I lived in Saint Louis for nearly 21 years before making my slow trek west for undergrad in Kansas City and now grad school in Kansas. I have walked, and experienced most of my life, in the same streets that are now lined with protesters, police and pain. However, my anguish at seeing the state of my former city cannot match the defeat and frustration I have heard in the voices of KU students, faculty and staff in the past week and a half.
My whiteness has never been so apparent to me than when I hear student testimonials about their dwindling desire to be on campus. “I don’t want to be here” has been a shared sentiment among them, and in those moments, it’s hard for me to want to be here either. How do we support students who cannot trust a university’s ability to keep them safe? How do we continue to challenge and support them when the hostilities of institutionalized racism challenge their very existence?
Educating our students in a time of grief and despair is a losing battle. If we weren’t proactive enough to equip them with tools to handle the weight of oppression, we cannot be surprised when they crumble beneath it, and we as educators will feel the pull as well.
But I also feel another weight. I’m struggling to reconcile my commitment as a White ally with the overbearing realization that this current wave of resistance does not resonate with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identities. I’m intrigued by the timing of this national surge of racial justice, having just closed out Trans+ Awareness Month in November. Across the country, approximately 270 names were read off during Trans+ Day of Remembrance, an annual memorial event that acknowledges the lives of those killed due to anti-transgender hate crimes within the past year.
These names were written on windows at my institution’s office of multicultural affairs, 23 people attended the candlelight vigil on a campus of more than 30,000 and no mobility or resistance manifested from this recurring injustice based on gender. One of my students came up to me after the vigil and said “it’s not enough,” and I firmly believe she was correct. To imply (even unintentionally) that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans+ identities do not deserve space in the racial justice movement erases the all too real existence of violence against LGBTQ+ people of color. Social justice advocates, especially in higher education, need to be cognizant, cautious and responsible for ensuring that the students in which we serve understand the implications of only lionizing cisgender, heterosexual males of color but paying minimal attention to trans+, queer people of color. That being said, the LGB and trans+ communities are certainly not exempt nor devoid of racism, and social justice advocates should be equally mindful of the implications made by over-representing white, cisgender, non-heterosexual males. With trans+ and queer people of color at heightened risk of being victims of violence, they have to be acknowledged, included and supported in this dialogue or else they will continue to be disenfranchised based on their intersecting identities.
Privilege in its rawest form is the ability to disassociate our actions with the oppressive, systemic institutions that are built to serve us. It is important that we listen to the plights of all students, friends, and colleagues of color, educate ourselves on the systems in which we function and start to deconstruct how the systems that benefit us may dehumanize others.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Adam Lambert on Clery Act/ Title IX