We need more than 217 students to attend Common Hour

By Anne Dolan || Contributing Writer

This Thursday, Danielle McGuire gave a Common Hour titled “A Black Woman’s Body was Never Her Own: Sexual Violence and the Civil Rights Movement.”  She grappled with the historical intersection of race, gender, and sexual assault, issues that remain relevant on this campus today. Only 217 students showed up. 2,350 students attend F&M and only 217 showed up.

As a member of Common Hour Committee, I take attendance each week. I count the number of people in Mayser  Gymnasium to evaluate student interest in the topic, to gauge the talk’s overall success, and to figure out how much pizza to order (one day we’ll get it right). Normally I’m not particularly bothered when turnout is low. The number of students at Common Hour will naturally fluctuate depending on the topic and the time of the semester. I understand sometimes the extra hour is best spent finalizing a paper or cramming for a test. However, given the recent conversations on campus surrounding race, the student body needed to use this hour to engage with these relevant social issues as a community.

For the 2,133 students who missed this week’s talk, Danielle McGuire placed race and gender in the context of American history. McGuire described how history has ignored the centrality of sexual assault and black women’s activism in catalyzing change in the Civil Rights movement. She told powerful stories of black women’s’ attempts to seek justice, and she tied her work to current events. In the question period, students probed McGuire to connect her academic study to issues of race and sexual assault on college campuses.

In the past week, #blackyak made it clear that we need to talk about race on this campus. The blatantly racist Yik Yak comments displayed in the College Center forced us to confront issues of intolerance we have collectively swept under the rug. On Tuesday, President Porterfield hosted a campus wide forum in response to these events.  In a room dominated by faculty and administrators, people asked, “Where are all the students?” While those in attendance were disappointed by the turnout, we could justify low attendance at this event. Many clubs meet during uncommon hour, some departments use that time to schedule tests, and the forum was put together at the last minute.  Not everyone can make a meeting during Uncommon Hour.

Those excuses work on Tuesdays but they do not work on Thursdays. There are no classes or club meetings during Common Hour. We have this hour reserved in our week to make sure we have time to engage with a single idea. Common Hour is our stronghold of liberal arts. It is our commitment to gather together and to engage with new ideas. This week in particular was the perfect opportunity to use this hour to talk about difficult, emotional issues through an academic lens, but only 217 of 2,350 Franklin & Marshall students took advantage of this opportunity.

Here’s the thing: I know you are having these important conversations about race and gender. I know discussions are taking place in dorm rooms and in classrooms. I know you’re struggling with these ideas and trying to understand how you fit into what is taking place on campus and in the world. But we need to make these conversations public. We need to use Common Hour, academic lectures, and DipCon forums to grapple with these issues. We’re not going to fix the problems in our community if we don’t talk about them together.

To the 217 students who attended Common Hour this week, thank you. I hope your pizza was warm, your bananas weren’t too ripe, and you left with new questions and new ideas. I hope you bring these ideas to your peers who missed their opportunity to listen and to learn. And to the 2,133 students who missed out this week: we need you in the room next time.

Senior Anne Dolan is a contributing writer. Her email is adolan@fandm.

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