“Life is a beautiful struggle,
People search through the rubble for a suitable hustle,
Some people using their noodle,
Some people using the muscle,
Some people put it together,
Make it fit like a puzzle”
Talib Kweli, I Try
Whenever I hear “I Try” by Talib Kweli, my attention immediately turns to this verse. I find it beautiful and haunting at the same time. It takes me back to a younger version of myself trying to figure out how the world works, why I’m being discriminated against, and wonder how I can persevere despite being Brown in a profession that isn’t. It also reminds me that life – while daunting and torturous – can be a wonder to behold once struggle is fully understood.
When asked to write about my #SAChat final thought, I immediately turned this song on. The lingering conversation about heritage months and how to continue those efforts really made me think about how our programming skims the surface of struggle people face on a continuous basis. Struggle is discussed in binary terms; it’s either ancient history or today’s small inconvenience that will inevitably pass. Once the month is over, thinking or discussing those issues is so yesterday, and only engages either the very interested or personally involved.
FT: Don't just "celebrate", but understand the past and current struggles people face on a daily basis #sachat
— Sylvester Gaskin (@SylvesterGaskin) February 12, 2015
It was truly interesting to see how a few months ago, our social media feeds were full of commentary about #blacklivesmatter then went quiet after a few weeks. I and others wondered if there would be any commentary about #muslimlivesmatter and the emergence of (or increasing growth, depending on your positionality) Islamophobia and negative portrayals of Muslim life in American media. And that got me really thinking about “celebrations” and our attachment to them. It’s great to celebrate a culture, sample their food, and maybe learn about a couple tidbits about their history, but do we really care about their present? And if we do care, for how long?
I posit that celebration months serve the purpose of creating awareness and exposing students to difference they would not have experienced elsewhere. When there is celebration, however, there is also strife and challenge that must be faced. It’s not enough that people want to eat Latin food and learn to dance to Banda music; they need to understand what it means to work a dangerous job for little pay and long hours to help feed a country, then be told they took that job away from “honest” Americans. Culture is not meant to be sampled and tasted at someone’s leisure, rather it is to be respected and fully understood.
As a professional, I feel duty bound to ensure that the students and colleagues I work with have a cognition of these issues so we can make more informed decisions. This means we have to deal with the struggles of others, and it is a tiring and painful process. I’m committed to doing this every day I work and making sure that is factored into every decision I make. Yes, there are times where we don’t want to think about what makes us uncomfortable and just imagine that students come to our campus with no issues. We can’t tackle everything, but I’m committed to making sure that when a student comes to our orientation program and they’re dealing with something that impacts them on a daily basis, we are ready to provide the environment where that struggle is respected and that student can feel like they belong there. There is so much beauty in respect and understanding.
It is quite easy to celebrate, but it is incredibly uncomfortable to understand the kinds of hell someone goes through. And, as it’s been mentioned in #SAChat before, our field has an aversion to feeling uncomfortable. But, there is the beauty of life: you have to get uncomfortable in order to understand how someone perseveres through it all.