Soulet Ali is second from the left. She graduated with the class of 2020 with a B.A. in Philosophy.
As a recent graduate of the College, former Managing Editor, and co-founder of Exploring Race, I write this letter to pass on my last remarks to both the current and future magazine team, and the larger UChicago community. My motivation for co-founding the magazine can be traced back to my first year as an undergraduate, when the University was the epicenter of a nationwide debate on the role of free speech on college campuses; UChicago had aligned itself with an absolutist perspective on free speech that supported offensive and bigoted discourse on campus. As an underclassman, I was compelled to combat this stance by writing op-ed pieces as a columnist for the Maroon, one of which was titled “UChicago: No Place for People of Color.” But my rejection of UChicago’s stance as an op-ed columnist turned what I knew to be true — that the university was reinforcing systemic oppression by espousing conservative forms of liberalism under the guise of freedom of expression — into a matter of opinion rather than a factual, political, and material reality.
I sought another platform that would validate this reality and co-founded Exploring Race: an anti-racist magazine with a critical racial and ethnic lens rooted in the daily experience of BIPoC members of the University community. The online magazine collectivizes BIPoC voices and experiences through narrative nonfiction pieces, news, and spotlight interviews; in this way, Exploring Race seeks to show how UChicago’s practices and policies specifically impact its students of color. By pursuing a radical precedent different from mainstream journalistic and editorial practices, the magazine seeks to do two things: defend and amplify the marginalized members of our University community, and develop a journalistic framework for radical, anti-racist views and practices at the University and beyond.
As a magazine that is fundamentally experimental in nature, I hope Exploring Race will stay non-complacent. The magazine will need to develop along with the evolving campus community and identity politics. It will need to stay vigilant in its commitment to its core values of anti-racism, intersectionality, and criticality.
However, upon my departure from Exploring Race, I continue to grapple with serious concerns about the overall approach of the magazine, and the ethical risks of the still-evolving editorial guidelines. For example, what are the limits of the often-tossed around term, “problematic,” in the context of identity politics? When we think about what counts as “problematic,” should the magazine stick to rejecting the common “—ism’s” that we have outlined in our identity politics? Or should we expand into a wider range of politics, such as nationalism, surveillance, and so on? And how does the magazine codify all this into a robust guideline for ethical editorial practices? This is one of the many matters the magazine must continue to contend with if Exploring Race is to survive as an ethical source of narratives and news for the university community.
My existing concerns for the magazine are not new — they have been with me from the first day of my involvement two years ago. Ultimately, what we originally set out to do was establish an organization as a response to a systemic problem: racism. A high ask, but an undoubtedly urgent one as we consider the present state of the campus climate across the nation in regards to issues of free speech.
I can only leave the College and magazine with this reminder: our original cause to protect the value of free speech is because it is fundamental to the welfare of our communities. But the University of Chicago’s interpretation of free speech departs from this value, by leaving the most vulnerable members of its community open to bigotry and injustice. We cannot accept this as our campus climate — acquiescing to this campus climate is definitively an annulment of any kind of decency we can make claim to as individuals and institutions.