Diversity work in higher education can be difficult and tricky to navigate. It can be exhausting, heavy, and triggering to work alongside students in situations that are embedded within social identity, power hierarchies, and social location.
As educators, we recognize the importance of being alert to problematic behavior and rhetoric that can be harmful to a campus community. We are trained to spot this type of behavior, address it, and follow-up appropriately. And in the best circumstances, we’re able to take the action necessary to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. Yet, there is still a disconnect between the way we address student behavior and our inability to hold our colleagues and peers accountable.
There are no free passes.
I’ve tweeted it, said it, yelled it, wrote it out and I’m going to address it again – working within the realm of diversity in higher education does not preclude you from being oppressive, discriminatory, or micro-aggressing others. It does not justify your problematic behavior or rhetoric. Working with diverse groups of students does not give you a free pass. We must hold our teammates accountable. Their actions should align with the missions and values their institutions and respective offices.
We must engage in self-work.
To do a better job of calling out and calling in these damaging behaviors, we must be cognizant of our own identities. We need to be aware of how our identities show up in the workplace, when we meet with students, and among those we work with. Being cognizant and critical of ourselves allows us to invest in ourselves and the students that we serve. We cannot assist students in their development if we don’t understand our own dominant and subordinate identities. Great educators understand themselves and know how to use their identities to be an ally and advocate.
Silence is an active choice to be complicit and further perpetuates the issue. Silence is why your teammates become tired and feel alone. Being silent leads to an unhealthy work environment.
My stance does come from a place of privilege. Not everyone can afford to speak out against problematic behavior, for fear of retaliation. However, those of us that are able to speak up have the responsibility to say something. I also recognize that this isn’t an issue that affects every office that engaged in diversity work. Perhaps you do have a team that addresses harmful behaviors as soon as they happen. If so, that’s amazing. I hope offices across your institution actively engage in the work that you all do.
For the rest of us – we’ve got some work to do. It’s time to stop the double standards and start leading with authenticity, congruence, and integrity. The more we address issues directly, the more quickly we are able to tackle out work full-on.
This post is part of the Emerging SA Pro series following three awesome people: Michelle, Sara, and Thalia. Join us as they blog about a year in their journey as a new SA Pro or SA grad. We are proud to help them share their stories.