Recognizing privilege

April 15, 2021

I think that the one that comes to mind most poignantly is when outside of the Department of Africana Studies offices in the hallway in the third floor of O'Shaughnessy, the blackboards, the billboards where you post posters and all kinds of other things. And welcome to Africana studies. Those were defaced and this was a number of years ago now. So I'm not going to get the exact date right. But it was written about in The Observer. It was pretty contentious when it happened. And it was in response to a number of protests of Ann Coulter coming to speak on our campus and the fact that our open speakers policy at the university allowed for Ann Coulter to come. But folks were really angry that the invitation had been issued to her. It's it's pretty clear that, at least to me, that she is and was at the time a highly contentious figure who is racist and who is anti-immigrant and xenophobic. And there were a number of open protests around her appearance on campus. And it seemed as though the defacing of the bulletin board outside of Africana Studies was in response to that. At the time, I was one of two faculty members in that department that were not Black. And the pain that my colleagues experienced as a result of that is something that will never ever leave my memory. Recognizing how absolutely gut-wrenching it must feel, to walk into a space that you walk into on a daily basis and see the vile and hateful words and comments and ideas that were written in dripping red spray paint or poster paint across the billboards, was a gut punch.

So I think that within the department there was a lot of healing that needed to happen. There was a lot of work that needed to happen just to take care of the faculty and staff in that unit, and our students. And so that was what we focused on first was a way to think about reconciliation, a way to think about healing and moving forward. And so there was a moving service where we made a point of taking those boards down and making sure they actually went into the Notre Dame archives so students can find those, people who are looking and thinking about this in years to come. We didn't want that to go away. We didn't want it to not be recorded.

We didn't want to sweep it under the rug, but also that there needed to be an actual ritual associated with moving on from that. So there was a service around that. And then the honest truth is that in many instances, including this one, there's a moment where everyone certainly isn’t healed or isn't completely OK from that, but they put their heads back down and they get back to work because that's what you have to do. It was a moment, though, in my professional life where I recognized the privilege that comes with not having to experience those moments day after day, year after year, week after week.

Maria McKenna

Maria McKenna is a professor at the University of Notre Dame in the Department of Africana Studies and the Education, Schooling and Society program.