This post was originally published on The Student Affairs Collaborative Blog – and as a co-author I wished to repost it here!
The wonderful folks at the Student Affairs Collaborative have agreed to collaborate with some of the folks from the American College Personnel Association’s (ACPA) Commission for Social Justice Educators (CSJE) Directorate this week!
The #sachat on Thursday, December 6 will feature social justice education topics. The CSJE folks are hoping to develop a twitter chat around social justice education, but want the community to drive that initiative. We look forward to seeing you for the chat on Thursday and in the future.
To gear up for this week’s social justice chat, three of the CSJE Directorate Body members contributed a short post on what they believe about social justice education. Inspiration came from This I Believe.
“Don’t go past the railroad tracks,” said one of my coworkers. “Oh yeah, I saw a property over there and I was afraid to get out of my car. That’s a really BAD part of town,” responded the other. As I sat listening to my colleagues discuss where they’d looked at homes for sale, I felt it boil up inside me. It was something akin to fury- hot and angry- rising into my throat. I clenched my hands over my keyboard and my nails made marks into my palms. ‘What should I do?” I thought, “I barely know these people. We just started working together What if I ruin the relationship that we’ve just begun building?” As they went on and on about the ‘good parts’ and the ‘bad parts’ of our suburban, mostly white, college town, I just couldn’t stay silent any longer.
“Hey, could you two please come into my office? I need to speak to you both,” I said, my voice trembling and cracking. “I’m worried about the words you’re choosing to use to describe parts of town. Things like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are pretty loaded terms. Could you tell me why you chose those?” My colleagues stared back at me blankly. I wasn’t sure if it was surprise, horror, embarrassment, or something else on their faces. One finally said, “I guess I never thought about why I’d chosen those words. I just looked around at the houses and cars around some of those neighborhoods and they look run down and old.” I explained that it sounded like they were making huge assumptions about groups of people based on where they lived. I explained that they never knew which one of the students we served lived in the very neighborhood they were describing.
What I believe is that the students I work with and the people in my community deserve my voice. They deserve it because I am in a position of power and privilege. I never earned this power but, based on what I look like, who my parents are, and where I grew up, I have it. And I need to, no, I HAVE to use it- as anxiety provoking as that can be, it’s my responsibility to muster the courage, and care, to use it. It’s my job and that’s what I believe.
I see it everywhere, it’s systemic; on billboards and in magazines, images of violence against women – images of patriarchy, power and oppression. I hear it on the radio, in song lyrics and spoken by the DJ. It’s on TV, not just on Lifetime, but primetime. Am I the only one who sees it?
It is big and I feel small.
And then I heard it in the hallway near my office “dude, I totally just raped that exam!” It took me more than a minute to realize what I’d heard. With my office door cluttered with ‘Safe Space’ stickers and information about campus resources, it’s rare that I hear students acting so much like…themselves. I peeked out into the hallway to find who was speaking, a student I know. As their friends left I asked if we could talk. We sat in my office and I said, “what did you mean when you said you ‘raped your exam?’” The student explained that it’s “just something people say” and that he “didn’t mean it like that.” We had a conversation about understanding one’s intent versus their impact; we talked about violence against women. Our culture normalizes violence through phrases like the one he had said moments before; and if he’d said that comment in the presence of just a few others it’s likely that one of them has been sexually assaulted.
It may have seemed like an ordinary weekday to him, he may not reflect on the conversation for months or at all. But I believe it’s important to promote a culture that reflects knowledge and awareness through vocabulary and actions.
It wasn’t a long conversation but it’s a drop in the bucket that wouldn’t be there without me.
The language of our rape culture is bigger than any one individual but all of us have the power to do something. I believe I can interrupt and change it. I believe my simple action, my voice, move us toward a more just world.
I remember sitting on the bus, on my way to school in the seventh grade. I had become old enough to sit at the back of the bus, where the “cool” kids sat, and really enjoyed that half hour or so every morning. At the time, blonde jokes were all the rage; being naturally blonde, these always made me uncomfortable. I considered myself smart and capable, something those jokes never portrayed. I couldn’t see myself in the (almost always) women who received the brunt of the so-called humor. There were whole books devoted to the concept that women born blonde were inherently stupid, incapable, ditzy, and promiscuous. I hated them. Every single day.
Then it got worse. The blond jokes turned to cultural offenses that I feel ashamed to even discuss. My young peers cracked up over indecent descriptions of our fellow humans of Polish and Jewish descent. There are probably other populations whom were struck down with similar obscenities, but I have repressed which specific groups they were. What I can recall with distinct shame, sadness, and discomfort is how I felt inside when those jokes were rattled off without a second thought. My heart broke for the people who were the subject – even though my small town Iowan roots had never met anyone like them.
Even as a young teenager, I could feel at my core the injustices in our world because of race, gender, religion, and even appearances. Those years ago, I didn’t have the knowledge and information to understand those injustices at a societal and academic level nor the tools to address my peers. Now I have some knowledge and a few tools to do what is referred to as social justice work. More than ever, though, I have that feeling – deep down inside – that it is my responsibility to work for justice. This I believe – without working for justice, I will not find peace in my heart. And I know more than ever before how much work I have to do, both internally and externally.
What do you believe? Why do you do social justice work (if you do)?
We look forward to connecting with you.
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