Mary Thomas ’21, named Ally of the Year, speaks out against the award


Photo courtesy of Mary Thomas

Mary Thomas holds Ally of the Year award immediately after the Campus Life Awards.

Mary Thomas '21, Contributor

This past spring semester, sitting with my family in the McCallum Ballroom, I was honored to receive the Ally of the Year award. I was very surprised, and the adrenaline of an unexpected award fueled my excitement. Initially, I saw no issue with the award until I took a moment to reread its description and engage with the comments made by others about the award itself. Before my name was called, the award’s brief description was read aloud to the room.

“The Ally of the Year, awarded by the Office of Inclusion and Involvement goes to a white student who has extended theirself to the multicultural community and has been an ally in promoting inclusion and aiding in voices of underrepresented populations.”

Walking to the stage, I was excited about the implications of the award, excluding one word; White. I shook hands with the student body presidents and then returned to my seat. Afterward, my feeling of discomfort toward the award manifested as inside jokes with friends, while publicly and on social media, I maintained my honored façade ignoring both ridicule and genuine constructive criticism.

In the beginning, hearing the scant criticism upset me. What I was experiencing was the reactive attitude many White people experience when the ways in which their subconscious racism hurts others is made apparent to them. Many times, if there is an accusation or implication of racial prejudice, White people will spend time arguing it was not their intent and that they are, in fact, the furthest thing from racist, instead of listening to whom they have hurt. My awareness of this phenomenon did not prevent defensiveness welling within me when I was made aware of what I was inadvertently perpetuating. I was not listening.

I have been sitting with this award and my feelings for weeks now and through the conversations I have had with my peers and my friends, representatives of the “multicultural community,” I understand just how harmful an award like Ally of the Year can be. I’ve come to the realization that this is not an award that anybody should receive. I am a white person and yes, my work revolves around using my white privilege to help those around me, but an award that singles me out for my work with marginalized communities based on my whiteness is overtly racist. It perpetuates the white-savior mentality and implies that white saviorism is something worthy of being lauded.

I cannot in good conscience keep this award and I will be returning it to the Office of Inclusion and involvement along with a copy of this request to either retire or rename this award. If renamed I would ask that the future award be given to whichever student offered the most help to their fellow humans regardless of race. Community service is a duty and my small role in helping my community does not make me or any other person who has won this award before me some sort of white person of the year. I agree that people should be awarded for their service of others, but the award should be granted regardless of a person’s racial identity. Especially awarding a white person based on race does more harm than good.

As I strive to continue learning about myself, my identities, my Whiteness, I want to thank those who cared enough about me to talk to me about it, you took the time and energy to engage me around this issue, you didn’t have to and yet you did. I have made mistakes and I will make mistakes in the future, but I am working to become a better listener, especially when the person with whom I am communicating is telling me something that causes me discomfort.

I encourage more conversation around this award both with me and the administration with whom I am in contact in regards to the potential changes to this award.