Davidson Denial

February 6th, 2019: The Davidson versus Rhode Island men’s basketball game, Belk Arena, D block.  

I was sitting in one of the back rows with a few friends of mine. A group of students who were sitting closer to the court were using social media to look up Rhode Island’s team members’ sister’s, girlfriend’s, and mom’s names, then shouting comments about these women. They were comments that targeted these women as sexual objects, such as: “I’m in love with X,” or “X is so hot.” These Davidson students were white men—and Rhode Island’s team were almost all black men. 

I remember feeling so uncomfortable, I just wanted to leave. I ended up moving to a different seat that was far away from that group of students, but I didn’t feel better. I sat there for the rest of the game thinking about how I should have said something, I should have stopped them – I felt guilty.  

I started a Social Justice Club at my high school as a senior and we talked about incidents like this all the time. We would sit in a classroom every Thursday for an hour, or sometimes more, circled up, eating snacks, and talking about what actions and language are offensive and how to confront them. And then here I am after preaching to my peers for a year, trying to empower them to call people out, and this time I don’t. I just walked away.  

And I couldn’t understand why I just walked away. I could make lists of all the times I’ve been catcalled, followed, diminished, times when I have seen others being harassed, and I stood up and said something about it. That’s something that I thought had become second nature to me.  

But I think seeing this triggered something in me. Since being at Davidson I hadn’t experienced or witnessed much in terms of microaggressions, at least not compared to what I used to experience living in a small rural town in the South as a queer woman who has struggled with their mental health. Admittedly, for a while I was blinded by my pride for the school. Things would happen, and I would think “maybe it’s just a coincidence.” I idolized Davidson a bit more than I realized, being that it was my dream school. I wanted to think that it must say a lot about me to be accepted into such a special place.  

I think another reason I was in denial about microaggressions occurring here is because of this part of me that always thought that once I got out of my home town, I would be free of it. I imagined Davidson as a place where I could be who I wanted to be, free of catcalling, gaslighting, and homophobia, along with the rest of it.  

And then I go to this basketball game and I witness this instance of race patriarchy where guys that I’m friends with are involved and all of the sudden this idea I had of Davidson was shattered.  

In an attempt to get this feeling of security back, I talked to some of my peers about the incident. I have friends who were supportive, just as outraged as I was, but a lot of the responses I heard only pushed me further away from comfort. I heard so many people say that these actions were nothing to be in an uproar about.

They said that it’s no big deal because this happens all the time, but that’s my point: this happens all the time

I brought up the incident with administration and they told me that as soon as they found out about the incident, they confronted the people involved. However, I knew these people, I saw them every day, and I had seen nothing in them change.  

I listened to administrators tell me about all the programs that Davidson has to handle incidents like this. They said things like, “sure it’s an issue, but Davidson is better than other schools.” I saw the same thing in them that I recognized in myself— they were blinded by pride for the school. They came into the meeting with this idea that Davidson is too good to have any major issues, so if there is an issue, there’s no way that it is really that bad.  

I spoke to a few of my professors and they really helped me process what had happened and how I could move forward. The way they helped me though was by talking very openly about Davidson as an institution and the faults that our community has; no more hiding behind a good reputation, no more being blinded by pride.  

It was difficult, I had to come to terms with the fact that regardless of where I go, there will be power structures in place that are up against me. But it has also made me so much stronger, and it has made me a better person. 

I identify with certain marginalized communities (queer, female, mentally ill,) but I am also a part of other privileged communities (white, developed country, able bodied, among others.) If I thought that discrimination and harassment didn’t happen on campus to any major extent, that wasn’t only disregarding the aggressions that I face, but the aggressions that all other students with marginalized identities face, as well. 

Being open about being aggressed, being the aggressor, and the environments that allow for incidents to occur is the only way to progress and improve. I know its cliché, but the only way to fix a problem is to first acknowledge that there is one. Putting an effort into ending microaggressions has to come from more than just those who are affected by the problem, but also from those who contribute to it.  

I have also learned that you don’t always have to speak up, call people out, or call people in for every aggression that you encounter. It can be a lot of emotional labor and you have to learn to respect your own boundaries. Sometimes contributing to the solution is done internally – healing and learning what those who have been aggressed against may need.  

I still think that Davidson is a special place. Not because it’s so far ahead of other schools – even though it may be – but because there is so much potential here. This is a place where students and professors are willing to learn and improve, and a place where that improvement can happen. The only thing that I see lacking is everyone putting in the work. There are people doing this, but like I said, it needs to be everyone – not just the aggressed, but also the aggressors, and those who are capable of changing the environments. But I still have hope, and I see the potential. 

Michi LaCorte is a sophomore Philosophy major at Davidson College and a collaborator on the Davidson Microaggressions Project since August 2019.