Resisting the Klansman in Chief

We the people of these United States of America have entrenched into the executive branch of our federal government a man who overtly represents the interests of the white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist patriarchy. We have rooted our legislative and judiciary branches in the values of the party that this man represents. We have elected a man who has proven himself, through his actions and language, that he is unfit to serve the majority of our nation. He has slandered immigrants, called to ban any and all people who observe Islam from entering the country, told us he can do anything he wants to women because he’s a star, has been charged and fined for housing discrimination against black residents in his properties, been accused of sexual assault and rape by many women, evaded paying his taxes through loopholes, advocated jailing his political opponent, led the birther movement, and was endorsed by overt white supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and the National Socialist Movement. We have elected a Klansman in Chief to sit in the Oval Office and while he’s not the first overt white supremacist to sit at that desk he is taking over the office from the first ever black president and that means something.

We are never going to have all of our problems addressed by a president. Issues are solved by the people and implemented by those we elect to represent us. But we’ve elected, I believe, a man who is not responsive to all of the people and the tone of the direction of our nation is set by the person who sits in the oval office. We are now in a state of active political resistance to the potential actions and policies that have been promised by this president-elect. We now need to organize in order to prevent him and his political majority from being able to roll back progress that has been made in this country.

We need to find community with people who care about the same things we do and with those who think differently. We need to understand what it is we envision for the future and what those who think differently from us envision. We need to find out how we can merge those visions into something that allows all of us to have what we need from this country. We need to merge this into collective liberation. We need people to understand how they’re connected to the #NoDAPL movement even if they aren’t from Standing Rock. We need to see how we’re connected to the sexism the president-elect spews. We need to see how we will all be impacted by his theoretical wall and closing the borders. We need to see how stop and frisk is harmful to all our communities. We need to recognize that the militarization of our police force is harmful to all our communities. We need to know that the humanity of trans folks is not up for debate. We need to have the conversations about how the very real history (and present) of our country still impacts the lives of people of color and women and LGBTQ folx and immigrants and indigenous people and poor people and the intersections therein. That oppressive history is alive in our institutions and culture and it needs to be addressed in a real, organized manner. We need to organize. We have to think beyond elections. More of us have to recognize that by expanding rights and protections and liberty to the most marginalized people we can make the US better for everyone.

Civic engagement has never just been about voting. More has always been required and more will always be required. Today is about finding a way to make sense of what is a shocking result for many people. Tomorrow is for finding ways to get engaged to uproot white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist, patriarchy because it’s easier for us to see. And if it’s easier for us to see, we can find ways to dismantle it and build something new that represents us all. Tomorrow is for us to reconnect with our communities. Tomorrow we find pockets of our communities that hold us accountable to justice for everyone. Tomorrow we recommit to values that emphasize collective liberation and we hold our government (the executive, legislative, and judicial branches) accountable to those values. Tomorrow our work continues.

Social Justice Educator

I strive to be a social justice educator. This means that I try Three arrows combine to make a circle. Theory, action, reflection all rotate around the work praxis.not to order students or participants to find a singular way to being critically conscious. The paths to critical consciousness are varied and I have to help people find their own way. This means that I do not assume that I know more. This means that I’m human and I’ll make mistakes and learn from them. This means that I work with participants to try to guide the way. It means we’re constantly and purposefully learning, acting, and reflecting together.

It means that I walk with them on their path to critical consciousness. It’s not an easy path. There are pitfalls. There are dangerous twists and turns that can lead one back into status quo thinking. I’ve seen students become confronted with new concepts of what it means for them to white. They are confronted by their privilege and what it means to the experience of their peers. I’ve seen students find ways to embrace this concept and begin to work against privilege and I’ve seen students turn away from furthering their understanding because there is a huge fear of what it means to accept the reality of privilege. The students know it would change how they interact with the people around them. It would change most students’ worldview and how they interpret the media, conversations, and the language that people use. It’s scary, but that’s why we exist.

Being a social justice educator means helping anyone work through that cognitive dissonance where what they’ve always known is challenged by the evidence in front of them. I have to shed the inherent power dynamic that is present between educators and students/participants. I have to recognize that I don’t know everyone’s experience despite the assumptions I have and biases I might carry, because I am not free from the biases that I have been trained to have. This power dynamic can sometimes make me feel like I should know more than my participants or that I should be able to answer all of their questions, but vulnerable honesty can be more powerful than giving someone a script or recipe to follow.

I pay attention to what is happening around me and attempt to highlight the underlying systems that create consistent injustices in the world. I create space to share rage, frustration, and sadness at the things that happen that we have no control over. I make myself vulnerable to expose how I’ve benefited from systemic oppression or how I’ve perpetuated it. Because understanding the benefits I’ve received and ways in which I unconsciously perpetuate systemic oppression gives me the tools to fight against it. I also hope that it gives others the courage to start their own self-critique of their histories so they can develop the tools to fight against the ways that they perpetuate oppression.

This work isn’t easy. It’s tiring. It can seem lonely. But with a community of folks who are working toward the same goal this work can be uplifting and rewarding. And it’s easier for me to do this work than to ignore what’s happening around me. I do this work because the weight of willful ignorance on my conscious would be unspeakably heavy.

Positive Power Dynamics

“Time and again, despite differences in the context of the relationships, students characterized their worst relationships as unequal and unfair. These types of relationships made people feel diminished, inferior, weak, and violated.” (Goodman, 2000, p. 197)

It’s not at all surprising to me that people describe the worst relationships that they’ve had as being one-sided or feeling inferior to another person. This makes total sense to me. Being taken advantage of in a relationship (whether romantic, work, friendship, etc.) would sour that entire experience. Feeling that one person is more invested in extracting some kind of advantage from you kills any kind of trust. All of this seems obvious, but how does it influence relationships with students. How do student affairs educators reinforce these dynamics with ourselves and with our students? Leadership can sometimes be thought of as “taking control” and that could reflect these issues:

“a) use intimidation, domination, and manipulation to maintain an unequal, unjust relationship and to resolve conflicts; b) concert differences into right and wong, good and bad, better and worse; c) make one person feel more competence and complete and the other feel more incompetent and incomplete; d) generate what Abraham Maslow (1968) calls “deficit motivations” for the subordinate parties (such as fear, insecurity, shame, distrust of self, and mistrust of others) and the dominant parties (such as selfishness, intolerance, anger, arrogance); e) draw on the widespread cultural belief that supports dominance.” (Kogel, 1998, p. 29)

These can negatively influence any one. It can pop up between peers within student affairs and make someone feel that they want to leave the institution or even the field. It can happen between students and student affairs educators to make students feel that they aren’t valued. It can happen between students within the context of a leadership position or organization. The opportunities for this negative dynamic to be repeated on a college campus is innumerable (as it is in the world outside of higher education). But what do we do to interrupt it? How can we facilitate positive power dynamics? How can we value “power-with” relationships and disrupt “power-over” relationships? Kogel describes these “power-with” with the following characteristics:

“a) work to promote relational mutuality and to reduce inequality within the relationship; b) value the process of meeting the needs and enhancing the growth of each other; c) strive to maximize productive conflict, to minimize destructive conflict, and to honor differences within the relationship; d) engage in mutual caring, responsibility, and respect; e) cultivate empathy, compassion, understanding; and f) reflect and established cultural belief that support partnership.” (Kogel, 1998, p. 30)

This is clearly the preferred dynamic for ourselves and our students, but how do we encourage this instead of the philosophy around domination? I think it’s in the same way that you create a culture in your department. It begins with the statement of your philosophy (this frequently comes through in mission/vision/goals) and is backed up by the initiatives and actions that you take and your department takes. For example, as an individual educator, I would encourage this partnership culture through working with my students and asking what they need from me. This doesn’t mean that I’m complacent and sitting back to wait for them to come to me, but it means that I do not need to establish any authority over them. This means that when I’m working with my peers I strive to address conflict in a positive manner that is an actual discussion. This means that when I’m in a “power-over” situation, I change my approach to demonstrate that I’m here to develop a caring and supportive partnership with students rather than telling them what to do. This shift means thinking less paternalistically about what I “know” to be good for them and accept their wisdom as well. This means that I engage in “power-with” relationships with those around me which emphasizes “interdependence and developing the capacity to act and do together.” (Goodman, 2000, p. 193) I think this is a much better model for the stated values of community for which most universities strive.

Obviously this isn’t perfect and I’m not either. The first dynamic I mentioned is the preferred method of business in the US and it takes work to change approaches to interacting with people. But first you have to acknowledge what’s wrong before you can fix it and I think changing my understanding and approach slowly is going to make me a more effective educator and support for my students.