“What have we been through?”

Alumni of color look back on life at a predominantly white institution through the lens of the ongoing civil rights movement

By Brandon Zero ’11 and Chris Lydgate ’90 | July 12, 2021

Alumni panelists spanning nearly two decades of graduating classes assembled for the college’s inaugural Race & Reconciliation summit in February. On the docket? Reflecting on the challenges of the past and confronting the vestiges of racism that linger today.

Chair of the diversity & inclusion committee of the alumni board, alea adigweme ’06, convened the panel via Zoom to share memories, highlight victories, and steer the way forward.

Among the most contentious topics were how to navigate a campus social structure oblivious to white supremacy and whether panelists support the college going forward.

The group was united in their ambivalence about their social experience on campus.

“In my small circle, I felt connected,” said Yuka Nagashima ’92. “But I never had the expectation that I would feel included. Now I realize that’s sad.”

Austin Campbell ’11 and his friends—including people of color and white allies—ran for various offices during his student years, responding to lack of progress on racial issues by reaching for power. Runs at Honor Council, Senate, and his own stint as Vice President proved helpful to the creation of a diversity statement in 2009, he said.

Victories aside, the conditions that made them necessary stung.

“When I left Reed, I got on a train and was like, ‘See you never,’” Campbell said. “I felt like I tried to make change and got pushback. But I also formed a lot of strong relationships with other students of color.”

Alumni of color reflecting on their time at Reed do so from a high vantage point. A year into the largest civil rights movement of our time, the fruits of student-led protests are too numerous to enumerate. Dedicated mental health counselors with specialties in Black health? The college’s hiring process is underway. Paid student positions for the Multicultural Resource Center and Black Student Union? Check, and Check. Designate campus as a sanctuary from immigrations and customs agents? Checkmate. President Kroger published a letter of support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2016 and noted the college will not cooperate with federal deportation investigations.

Reedies Against Racism and predecessor groups have secured many of their demands since regular occupations of Hum 110 lectures began in the fall of 2016.

So how do alumni support student activism?

“Activism takes different forms,” said Sirius Bonner ’05, MALS ’10, who worked in the Admissions Office after graduating. “If you have money, how are you using the money? If you have connections, how are you using the connections?”

Funding Reed after graduation is no academic exercise for the panelists, who evinced nuance in their willingness to support the college.

The college’s ability to redress harms is a precondition for Lilia Raquel Rosas ’94 to give her support. For Yuka Nagashima ’92, who gained a marriage and preparation for a career, donations that can improve the college are a fair deal. Alea gives her time and experience, while Austin earmarks funds for future financial aid recipients.

Passing the torch, the panelists gestured toward the value of setting an example for future Reedies. Representation in alumni groups and providing context for previous struggles might help point the way forward.

Tags: Alumni, Diversity/Equity/Inclusion, Giving Back to Reed