The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Letter to the editor: Alumni examine racial tension on Yik Yak with eye to Grinnell’s history

Dear Grinnell community:

It is with sadness and dismay that black Grinnell alumni heard the news about the latest eruption of racial tension on the Grinnell College campus. Like President Kington, we want current black students to focus their eyes on the prize of a stellar Grinnell education because we, as beneficiaries of such an education, understand its importance. However, we also feel compelled to highlight the many ways in which events like the racial slurs against individual Grinnell students and the public racist speech directed at the entire African-American student community can stop black students in their tracks, forcing them to ask, “What now lies in our already difficult path?” For decades, African-American students at the College have pushed past these types of assaults as well as everyday microaggressions to succeed on campus and graduate. Nevertheless, we believe it is important to acknowledge the environment under which we and other black students have thrived at Grinnell and the difficulty of our thriving and surviving in such an environment.  More so, we want the entire Grinnell College community to realize that this atmosphere of both willful racial ignorance and prejudice and well-intentioned, but hurtful racial slights can no longer be the norm at the institution.

We understand all too well the pain that the black students at the College are currently experiencing. Their pain is not new. Twenty years ago this month, black students at Grinnell College responded to what they felt were escalating racial tensions on campus and what they believed to be “the failure of the administration and some faculty and some staff to recognize their needs.” Students felt they were always put in the position of educating the white majority about their entire race and culture and felt like they were frequently treated as walking “add-ons” to the Grinnell experience. They taped their mouths shut and carried signs indicating their concern for the escalating racial tension on campus that each of them as individuals, as opposed to the entire campus, was called upon to address. They urged administrators, faculty and staff to share the weight of carrying these racial burdens on their shoulders. These black students hoped that their dramatic actions would motivate the administration to address the concerns of black students on campus. They later spoke to all who would listen to their concerns about the daily microaggressions they faced on campus. At the time, they hoped to support each other, and in speaking up to the entire institution of Grinnell, they hoped to improve the environment for those who came after them. Like so many African-Americans before them, their hope was to lift as they climbed. But even then, their actions were not new. For, less than a decade before, in 1987, black students organized a Speakeasy on campus to address similar racial tensions on campus and call attention to the ways in which they had been shouldering this burden alone. And before those students in 1987 were many other groups of black students who worked hard to change the racial climate on campus.

Like President Kington, we black Grinnell alumni condemn the racist and cowardly speech that was published on the anonymous social media site Yik Yak, and we are disappointed that once again black students are being distracted from their studies (understandably so on their part) to address hate and ignorance on campus by working to make their college community, a community each of them loves, to be a better place for those who will follow them. We admire these students’ commitment to Grinnell and their desire to push the College to live up to its stated mission about tolerance, diversity and inclusion. Indeed, we are writing because we believe, much like today’s students and the black students in 1995 and 1987 (and students before them), that this important work must be the work of the entire Grinnell community. Although we recognize that Grinnell College is only a small part of a nation that has historically struggled to confront and honestly address its racist past, we agree with the current students that the College can do better. We as alumni certainly expect better from Grinnell, and we understand that Grinnell is a special community and that Grinnellians have the capacity to come together to take both conscious and unconscious racism on and significantly lessen their effects on campus.

  If anything, we, the Grinnell community, should learn from both the recent racist comments made on Yik Yak and the incidents that sparked protest in 1995 and 1987. Recent and past events remind us that the College cannot let its guard down if it wishes to nurture an environment where diversity thrives and every student knows intolerance will not be tolerated, and where all students can focus on their studies knowing the burden of keeping everyone as mentally and physically safe as possible is shared by the whole community, from the leadership down.

We urge each of you as individuals who profess a belief in equality to put in the time and energy needed to overcome the biases, both implicit and explicit, that can make Grinnell an alienating place for students of color. We ask that you reflect upon your own role in contributing to an environment that causes students of color to feel unsafe and unwelcome on campus, and we ask that you challenge yourself each day to make Grinnell College as warm and welcoming to all students as our mission promises it will be. There are so many ways that you can help make the environment at Grinnell better. Take an extra second here and there to smile and say hello to other students on campus, whether or not you know them. Step outside your comfort zone from time to time, and sit down to have lunch or dinner with someone of a different racial or ethnic background whom you do not know. Attend an event at the Black Cultural Center (BCC), or simply stop by to hang out with other students at the BCC. Really, all are welcome and invited there! Most of all, listen to your peers on campus about their experiences, share your life experiences with them and learn and grow with each other.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this letter, and thank you in advance for helping to make the Grinnell community and family stronger.


Lillian Benjamin, ‘01

Carl E. Bourelly ‘80

Raven Burke ‘06

Tequia Burt ‘98

Alexis Castro-Hererra ‘09

Chevon Chatman ‘08

Denise Clarke ‘94

Daphne Cunningham ‘95

April Dobbins ‘99

Marcus Eagan ‘12

Laura Evans ‘13

Jeffrey Fields ‘90

Joe Fouche ‘12

Samantha Massingale Gerth ‘91

Kai Gillespie ‘09

Lynette Green ‘92

Tare Gurira ‘94

Shannon Hancock ‘92

Kiera Henry ‘94

Imani Hinkson ‘14

Amanda Hodo ‘14

Kendall Holley ‘11

Ricardo Howard ‘09

Isaiah Iboko ‘12

Jatina Johnson ‘96

Candyce Jones ‘10

Abago Laka ‘91

Chris Lawson ‘87

Trymore Magomana, ‘07

Fredrick Mann ‘02

Moses Mason ‘99

Adrienne McAdory ‘92

Lauren Merritt ‘91

Darlene Miller ‘80

Gabby Mitchell ‘13

Grady Murdock III ‘96

Michelle Okafor ‘11

Angela Onwuachi-Willig ‘94

Sam Perlman ‘90

Gina Physic ‘11

Veronique Porter ‘08

Robert Okai Kofi Quashie ‘86

Althea Ricketts ‘86

Darryl Roberts ‘98

Tarell Rodgers ‘93

Kimberly Eison Simmons ‘89

Brian Smith ‘94

Christian Snow ‘13

DeJuan Stevens ’07

Rhonda Stuart ‘86

Leslie Carole Taylor ’81

Leslie Turner ‘07

Sherman Willis ‘01

Haywood Wilson ‘93

Laura Evans ’13

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