diversity amongst faculty. Six students hold up a poster at the Union Amphitheatre, with a white and black man sharing the center. The handmade poster replaces the “Davidson” in the college’s logo with “Diversity?” In the far-left corner of the photo, an official college banner reads, “take your place in the future”, adding another level to the primary question presented by the image. This photo disrupts an idealistic image of Davidson College and positions the question of diversity at the center of Davidson’s mission. This group of marginalized students are visually reclaiming their Davidson experience and challenging the college to recognize their existence and concerns and their concerns as more than just positive publicity. The official college banner may encourage students to take their place in the future, but clearly that future would not include becoming faculty at Davidson College when marginalized faculty are disproportionately denied tenure.
This protest took place outside a central place on campus, the Union Amphitheatre, after Convocation. Students intentionally disrupted the energy around Convocation, a potentially uncritical celebration of the achievements of graduates, faculty, and staff. The demonstration would be completely different on an average school day or even inside of an academic building. This photo and the protest itself are clearly intended to reach a wider audience of people who invest themselves in a perfect image of Davidson. As seen in the previous photo, students are challenging Davidson by asking questions to address racism instead of declarative statements. There is power in this photo, yet it hasn’t captured the full picture.
I would like to note that the Davidsonian has recycled this same image in all three articles where they refer to SIAD, making this photo virtually the only public representation of this initiative. Although this photo captured a version of reality, the controversial bake sale is left to be understood through text instead of offered for visualization through photo. Why did the Davidsonian choose to capture a more neutral image of students holding up a simple sign instead of showing the differently priced cookies? Is there an agenda behind the overrepresentation of this photo? This multicultural coalition may have gained more traction due to their alignment with general issues of diversity and inclusion as opposed to the specifically black activism of past years. Contrary to other moments of activism that I have discussed, SIAD was not led primarily by black students or black organizations on campus. In this image, the group looks to be mostly black with one white person, yet SIAD has always had significant numbers of Asian and white people. This photo can be read as resistance, but Davidson can use it as proof of their diversity and how great the students are. At every turn, the administration responds to student activism attempts with positive words, yet rarely places power behind these statements of support. This photo shows how Davidson media may perpetuate misunderstandings about activist efforts and reminds students that the institution always has its own agenda.