On My Mind
This February, we witnessed the untimely death of Regina Arnold, a longtime member of the sociology faculty and, in recent years, associate dean of studies. The mark she made on the community as both teacher and administrator is incalculable-and the void she leaves impossible to fill.
During her long battle with cancer, all of us had hoped that, somehow, Regina would beat the odds, she who fought all manners of battles throughout her life, with courage, determination, selflessness, dignity and grace. She spoke eloquently in her 1997 senior lecture about race, the one issue everyone seems to have so much trouble discussing forthrightly, even on this progressive campus. She told the graduating class, "Intellectual sociology has helped me move beyond society's constraints. It's freeing to know that race is a social construct: that we are always in the process of 'doing race'. Conceiving of myself and others 'in process' frees me up to do and to become. What has been constructed can be deconstructed and reconstructed anew. In this sense, negotiating the racial maze has been and continues to be a kind of social and psychological freedom for me. While I understand that structural barriers of race must be dismantled, I also realize that I must be freed up enough psychologically and emotionally to act against such barriers and towards positive social change." She went on to quote Gwendolyn Brooks:We are each other's harvest: We are each other's business We are each other's Magnitude and bond.
To say Regina was an inspiration is understating the impact she had on so many lives. All of us have been touched by her in some way. We sought her wisdom, her fairness, her encouragements, her advice, her smile, her humor, and her love. She was generous to a fault with us all, and the memorial service was nothing if not an outpouring of love and generosity from the communities she inhabited.
When Regina won the Bank of New York Excellence in Teaching Award (in 1993), we knew that an extraordinary gift was being formally recognized. For two generations of Sarah Lawrence students, she exemplified the best of the College's singular pedagogy: a belief in the power of talking and listening to each student, undivided attention in the classroom, and challenges that demanded hard work and focus-and rewards that made an indelible impression in the daily lives of everyone who studied under, and worked alongside, Regina.
Her legacy will shine when the communities she bridged feel and act generously toward one another, when we are no longer afraid to examine critically what makes it hard to speak openly and honestly about race in our public discourse, and when we are ready to examine why affirmative action is contested most intensely when it is invoked on racial but not on other grounds.
Regina knew who she was. She was proud of who she was. She was proud of all the communities that claimed her. We will miss her.