How (and why) do we portray our histories?

Something I was thinking about when we did our first exercise on the board was the idea of “conserving” a certain image of Bryn Mawr to appease conservative white fathers. Or perhaps we uphold a certain image of Bryn Mawr so alums will still give money. I could see how some people see that as being shady or dishonest. But as somebody who works in the Admissions office, I have a very different view of “withholding” information.

When I give tours, I have to paint an honest, but still pretty, picture of Bryn Mawr. My job is to sell the school, because we want a lot of students to apply. So sometimes when catastrophe strikes Bryn Mawr (i.e. Somebody puts up a confederate flag and the entire campus is talking about it) I don’t bring it up. Or if it does come up, I talk about how the community works together to solve the problem and save the day. Which is sometimes an exaggeration but most of the time is rooted in truth. From my experience there are always conversations, formal and informal, about campus events that give me hope and help me heal.

Which may not be accurate for some students. So am I justified for “lying” or editing the truth? I want more students of color and other underrepresented students on this campus. And I doubt I’ll get that if I go around saying how racist and oppressive everything is. I know from when I was a prospective student that I would have run in the other direction if I knew that students were putting up confederate flags. So I question if it is in our best interest to portray the cold hard truth always and everywhere. I worry when I see articles about Bryn Mawr that are meant to shame the institution that do not also end with a positive note of students and administrators coming together to make things right, we’ll get what we exude. So if we want more students who will come to Bryn Mawr who will   make campus a better place, is it in our best interest to make it seem like nobody cares?

This reminds me of Filene’s thoughts on “outsiders.” I see administrators and tour guides as the “professionals,” because they are the ones providing the official image of Bryn Mawr, while students who give outside interviews that end up in articles as the outsiders. What should we compromise and what can we learn from each other?


 

“Is Bryn Mawr defined by the two people who put up the confederate flag or by the hundreds of people who responded in outrage?”- Sofi Chavez

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