April 12, 2018
Frances McDormand’s performance as Mildred Hayes in “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri” enthralled me. She is domineering, self-righteous, emotional and raw.
Hayes, hell-bent on lighting a fire underneath the Ebbing Police Department, seeks justice for her daughter’s murder. She does not hesitate to publicly attack the popular, terminally ill Chief Willoughby—winning our hearts in spite of her overbearing, standoffish character.
In contemporary language, she is a “Nasty Woman.” Hayes refuses to allow the chief’s affable qualities free him of his culpability. In one impassioned speech, Hayes challenges the viewer and a priest in the film alike saying, “even though you may’ve just been standing on a street corner minding your own business … you’re still culpable. You’re still culpable.”
As the department coordinator for the Empowerment Department in SCCAP, I have found myself wrestling with this question of culpability. Hayes, in her speech, captures the idea of privilege and oppression in a way that we in SCCAP work to educate others about every single day.
While Hayes is unrelenting in her search for justice, the film has garnered fair criticism for trivializing the issues of race and police brutality. Our students, administrators and SCCAP, have similarly been complacent and trivializing when addressing acts of racial injustice that have occurred on campus. Santa Clara’s response to racism has been flawed, failing to properly amplify and respond to the voices of students and faculty of color. Learning from both the movie’s and our own flaws, we can embody Hayes’ stubborn drive more inclusively.
Hayes refuses to allow even a good, hardworking, loving man to get away with his lack of action to combat a broken system and discover her daughter’s murderer. While we in SCCAP take a less aggressive, more discussion-based approach, we have similar goals in mind. We want to reveal each other’s culpability through mutual empowerment. Regardless of these attempts we, as student leaders, often find ourselves frustrated by the apathy of Santa Clara’s student body towards social justice issues.
During my time at Santa Clara, there have been three protests that have drawn large numbers. In 2014, during my first year, the Jesuit Call to Justice “die-in” and walk-out drew several hundred students after Darren Wilson was not indicted for the murder of Michael Brown. Then, in November of 2016, just after President Trump’s election, over 400 students walked-out to show support for Santa Clara’s own undocumented students. Just last month, over 400 students walked out to show solidarity with the victims and survivors of the Parkland shooting. These are the days that I, a student organizer, live for. These are the events where hundreds of students, faculty and staff arrive and say, we are here, we are listening, and we care.
Hayes managed to show me why these moments, in which a large chunk of the student body takes a stand, do not occur daily or even quarterly. If you look at Hayes’ character—she is ravaged, she is angry and she is broken down. Because, at the end of the day being an activist is complicated. Pushing against systemic issues is overwhelming. Being aware of your own culpability and the culpability of those around you in the perpetuation of oppression is not fun—it’s exhausting. I have seen many on-campus leaders leave their activist roles because submerging oneself in these issues is taxing. There have been plenty of times in which I have reacted more similarly to Hayes than I am proud of and other times, not enough like her. But it becomes worth it when we are surrounded by a herd of 400 people from our community taking a stand. We become re-energized walking in solidarity with our fellow students.
I am inspired that in the last two years Santa Clara has rallied its student body in massive numbers to stand up for members within our own community and outside of it. Students are seemingly more and more willing to take a stance and acknowledge their own role in oppressive systems. Our holistic Jesuit education teaches us to be comfortable pushing against systems of oppression even when we are implicated. The more of us that take a stance, the more willing we are to admit to our privileges—our culpability—the easier it becomes to tackle issues such as gun control, race and citizenship. Issues that shake the constitutional foundation of our country.
President Trump’s vulgar divisiveness is forcing our generation to come to terms with its complicity in systemic injustice. The movements led by young people in Ferguson, Parkland and along the border give me hope. These leaders are creating communities of beauty that are willing to rise to the challenge. Will we?
Marisa Rudolph is a senior environmental science and political science double major.