The power of social media allows for news to travel almost instantaneously. The responses of mainstream stories almost always spark some sort of debate that is typically politically charged with moderate to little knowledge or evidence of what actually took place. Regardless of our feelings that manifest in the wake of these news stories, we need to be available to support our students. The institution I attend for graduate school is roughly 4 hours away from Ferguson, so a lot of my peers and students at the University were impacted by this event. As practitioners, we not only have to be aware of what is going on in the news and media, but we should have some level of education of both sides, so we can have an idea about where our students are coming from. Additionally, we need to be able to paint a big picture of the issue and reflect on our role to address it.
One recent story that has circulated the media is the situation where NFL running back, Ray Rice, was allegedly caught causing harm to his wife by punching her in a Casino elevator. It did not take long for word to get out, especially since he is a professional athlete. As a result, the NFL has suspended Ray Rice indefinitely as an attempt to portray feelings of sensitivity to violence against Women.
Another story that was very popular in mainstream media a few months back was the case of Donald Sterling, former owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, who was asked to resign on the basis of several racist statements made during previous conversations. His mistress leaked the audio of phone conversations, which eventually got back to the NBA. New NBA CEO Adam Sterling and players from across their league shared their intolerance to such behaviors, which spearheaded the resignation of Sterling and the selling of the Clippers. As an aside, keep in mind that, despite his actions and resignation, he was still able to profit off of selling the team.
People have argued both sides, in support of these men and defending them, which has fueled a fire that tends to die along with the story’s trendiness. However, what these stories, debates, and actions are often missing is the big picture impact. What I mean is that simply asking Sterling to resign doesn’t begin to address the institutional racism of the NBA, or the racism in the United States. Further, suspending Ray Rice doesn’t address the persistent issue of violence against women in the NFL or the violence against women in society. What the current mindset does is put a band aid on a much, much, larger issue.
The legacy of acts of oppression including genocide, slavery, and other forms of oppression has manifested into a type of racism that has just changed names and forms. What I mean is that the disregard for Black life, such as the killing of Black males like Trayvon Martin or Mike Brown, is just examples of modern day lynching. The mass incarceration of Black and Brown men is just an example of modern day slavery. Violence against women is just a perpetuation of patriarchy and female subordination, where we see women as commodities, instead of people. These acts of racism and violence against women are reminders of societal relations and interactions, but as professionals, if we don’t/are unable to make those connections, we are doing a disservice to our students. Racism and Sexual Assault are two huge issues that are being addressed by campuses across the nation. If we aren’t following the trend, while seeing it as more than a policy issue, we are contributing to the issue by omission.
As you finish this post and reflect on the message being sent, think about ways you, your department, your institution, and your community can attempt to address these issues. How can you get beyond policies and talk about practices that can shift a culture that, advertently or inadvertently, condones oppression and violence? What commit are you going to make today and who will hold you accountable to ensure that you’re keeping that promise?
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Podcast With Amma Marfo on Introversion in Student Affairs