New College is White. This comes as no surprise. However, to many, what does come as surprise is this: small, liberal arts, “far leftist” establishments such as NCF can also be environments where racism is propagated. Thesis student Miles Iton’s documentary film, Sincerely, the Black Kids, is about to shine light on this phenomena, starting with its premier in Sainer Pavilion on May 12 at 6:30 p.m.
“Racism is not just a failure on the individual level, but more so on an institutional level based on a history of the racial imbalance among Black and White representative institutions,” Iton said.
The problem arises in how racism is seen in the popular White imagination. Allan David Freeman, a prominent critical race theorist, describes the difficulty of getting outside this belief that racism is merely action. In his essay “Legitimizing Racial Discrimination Through Antidiscrimination Law” Freeman states, “The perpetrator perspective sees racial discrimination not as conditions but as actions, or series of actions, inflicted on the victim by the perpetrator. The focus is more on what particular perpetrators have done or are doing to some victims than on the overall life situations of the victim class.”
Iton wanted to create a film that recognized this problem of race in popular thought and to expose how this thinking affects the lives of students of color on college campuses. Merely diversifying student bodies is not a solution to institutional racism on college campuses.
“We are looking at how are we going to diversify schools, but what does inclusion mean?” Shakira Refos, an Arts Educator in Tampa who is also the film’s producer and the creator of the much-loved event Ringling Underground, said. “We are looking at actionable items, like making sure there are more students of color on campus, but what are we actually doing to support those students when they are here in an institution that has only ever prioritized White students?”
Iton, speaking on a more local level, discussed the importance of more policy regarding inclusion rather than just diversity as well.
“New College really wants to expand with this growth plan in a couple years,” Iton said. “I’m sure they’re going to want to expand their diversity in the student population. So before we rush to make New College an on-paper success more than it already is, we have to stop and be careful and think about what you’re about to put some of your students through if you’re not willing to address it first and foremost. As of right now, we don’t even have our Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Autumn Harrell, anymore. We advocated so hard for that position just to find out a year later she’s gone.”
Chronicling the 2016-2017 New College Student Alliance (NCSA) Cabinet co-presidency of now-thesis students Miles Iton and Paul Loriston, the film also embeds perspectives from other Black student leaders across America such as Vice President Jaren Stewart from Clemson University, Black Students United President Delmar Fears from Cornell University and former Student Body President Devontae Torriente from American University.
“I wanted to give a picture of how institutional racism could play out in different geographical locations, but moving on the same ideological paradigm of Blackness just being too much,” Iton said. “Though Clemson is a huge school in South Carolina, I wanted to show how we can go to the Ivy Leagues, too, for example Cornell University, and see the same story of a few students of color who find themselves trying to make the institution work for them and take positions of power just to be challenged on bases that no one wants to say is racism, but is when you look under the veneer. This is something that is much more common than we think.
“In all these schools I found out, when I was student body president in the 2016-2017 school year, after a lengthy back-and-forth between us and the cabinet where we kind of ended up feeling down, we found out our situation was not uncommon,” Iton continued. “That year we attended the Presidential Leadership Summit hosted by the National Campus Leadership Council. It is attended by student government council members based all around America to commune, take part in panels, build skills and idea sharing. When we met student body members of colors, specifically Black student body presidents and vice presidents, we found they had impeachment cases that sounded a lot like ours.”
The debut screening of Sincerely, the Black Kids is happening in Sainer Pavilion on May 12 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available on the Facebook page titled “Sincerely, The Black Kids: A Documentary Premier.” A short reception will be held 30 minutes before the screening, at 6 p.m. The premier is free to attend, but donations are encouraged in an effort to fund the film’s festival entrance fees. Feedback cards will also be distributed and collected at the end of the showing.
“We’re going to be continuing to work on the film throughout the early summer so this premier is also an opportunity for crowdsourcing feedback,” Refos concluded. “When you’re creating something like this it’s difficult to get out of your own head because you’ve been working with this story for a while and all you can see is the final product. It’s always nice to get advice from people who haven’t been a part of the production process to create the final edit.”
The premier will also host a panel featuring participating students from New College, Cornell and Clemson University.
The documentary has already received notable recognition and was selected as one of the participants in a workshop by Sundance Film Festival Institute, where the makers of the film received feedback and guidance from national and local experts in the industry.
Come out and support important quality work being done by peers!