Black Lives and Allies at Mudd

Hi again guys! Izzy here. Sorry to say that this is going to be a very wordy post! But it’s got some important content, so you should read it.

Last years BLAM group

Last year’s BLAM group

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BLAM members at a rally.

Today I’m going to talk a little bit about one of Harvey Mudd’s student organizations BLAM. BLAM is a fairly new group created so that African American students can feel a sense of community at Mudd, and also creates a medium through which to interact with the black community of the 5C’s at large. Although I am a black identifying student here at Mudd, I haven’t really been part of BLAM much. There’s recently been a lot of discussion here at the colleges about race and racism recently, and although I generally tried to stay informed, I haven’t engaged with it very much, which I think has been a mistake. As an attempt to learn a little bit more about the environment here at Mudd for students of color, and to teach you readers a bit, I sat down with BLAM’s Ramonda Giddings and Matthew Simon.

Matthew and Ramonda

Matthew and Ramonda

(FYI, while I asked Ramonda specific questions, Matt spoke a lot on his experience overall, and I will be matching excerpts to appropriate questions.)

Q: “What has your experience as a student of color been at Mudd, in general?”

Ramonda: “In general for me, there’s not really a lot of emphasis on race it’s easy to lose that part of your identity at school, especially because it’s a tech school, and there’s not a lot of room for those kinds of conversations. I personally haven’t experienced and bias from faculty or administration or anything like that. Aside from the occasional ignorance from other students it’s generally a fairly positive experience, but there’s definitely a lot that can be done in terms of support for students of color.”

Matt: “It’s interesting being black on Harvey Mudd campus, because our voices tend to get heard. This isn’t a sales pitch, it’s just how it is. If there’s an issue, or there’s a grievance, it can be remedied, even if it’s something as simple as getting space. It’s not perfect by any means. But they try hard hear to make our voices heard. So that at least makes being a black student on the campuses a bit more validated feeling, especially at Mudd, where self esteem is a rare commodity to come by some times, especially with the work load.”

Q: “How do you think the Mudd environment compares to the other 5C’s?”

Ramonda: “In comparison to the other colleges, they have more conversations about race, and if you want you to have those you can go off-campus and find them. I think there are also a lot more instances of aggression at the other C’s. I don’t know particularly why that might be, maybe just Mudders don’t care enough about race issues to have strong feelings about it. But I would say the climate here tends to be better, just because people don’t talk about it, and don’t have conversations, and don’t have strong feelings, and they don’t act on anything.”

Matt: “As the Harvey Mudd black community started coming together, the 5C black community started coming together, and started to let our voices be heard. Because even though there’s no constant racism at Mudd, there’s still a certain level of ignorance and toxic racism on the 5C’s. And the thing is, I don’t see myself as a black person just at Harvey Mudd, I see myself as a black person on all 5 campuses, so that’s one defining part of the experience. Because there are so few of us, I really reach out for any community that I could find.”

Q: “What would you say BLAM does for African American students?”

Ramonda: “BLAM for me really has been this bridge that connects the black students at the school in some more formal fashion. In my freshman year, there was no sort of organization or collaboration between black students, and it’s my understanding that it’s been that way for a while. So for me it was kind of like seeing black students on campus and not interacting with them at all. Not talking to them, not knowing how they were doing, how their experience had been. So for me having BLAM has been a great way to connect with those people, and connect with the black culture that I’d been missing at Mudd. It’s been a way to engage in racial conversations, and really engage with my black identity.”

Matt: “Fall semester [of freshman year], I was very aware of the fact that there weren’t very many people of color on campus. When I walked into orientation I was able to count that there were 11 people of color in my grade. So, I felt isolated, but I didn’t necessarily feel alone, I guess? That made me gravitate towards Prof. Williams, because she was cool, and very open, and very willing to talk to students of color about student of color experiences. But ultimately, it wasn’t my community, I was separated from the black community in the fall semester — I was talking to my friend, and he was saying ‘I don’t have to worry about acing my classes, because affirmative action’s gonna get me through.’ That was kinda sad to hear. Because, that’s not really how we should think about it, but when the evidence is presented to you, that there are only so many of you here, you may just be here because of affirmative action, or a diversity poll. It makes finding your sense of self in college a lot harder. So having a community, and having a strong black community is very helpful.”

I’m really sorry for the long, relatively pictureless post this time guys! I just thought Matt and Ramonda had some good things to say, on an important topic, especially with some of the stuff going on now, and I didn’t want to cut too much. There was a bit more to Matt’s talk, and if you want to read it you can email me at ijones@hmc.edu. Happy Holidays.