Dickinson College Student’s Essay on White Male Class Participation Riles Up Community

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Dickinson College is a small, liberal arts college in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, located in south-central Pennsylvania. The college is embroiled in controversy after a black female student, Leda Fisher, penned an essay that blasted the alleged dominance of white male students in classroom discussion. Dickinson’s location in Carlisle is near the American Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg, where the Union army stopped the Confederate advance and the place where some historians consider a turning point in the war to the Union’s favor. It could be considered ironic that Fisher’s college is close to a major turning point in American history and the future of slavery, which involved white male soldiers in the Union defending the country and some of them fighting to abolish slavery entirely.

Her essay in The Dickinsonian, the student newspaper, was entitled “Should White Boys Still Be Allowed to Talk?” Fisher is a senior at the college and began her essay asserting that if “your name is something like Jake, or Chad, or Alex, and you were taught that your voice is the most important in every room.” She continued, claiming implicitly that “white privilege” (a phrase used by political activists who claim whites feel entitled to exert power and pressure in situations where they are present) affected white males’ academic journeys. She claimed that white males “decided your search for intellectual validation was more important than the actual exchange of information.”

But, that was not all. Fisher was upset that “there is an endless line of white boys waiting to share their opinions on the state of feminism in America” and other subjects such as “whether the LGBTQ+ population finally has enough rights” and dare they say it, “the merits of capitalism.” Fisher said, “White boys spout the narrative of dominant ideologies and pretend they’re hot takes instead of the same misleading garbage shoved down our throats by American institutions from birth.”

Fisher’s essay sparked defenders to write follow-up pieces in the student newspaper, while others criticized her essay on social media and news outlets covered the story.

In short, Fisher does not like how white males tend to dominate classroom discussions and fits them into stereotypes, when she herself does not like to be considered a stereotype. Yet, Fisher ignored how the discussion issue can be fixed, such as the professor setting clear ground rules on class participation rules to not let one student dominate the discussion.

Dickinson College’s president, Margee Ensign, defended Fisher’s right to voice her opinion, and said “it does not speak for the college.” Ensign added that the college condemned stereotyping and prejudice but did not elaborate on whether her comments applied to Fisher’s essay.