Showing Up for Racial Justice in Student Affairs

Inaction is action in affirmation of oppression and we need to continue that work or start it now. I’ve said it isn’t easy and I know that I don’t have all the answers. But as Paulo Freire and Myles Horton’s book said, “we make the road by walking.” Let’s get started.

Background is a large group of people demonstrating in the streets of Washington DC with signs that read "Black Lives Matter"

chatThere is a lot going on in the US right now about race and racism that is rooted in white supremacist notions. This action is both the overt actions of the KKK, Oath Keepers, the III%ers and covert actions that systemically exist around us such racist microaggressions. If you’re an educator of some kind I hope you’ve heard of that cover white supremacist issues such as microaggressions, white privilege. I hope you’ve heard of the decisive actions of #ConcernedStudent1950 at the University of Missouri. I hope you’ve heard of the students at Yale (and also questioned the thought pieces that spark resistance to student activism). I hope you’ve heard of the students arguing that #BlackBruinsMatter at UCLA. And the actions that many other students are taking across the country.

It’s important that we know these stories and we support the students who are seeking change. It’s important that we reflect on what we’re co-conspiring with. We can choose to conspire with the status quo and say nothing. We can choose to ignore the threats that are posed against our students and say you can make a choice not to come to class if you don’t feel safe. We can choose to tell people that they’re being too sensitive. Or we can choose to acknowledge the patterns of systemic white supremacy and provide space for students to take care of themselves.

All of these movements are steeped in resistance to white supremacy. They’re tied to #BlackLivesMatter and fights for civil rights and justice that have occurred throughout our history. They reflect the courageous activists who came before them and their co-conspirators.

As educators in student affairs we have to realize that there is no neutrality. We cannot make a decision that does not declare allegiance to something. Inaction in the face of oppression is action in favor of oppression. Suggesting that we “wait it out” or hoping that climates get better are direct inaction that affirm the status quo.

Last night I sat in on a conference call with white activists who are all affiliated withA hand painted blue banner reads "Make no Peace with Oppression" Showing Up for Racial Justice (an organization that I would call myself a member of and the origin of the title of this post). We heard from an activist near the border in Arizona who is organizing against militia activity who have taken it upon themselves to guard the border. We heard from another activist in Arkansas who is organizing community discussions (and helped start The Other Arkansas) that offer alternate narratives about history of southerners such as the Southern Tennant Farmer Union. We heard from another activist who is working with the Rural Organizing Project in Oregon who has faced pressure and resistance from white supremacist groups including being followed and death threats.

I mention both the actions of students of color across the US as well as the work of white activists across the US because they are intrinsically interwoven. The work and leadership of the students of color are how we as educators (particularly white educators) demonstrate support for striking out against racist practices to change the nature of our institutions. The work of the white activists I mentioned are examples of white people directly addressing white supremacy in their communities. They are building the critical consciousness of their neighbors and create changes in their communities whether that’s addressing the racist violence of self-proclaimed border militias or leading teach-ins about Natasha McKenna.

As educators I believe that we’re responsible for creating a climate in which all of our students can be engaged in a learning environment because we create that learning environment. This means that we need to address issues if not all of our students feel that they can be involved in their learning community. This means that weneed to address white supremacy which isn’t easy. It’s uncomfortable and I don’t have all the answers but speaking out is one of the first steps. We should ally ourselves with organizations who are working against racism whether that’s a local SURJ affiliate or another 51Ee7sb9NNL._SX293_BO1,204,203,200_racial justice organization. We need to ask ourselves difficult questions about our practices and find ways to incorporate social justice into our work as educators. We need to ask more from our professional associations. We need leadership and demonstrated action from ACPA, NASPA, ACUHO-I, ACUI, etc. on addressing these issues within our profession as it’s written into the values of most of our associations. We need to start having conversations in places that we already have conversations like #SAchat and Facebook groups. We need to organize these thoughts collectively and I would argue that we need to start sharing ways that we’re addressing white supremacy and oppression on our campuses through social media. I suggest using #SURJinSA to share these stories.

As I’ve said before slightly differently, inaction is action in affirmation of oppression. We need to continue that work of standing against oppression or start it now. I’ve said it isn’t easy and I know that I don’t have all the answers. But as Paulo Freire and Myles Horton’s book said, “we make the road by walking.” Let’s get started.

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