Chief Diversity Officer Poonam Arora’s Correspondence with The S&B concerning Racist Yik Yaks

Editor’s Note: The S&B is releasing its full correspondence with Chief Diversity Officer Poonam Arora, who was quoted in an article about a series of racist Yik Yaks posted at Grinnell. (Link to the article: http://www.thesandb.com/news/racist-posts-on-yik-yak-spark-outcry.html) These statements were released with permission from Poonam Arora.

 

The S&B: When you first heard about the racist statements posted on Yik Yak, what was your initial response? Can you tell me about how you felt at that moment?

Arora: I felt inordinately sad. I asked myself why I was feeling this way, and came to the conclusion that Grinnell is caught in this pattern of “one step forward; two step backwards,” as far as the race dialogue is concerned. A month after the overwhelmingly positive response to the MLK Day conversations, we get this backlash in response to some DJ’s music choices at a Harris party? I am sad because I wonder whether as a community we are inadvertently perpetuating that Blacks and Whites as irreconcilable cultural polarities. An “us vs. them” approach is regressive to say the least. If even a small group thinks in this polarized way, we are not succeeding in cultivating pluralistic sensibilities needed for functioning in a complex and increasingly globalized world.   If some people have to resort to surreptitious, anonymous and mean spirited comments to voice a point of view, perhaps a great deal of work remains to be done in creating forums for genuine, courageous dialogue that will get us past this debilitating phase that we seem to be stuck in.

The S&B: What would you like to say to other students/members of campus in general after seeing the messages posted over the weekend? What responses would you like to see from the student body?

Arora: It is time for some deep soul-searching. Why did some DJ’s choice of music provoke such anxiety, in this instance? What does it mean when someone claims: “X group is ruining Grinnell”? What is this implicit understanding of the un-ruined institution? Is there nostalgia for an earlier time? Who/what is fueling this nostalgia?

The S&B: Can you explain the process of addressing these statements in collaboration with President Kington, as part of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion? What changes would you like to see be made moving forward?

Arora: The President has not solicited my input, or that of my office, in addressing the issue. His letter to the community speaks for itself.

The S&B: Is there anything else you’d like to say or add, which you feel is important/relevant to this article?

Arora: Each member of the community needs to ask themselves: what am I doing to enable the process of healing a national, psychic wound? Is my personal history, getting in the way of my commitment to this healing? How can I deploy my Grinnell experience to make a difference in turning the course of this painful and tragic saga?   This is a challenge I have set for myself as a citizen of America.