Whether it’s an institutionalized lifestyle or something that is trendy, diversity at many institutions seem to be missing one thing, social action. While the acknowledgement and acceptance of different identities is a vital part of institutional growth, simply learning that some people are oppressed, ism’s still exist, and certain groups are upset about it, isn’t going to cut it. The purpose of this blog post is to transform the way we talk and think about issues of equity and to provide SA Pros with a general idea of how to address inequities moving forward.
To other social justice enthusiasts like myself, it is important to have a general model for how you address these issues on your campus, whether you’re supporting the student voice or establishing a critical voice for yourself. Here are 5 general steps you should consider when playing with the idea of institutional changes.
- Lean into Discomfort. We all know that conversations about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, cissexism, ableism, etc., are extremely uncomfortable, because we have normalized these ideas of conformity, tolerance, and inevitability. Your ability to lean and cope with discomfort is a sign of positive growth and openness within yourself. Being able to feel at ease with discomfort makes it harder for others to dissuade you from your ultimate purpose or goal. This step tends to be the most difficult, because it is an internal struggle and reflection.
- Challenge the Status Quo. What do I mean by status quo?All of those comments saying, “this is just the way it is,” or “this has worked for years,” or anything that has been normalized to dominant values and ideologies. This step is difficult, because you’re attempting to restructure a system that has worked for the dominant population for hundreds of years, but unless you’re okay with low graduation rates, low retention rates, high acculturative stress, and high attrition rates of historically oppressed students, this is a necessary step.
- Skills Building. This is perhaps the most important step in the process.You all have probably gone to a variety of conferences on social justice, diversity, and equity where we talk about all of the problems and try to formulate some type of solution, but don’t build the skills to create change. One thing many people, especially white allies, have reported struggling with is having the knowledge of inequity, but not having the skills to do anything about it. Skills building is being able to articulate your argument effectively and being able to rebuttal against the opposing argument. It is being able to have difficult conversations with someone who isn’t as far along their social justice journey as you are, or being able to form a coalition of like-minded folks and keep focused on the task/goal. Without the skills building, it continues to be a discussion that happens twice a year that makes one feel good.
- Institutionalization. Once you have built some skills, institutionalization becomes an important step. Your school may have a diversity mission statement or definition, but does it have a social justice one? It may define what diversity is, but do they say how they reflect diversity and how they will achieve new levels? If not, institutionalizing a definition of social justice to hold others accountable to is a great step. What other policies are there that have been known to exclude groups? For example, are there policies that outlaw race/ethnicity as a consideration for admissions? Are there gender-neutral restrooms available in every building on campus? How has every department on campus committed to prioritize equity?
- Reevaluation. Along the way, there are going to be mistakes made, bridges burned, and upset people. It is important to track everything that has happened in order to reevaluate moving forward. Doing this ensures that you don’t lose progress and to ensure similar mistakes aren’t made going forward. Additionally, this may mean a group needs to reevaluate their goals and methods for achieving those goals. Equity is an ongoing issue and if one doesn’t reevaluate, stalemates occur.
- Paradigm Shift. So you implemented a new social justice mission statement or policy, increased diversity programming, or created an institutional committee or position that addresses social justice and diversity on campus, job done right? Of course, however, the struggle isn’t finished. Policies can be and have been worked around to create bigger social gaps. For example, despite having equal opportunity employers, people of color are still less likely to be given an interview or chosen for a job than whites with similar or lesser credentials. What is missing is the paradigm shift. Having gender-neutral bathrooms won’t stop students from writing transphobic and hateful words on bathroom stalls. Until you change the mindsets of those in the institution, things will remain stagnant.
These tips for social justice action are general items to get one started. This is with the idea that you have critical knowledge about inequity, have witnessed it in your space, and want to do something about it. An important model to follow in this type of work is Awareness – Knowledge – Skills – Action, in that order. If you aren’t aware of the issue, then there is no incentive to gain the knowledge or skills to create action. Good luck, fellow student affairs professionals, and let’s help to empower global leaders.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Becca Obergefell on Women in Student Affairs