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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Change is coming to Carleton’s campus

<day, as many of you know, “former” white supremacist Arno Michaelis has come to Carleton to speak about the place of forgiveness in social movements. His presence seems impossible to escape on campus, his long shadow looming high over each and every Carleton student.

But not everyone is affected equally by Michaelis’s presence. The very fact that we as an institution would bring a “former” white supremacist to speak at Carleton points to broader, deeper problems this school faces.

On the most superficial level, what are the merits of bringing a white supremacist, even a reformed one, to speak on campus? This man is a hate criminal.

We would not speak of bringing a “former” murderer or a “former” rapist to campus, armed only with the knowledge that they now felt penitent for their actions.

And Michaelis’ crime is far worse: he is guilty of exacerbating structures of white supremacy and racist violence in this country. No matter how much Michaelis does now to amend his past actions, his presence here is a tacit free pass for those grievous wrongdoings.
To accept Michaelis here is to beg the question. He is here today because this administration, and specifically the convocation committee, accepts his argument that all actions can be forgiven.

Yet this is circular reasoning. If we reject Michaelis’ claim, then what grounds does he have to be here?

I do not believe that all actions are forgivable. Perhaps people are, but there do exist actions so heinous, so hateful, that no amount of personal growth can ever remedy their impact.

I believe that white supremacy is one such action. Evidently, the convocation committee thinks differently.

One must possess a high level of privilege to be comfortable with such a decision. We are all affected by white supremacy in this country, and in this world. Yet some people have enough privilege to be able to opt out.

I’m Jewish. In the former Michaelis’ eyes, I would have no place in this country but an open grave. So I feel personally threatened by the normalization of white supremacy in the form of this speaker.

Even more than my own self-interest, however, I am dismayed at the number of people at Carleton who consistently decide to opt out of these discussions.

Michaelis is not the end of the conversation. He is one obvious example, but only one, of the broader structures of oppression that persist in this world, this country, and yes, especially this college.

Nor should Michaelis be the end of this conversation. It is the responsibility of privileged white upper-class folks like me to educate ourselves and truly understand why issues like this are so deeply harmful.

Carleton College, as is clear, has many problems. Carleton College is not a socialist utopia. Carleton College is not the safe space many of us wish it could be. When a place is as overfilled with wealthy white people as this school is, it is easy for people with more marginalized identities to be left out of the conversation.

Thus Michaelis. His presence is a symptom, rather than a cause, of these broader issues that make Carleton so exclusive: failure to facilitate inclusion, admissions bias in race and class, neglected financial aid, lack of accessibility, and a dearth of multicultural and multiracial education and resources, to name several grievances that came up at a meeting of student activists this week.

Discontent with these policies has always run rampant at Carleton; what makes the present exciting is the immediacy of action. This Monday’s meeting helped begin what should be an active process, not of mere posturing, but of direct agitation, through which we can change Carleton to represent all its people, not only those who, like Michaelis, already have the loudest voices.

I encourage you all to join us as we continue this conversation, through today’s convocation and beyond.

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