This quarter, I am participating in a weekly training where I facilitate discussions around social justice and activism with various student leaders and professionals on campus. This week, one of our dean of students led an activity where we wrote our five most important salient identities on a sheet of paper. We shared them with a partner, and discussed what was shared.
The facilitator said to take the other person’s list and mark off one of their salient identities. There was a quiet discomfort that fell over the room. I noticed that my partner (who I’ve known since their first year of college and is a wonderful student leader) looked at me with hopeful eyes. She said that she didn’t feel comfortable doing it because I just described why each one was important to me. But she ended up marking one off because the facilitator said to.
Once again, the facilitator told us to mark another. At this point, my student leader truly looked hurt about having to do this again. I asked her, “Why are you doing it?” She confidently responded, “Because he said so and because he has degrees”. I reminded her that she has a voice, too, despite degrees, title, occupation, etc. She should never silence herself at the expense of her discomfort. Together, we protested the rest of the activity.
This might seem minor, but this was a powerful experience for me and my development as an educator in this field. There are times when our field tends to preach social justice and equity, but how many of us are actually teaching our students what this looks like? Are we having conversations about the injustices happening not just on our various campuses, but nationally? Internationally? The education doesn’t have to happen in a big event. Sometimes, it’s the small moments that matter the most.
Think about the situations that you as a professional encounter. Think of a time when you’ve been challenged to stay silent around an issue or identity you are passionate about. Whether it’s changing your natural hair style to fit respectability politics or hiding your true identity for fear of being misunderstood, you matter and you have to let someone know because YOUR students are watching…