I admittedly have to say that even attempting to write this blog post was exhausting; not because I was not interested in sharing my thoughts, but because of the frustrations I, like many of my fellow colleagues have had around what is occurring in Baltimore. I have taking it upon myself to personally challenge (in a respectful manner) anyone who attempts to view the protests from a narrow minded perspective, whether on Facebook, twitter, or even in person (pretty tiring to say the least). This being said, it should be noted that I am not writing this blog post to break down systemic oppression, the cycle of socialization and liberation, or even the concept of microaggressions (If interested in any of the following, please message me directly), rather my goal with this blog post is to challenge administrators to reflect and act on the issues at hand.
With this in mind, I think a good starting point for this discussion is delving into what prompted folks to even consider me for this blog post; and the answer to this would be my closing reflections on the Baltimore protests #SAChat. More specifically, my closing reflection stated, “Political correctness is hollow support; lets be proactive rather than reactive, and lets CONTINUE THE DISCUSSION”. I have to admit that when I initially stated these thoughts, I had a combination of my own frustrations with information that I had observed from the chat itself. Moreover, after actually reflecting on my thoughts, I realized that I needed to further elaborate on what I meant with each one of these suggestions I stated. I will preface that these thoughts are my own and I by no means expect every single person to agree nor follow, but I think that it’s worth sharing nonetheless.
“Political correctness is hollow support”
When thinking about this statement more than any other in my tweet, I had to take a step back and really reflect on how much of a loaded statement this was within the context of 140 characters. So I figured I would define the term itself and then delve into the application of the term in my statement. Google defines political correctness as:
“the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged and discriminated against”
Many individuals will read this and say “well, I do not see anything wrong with being politically correct, because if nothing else, we are not excluding marginalized individuals”. Additionally, this usually shows up in lofty statements such as “We support our students of color, and especially our African American/Black students, as we do our entire student population”, or even by saying “my thoughts are with the students and families that are affected by these tragedies occurring in Baltimore”. The comments themselves are politically correct in that they are showing support to marginalized populations, but also demonstrating a strong sense of connection other populations.
My problem with the statements themselves is that they do no delve into the “why” component of the situation. Simply put, neutral statements are not going to show student populations that so desperately need validation, support, and space to feel affirmed, that you are truly there to serve as an ally. If you cannot identify that the fundamental problem students of color, and particularly African American/Black students, are encountering is due to a system that perpetuates oppression, your inaction will continue to oppress those very students you so hope to support. So rather than stating lofty statements, make your students aware that you understand the problem, that you understand the situation, and that you are willing to listen. Not only that, but voice your opinion on the matter and stop using your privileged identities as an excuse for not being able to connect with students; they are not looking for someone with guilt, they are looking for someone to validate and support their lived experience. Lastly, always remember that mistakes always happen when working with social justice issues, but rather than fearing a mistake and not taking action, take action and learn from the mistake.
“Lets be proactive rather than reactive, and lets CONTINUE THE DISCUSSION”
Now that we got the big one out of the way, the latter part of the statement goes hand in hand, and is really about how we can be more consistent. For example, I think our profession does a great job in discussing social issues when there are national implications, but not as much when the problems are not as visible. I think about the recent racial implications identified in Greek life, the pervasive rape culture on college campuses and society as a whole, and many more topics that were not as openly discussed until an event, or mishandled case made it to national news. Essentially, we are too reactive in higher education and often times not proactive enough. Now I understand this is when critics come in and say, “well we do not have the funding, or staffing, or time to be proactive” and I hear it completely.
This being said, I still think a little innovation goes a long way, and if institutions want to better support students they must learn to think ahead of the problem. If you understand there are problems with police enforcement and marginalized groups, than create opportunities to build relationships and educate the communities. You can do this by creating spaces for dialogue and expression to occur whether through art, music, writing etc. Additionally, have your campus police departments educate all students on their rights, so that you are not targeting certain populations (Put it in orientation if you have to). Similarly, educate your police forces on the student population continuously, so that they are aware of the campus climate. These are all tangible things that can be implemented throughout semesters in order to ensure these discussions and support systems a more permanent fixture on our campuses. Be ahead of the problem.
I know this was a lot of information, but if there is something I hope you can take away from this post it would be to find your voice so that your student can be comfortable find theirs.