During my graduate program, I had the opportunity to work with two classmates (@BeverlyYanuaria and @hellotiffychen) on a data analysis project. We examined transcripts and recordings taken from focus groups that were held with staff, faculty, and students after major bias-related incidents occurred on their campus. We were specifically looking at how students perceived their institution’s response to these incidents. What did they think about the way in which administration had chosen to react to bias incidents? This data and our paper came to mind as I participated in the recent #SAChat on Twitter about Black History Month.
A common theme in many of the tweets I read was that there is a shortage of social justice-rich conversations and dialogues happening year-round on campuses. Why wait for Black History Month (or Latino History Month, LGBTQ History month, etc.) to roll around for an opportunity to hold events and programs that the rest of the year always seems to be lacking? While I believe that designating a certain month or time period to recognize an underrepresented identity/community/culture can be a potentially successful way of reaching people that wouldn’t otherwise engage with the community at any other time, I have to wonder what members of those underrepresented communities think of the practice? Are these students being told that their stories are only important or have worth during their designated month, and the rest of the year it’s okay to ignore their issues, concerns, and culture? How is this lack of visibility affecting our students?
To add to the issue, what if the only other times during the year that widely promoted programs relating to identity/community/culture (in this instance, race/ethnicity) were created was in response to some sort of negative incident or occurrence? The focus group data my classmates and I analyzed showed that students saw their community being recognized by their university mainly in response to bias (racist) incidents on their campus. A choice quote from one of the participants:
“And then [after a bias incident] the chancellor would just send out an email saying, “We don’t stand for this; we’re [University Name].” And it’s like, okay that’s it? The chancellor just writes an email? […] I don’t necessarily know what the proper response would be, but getting an email doesn’t make me feel better about it. I feel like that’s a way of sweeping it under the rug.”
In this case, a campus-wide email put the spotlight on the community for the negative things that had been done against its members. Students live in their identities 24/7, and should feel that those identities are visible and important on their campuses all of the time- not just during a designated month, and not just in the aftermath of an incident. I believe that every identity group or community of students on a college campus deserves and is worthy of having their culture celebrated year-round.
FT:#sachat Black students aren't Black just in Feb-I'm not Latina just during Sept.Convos should be continuous.But how?Still up for discuss.
— Jenna A. Bustamante (@Bustamante_J_A) February 13, 2015
To echo the question: how can we make these conversations happen? How can we ensure that positive, campus-wide racial/ethnic identity related programs occur on campus year-round? My ideas and thoughts are probably very similar to those of other #SAPros or social justice-minded people. I think any campus or department can consider these implications for practice:
- Collaboration. This came up a lot during the #SAChat. While programs often occur on a smaller level (hosted by one office, one department, one student org) more needs to be done to work across campus to build relationships and gain exposure for identities that don’t always feel visible. Programs can achieve more visibility when they have buy-in from multiple stakeholders.
- Foster a sense of community. This community should include students, staff, and administrators in order to be successful. Too often administrators (and some staff/faculty) can seem inaccessible to students. When students and staff have opportunities to interact, students may be more likely to feel like their voices are heard, and that their identities are recognized, validated, and have importance.
- Create and provide safe spaces for dialogue year-round. During my grad program I was trained as an intergroup dialogue facilitator and had the opportunity to put my skills into action as a co-facilitator of a race/ethnicity themed class of both grad and undergrad students. I truly believe facilitated dialogue is an AMAZING tool for social justice work. If campuses can find more ways to implement these types of programs and provide spaces (small or large) for them, I absolutely think that conversations can continue throughout the year.
> BONUS <
Podcast with Maryann Krieglstein on Social Justice & White Privilege