Reflection on Current Events

A Day Without A Woman…in Student Affairs

Today is “A Day Without a Woman“, which is a national social-political campaign created by the same individuals/group that organized the Women’s March on Washington. This strike is in solidarity with the International Women’s Strike that is taking place in 30 countries. It is also International Women’s Day, which is “is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”

Today women are called on to strike from work if they can, as well as wear red in solidarity and don’t shop, unless it is at women-owned and minority businesses. Some folks have already complained about the “privilege” of taking off work but they have not read past a headline; the organizers are very clear that not all women can take off work and that’s why there are multiple opportunities to participate. Read this article to better understand: When Did Solidarity Among Working Women Become a ‘Privilege’?by  Tithi Bhattacharya and Cinzia Arruzza.

Moving on…to Student Affairs.

Can you imagine if women in student affairs had all done a collective strike? There’d be barely any employees except the folks making six-figures.

laughing or cyring

To share: Personally, I am working today. I manage alternative breaks at my institution and 8 trips depart on Sunday – I don’t have an option because this is one of my busiest weeks of the year. But I cannot help but think of the gender inequality within the Student Affairs profession.

In 2013 I wrote the post “I’m shivering – Either winter is coming or there’s a ‘chilly climate’ in Student Affairs” Not much, unfortunately, has changed. We still are trapped by institutional sexism.At my institution and all others, I see it is a majority of men in upper-level positions while the coordinator level is mostly women.

There is a lack of research that analyzes the lack of female representation in SSAO positions, according to Yakaboski & Donahoo (2011), but here is a starting list of possible explanations (note: if there is more recent research, please share it with me!).

  • Institutional Sexism: According to Acker (1990) organizational hierarchies are male dominated and the institutional structure demands conformity to male norms. Simply put, men are more likely to be seen as best representative of university leadership and women are not seen ‘as a good fit’ for leadership because they do not fit into those male norms; if anything women must assimilate in order to get promoted (Dale, 2007) – or get put into a ‘binder full of women’.
  • Retention: Dissatisfaction due to sex discrimination and racial discrimination causes women to want to leave their positions (Blackhurst, 2000)
  • Female Socialization: girls are taught to be nice and take care of another person’s needs over their own and not ask for things for themselves. This results in women not asking (or even realizing they can ask) for raises and promotion (Babcock & Laschever, 2007).
  • Not on the ‘Right’ Track: Women, through their own volition or due to the institution, tend to work in roles that do not lead to SSAO positions. For example, studies show that Black women are concentrated in student affairs roles that are directly responsible for promoting diversity initiatives (Howard-Hamilton & Williams, 1996; Konrad & Pfeffer, 1991;Moses, 1997, cited in Belk 2006)
  • Fewer Mentors: With few women SSAO, there are fewer women to mentor other women, creating a full-circle affect (Sagaria, & Rychener, 2002, as cited in Stimpson, 2009)

 

One thing to point out – all the research I used is on the gender binary of women and men – and that’s all I could find when reading on gender in student affairs. We who identify as women or men need to acknowledge that in talks of sexism, often our genderqueer, non-binary, trans colleagues are left out of the conversation.

It strikes me as peculiar that a profession that embraces (to some degree) social justice can still allow sexism to play out. Granted, it is difficult to move out of institutionalized oppression. Men don’t want to give up power – either consciously or unconscionably. As sociology research demonstrates, people prefer mentoring people that look like them and have shared experiences. So of course men in power are more likely to resonate with other men and thus (consciously or unconsciously) mentor them and show them preference.

Well. That’s some bullshit.

Men – do better. I need our male university presidents, male senior student affairs officers, male dean of students, male directors, male associate directors, and male assistant directors to do better. I need our male coordinators and graduate students to recognize sexism in the workplace and call it out + redirect attention to their female colleagues who are also doing excellent work.

For example:

  • Don’t just recognize your male employees for good work but not women (if you are a male recognized publicly for something your female colleagues are also doing, speak out and redirect attention to them)
  • When women speak in a meeting, listen. There’s a documented tendency that women’s ideas don’t get heard until a man says them – don’t do that.
  • When hiring for mid-level and upper-level positions, actively seek out women (especially women of color, disabled women, queer women, trans women, and women from other marginalized backgrounds). Spend some time/money on digital flyers, get some inforgraphics, encourage women in your organization to apply, share out in different networks.

And everybody always better look out for their trans colleagues – call out transphobia and exclusionary practices, recognize their work, and actively recruit folks for mid-level positions and beyond.

And women…we all know institutionalized sexism lives within us and that we, too, have been socialized to believe inequitable things about our own gender. Actively push against this socialization. Bring other women up with you in the organization – we have to look out for one another.

Whether you are taking today off or not, everyone needs to get to work (or continue working) on women’s equality.

Share your thoughts in the comment section or tweet me at @NikiMessmore.

resist to exist

An Open Letter to the Open Letter

I admit I can be a bit sardonic at times, which is where the title of this blog post comes from. I’m not quite a happy or whole person – and never have been –  but I am always trying.

Speaking of trying, I get where Dr. Ann Marie Klotz is coming from with her blog post on Nov 29th titled “An Open Letter to the Student Affairs Professionals Page Members”. I have many critiques of the group and do acknowledge the place is toxic. But as an active participant of the group for around 2 years, I do feel compelled to respond.

First, I acknowledge I am a Moderator for the group. This blog post is from Niki the Human and SA Professional, not Niki the Mod, but I know this may influence the lens in which people read this blog post.

That’s understandable. The world is nuanced and complicated, and we all perceive the world through the lens of our identities and our experiences. I would expect you, Gentle Reader, to read my words through your own lens, which will lead you to likely both agree and disagree on what I write.

Much like when I read Dr. Klotz’s post, I read it recognizing that I was reading the words of someone who has never strongly participated in The Group™ before and, based on her blogs and public talks, I know is someone who was a first generation college student that grew up in poverty in Detroit as a White woman, and now works in upper-administration at a university in New York City and is a speaker and blogger on higher education issues. I know her identity made an impact in how and what she wrote – because our identities & experiences always influence how we write; and I know my identities make an impact in how I interpreted her words.

I appreciate Dr. Klotz and many of her past writings, but am compelled to write a strong critique. I do not judge her as a person (at all! It is important to separate the person from the writing sometimes and I truly have appreciated other works of hers) and I am sure she has good intentions, but I do judge the predominant ideas in her writing.

You may judge my ideas as well. Here they are, addressing the post point-by-point in order to address both what I liked and did not:

“Happy, whole, people. That’s who I want to be around.”
Definitely your preference! I personally enjoy ‘broken people who are trying’. That stems from my identities and personal experience; I am not open to writing publicly about them in detail but the root issue is poverty and the many issues that stem from it. Speaking of, Dr. Klotz’s #ACPA14 Pecha Kucha on her experiences as a first-gen low income student gave me LIFE that year. I just connect better with people who have ‘seen some shit’ as my people would say, than people who “live in little boxes on the hillside”.

“Happy, whole, people are positive.  They work hard on behalf of students.” 
Truly very few humans are happy and whole. Especially in a field like education (and specifically student affairs) where there’s always complaints of work/life balance, low pay, and other grievances. I mean, how is it I have a master’s degree and make around $35,000 annually?

There are many unhappy or sometimes happy and maybe not quite whole people who work hard on behalf of students as well! So, this was a bit offensive to me – even if I get where Dr. Klotz was coming from.

Also – did anyone else read this sentence and immediately think of the film Legally Blond?

legally-blonde-kill-people

“Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands”

“Which is why I simply do not understand what is happening on the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook page. While impressive in members (over 25,000!)…”
Girl, yessss. There are so many people! And that’s what makes The Group™ so dang difficult. Let’s recognize that the happiest country in the world is Denmark – unsurprisingly it is only 5.5 million people, 90% White and 80% Lutheran. There’s little diversity and almost all people have the same majority identities, so no wonder they are so dang happy! (except for the minorities – read up on racism in Denmark, y’all). When you add numbers and diversity, you get multiple experiences and viewpoints, so deciding on “one way of life” is pretty difficult!

“It has become a place for unhappy, broken, people to showcase their brokenness.”
Yeah. I was annoyed before, but this judgmental statement made me clutch my fake pearls from JC Penney. As I said, I embrace my brokenness and my broken people! But this statement is so disconnected from the reality of what goes on in The Group™ that it’s jarring.

I will acknowledge that people are broken and unhappy. And you can definitely see how the unhappiness and hurt shines through in certain posts and comments in The Group™.

But…of course people are unhappy! See, this is why I – as someone who worked in social services before entering grad school for SA – cannot take Student Affairs very seriously when it comes to social justice. YES, there is great SJ work that occurs but then there’s moments like this where I feel there is a disconnect between the SJ values we preach and linking them to action and philosophies – and as we can see from the many positive reactions to Dr. Klotz’s piece, there are many people who either are not viewing the post through a critical lens and/or are unbothered by the silencing tone of the piece.

We live in a system of oppression and everyone has different privileged and marginalized identities (PS: I need people to stop saying they are a “marginalized person” because it just erases their privileged identity(ies) – which almost everyone has one).

It can be difficult to be happy when you are trying to survive in a career (student affairs) and a society (especially the U.S.) that was not.made.for.you. It was made for so few of us. Depending on the identities one holds, it is sometimes just enough to “survive” and hope one day we get to the “thrive” part.

The next time you see someone being bitter in The Group™ please recognize that yes, maybe they are unhappy and broken. Whether it is the “social justice warrior” lambasting someone or the “privileged jerk” who vehemently thinks you are mean for yelling at them – remember that we are all unhappy and broken in different ways and the ways in which we engage on the internet might stem from this brokeneness. Sometimes just recognizing it helps us get a step forward in understanding.

– Also – Let’s acknowledge that Student Affairs regularly emphasizes “authenticity” but I guess only when that person is happy and whole and life is awesome. And…also it seems authenticity is only okay when that person has no mental illness, because let’s be real: saying someone is “broken” is a long held discriminatory way to speak about people with mental illness. Again, I’m sure not the intent, but ‘broken’ was a terrible word choice.

“One criticism I have heard from group members is that more seasoned practitioners don’t often comment or contribute.” 
I totally get this. It is a public Facebook group and the higher your profile is, the more careful you have to be in your wording so you do not risk your job. Screenshots, and all that (which, btw, I disagree with intensely). Y’all have a lot more at risk and usually report up to conservative folks since traditionally old white men tend to be university presidents and chancellors.

Personally, I think that is a nice distinction of #sachat on Twitter – the ability to engage with seasoned professionals.

“It has become a place where people like to attack and judge each other.” 
I agree and disagree.

The issue with Dr. Klotz’s post is the lack of nuance in discerning the root of the issue in The Group™. Where is it that we see argument? Is something trivial like whether one should order pizza or subs for a program? No, it is almost always rooted in identity and social justice. The “attacks” often stem from someone with a marginalized perspective or speaking for a marginalized group to critique a post or comment that perpetuates oppression. OR, it occurs when a privileged person says something oppressive, someone gently calls them on it, and they react very defensively and go on the attack.

However, I do acknowledge the toxicity of the group and how the responses can be. There’s a lot of anger and most of it is righteous. When someone is triggered emotionally by content because their oppressed identity is targeted, they basically have 3 options: 1. Educate them. 2. Hold them accountable, 3. Ignore it.

The first two options are sometimes done at the same time and can be done in many different tones: mild, irritated, sarcastic, angry, etc. It can be difficult when one feels triggered emotionally to pull a Michelle Obama “when they go low, we go high” and speak all pleasant-like. Sometimes I believe the anger is righteous and the offending party should feel that anger – that is one way of becoming educated that what they did was not okay and they should not do it again.

There are limits, in my perspective, based on the intensity of the incident (from mistake to vicious ignorance to intentional) and the person who committed it (I hold seasoned professionals to a much different standard than grad students, for example).

BUT – overall, the people I see who usually gripe about being ‘attacked’? They are almost always coming from the privileged perspective on the matter.  So by making this statement, I immediately get the sense that Dr. Klotz’s perspective stems from a very white experience as traditionally most of the social justice debates/discussions/fights center around race (not always, but predominantly).

I completely believe The Group™ needs critique, but it needs it through a critical theory lens.

“The large number of members has created a mob-like mentality where people can feel safe to literally say anything (publicly criticizing their boss, institution, etc.) and know that they will be supported by hundreds of people.”     
Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…………Yes AND No.

Anyone who spends time in the group knows that there have been many posts calling out that silly memes and stories get hundreds of posts but when people call out negative things like oppression, there usually is not a large response. I also don’t usually see people criticize their boss and institution that often (although it happens) but that’s their choice – and at the same time they don’t get hundreds of likes/comments.

However! It is possible that Dr. Klotz is here calling out the White, Straight, Cis, Able-Bodied identity groups. After all, so many folks with one or more of these identities have written truly tasteless and horrific things that I am appalled that people approve of it in a field that ‘values’ social justice. As it is completely true that in terms of “silent support” i.e. post and comment “Facebook Likes”, the privileged perspectives tend to get much more of this. Not always of course, as I see our marginalized folks holding it down and supporting each other often – shout out to how amazing many of our Queer, Black, Latinx, AAPI, Indigenous, & Trans colleagues are. And I’m seeing even more colleagues with mental illness and disabilities calling attention to these issues as well.

“I have heard of employers checking that Facebook group before they offer a candidate a position simply to ensure that they aren’t one of the people that have been contributing to this issue of attacking others”
Yep. That’s pretty scary. Again, there’s the whole idea of how are we defining “attacking others”. I think it is code for standing up for oneself and others of marginalized identities.

But again, it could also be referring to all the privileged and oppressive interactions. I mean, do I want to hire someone who openly discriminates?

It is also true that sometimes people on the ‘social justice side’ do take it a step farther than I agree with – but it’s also hard because often it’s in cases where I do not share that marginalized identity so…do I get to call something “too much” when from their perspective, it is deserved?

And also – if you are an employer and you actually don’t consider a candidate because they call out racism, sexism, transphobia, etc in a Facebook group of professionals who interact with students of different identities every day? Please reconsider. Your department could benefit from a strong supporter of marginalized students who are willing to take time to call out discrimination in a public arena.

Nuance. Is. Required.

“Happy, whole, people. That’s who I want to serve students.”
Agree to disagree. Again, this feels like coded language that is biased against oppressed identities, like we must be seen but not heard – like children at a Victorian dinner table.

“I get the most nervous for these aspiring student leaders, the excited undergrads, the NUFP kids, and anyone else who is considering entering our field and sees these posts.” 
Me too! Sure, I had 5 years of professional experience prior to graduate school, but I’ve only been in the field 2.5 years post-master’s…and I cannot believe the amount of prejudice and ignorance that exists in the field. When I applied for graduate school I thought that Student Affairs professionals were highly educated on issues of social justice. And…they are more than some professions (I will give us that). But it has been an exhausting and frustrating experience to see so many SA professionals at all levels make racist, sexist, classist, and other ‘ist’ statements. I have lost a lot of respect for the field. And I know many aspiring SA folks – especially students of color – who see these types of ignorant posts and reconsider their career.

So yes, I am nervous.

“It is our job to role model how to engage in online spaces so that students can learn about respectful dialogue and how to have tough conversations.  Instead, it has often become a place where folks are sharing their pain in destructive ways.”
Yes, I will agree with some of this. ‘Civil dialogue’ is a real concept that one can read about and learn, and it would be great if all members read up on this. There is actually a way to speak about critical topics and disagree.

But of course, this can be difficult in practice. Like last year there was a certain ‘CEO’ who posted many disgusting things before being banned from The Group™ and once posted something quite sexist and would not respond authentically to my critique – this made me so damn angry and had no issue being “a bitch” (because you know people think that when women get angry and disagree) in my next responses.

Was that civil dialogue? Nope. But sometimes you have to cut someone with words in order to carve through the bullshit and get into an authentic space.

“Happy, whole, people. That’s who I want to call on in the middle of a crisis.”
I…still don’t really know what is meant by happy, whole, people.

And in the middle of a crisis I want people who can get shit done – broken people are sometimes the best at this.

“Reclaim the page.”
…from who?

I’m sorry, I know this is meant with likely good intention but it is coming from an upper-level White female administrator who has not really posted a lot about social justice or critical theory and who does not engage in the The Group™. So naturally I have concerns.

As someone commented in the group, this really sounds like Trump’s anthem of “Make America Great Again” (with the resounding question of “great for who?”). I know from Dr. Klotz’s Twitter that she supported Hillary so I’m sure this was not her vision but it is my interpretation – and many others.

Jameelah Jones did a lot of labor in quickly analyzing the types of post in the group and the majority of it is asking for advice, job postings, and stories. It truly seems like the issue people have with the group is social justice conversations, so if you want to “reclaim the page” I can’t help but think this is a bunch of White, Straight, Middle-Class, Christian, Cis, Able-Bodied etc folks coming in to sweep others out.

I imagine this critique may sound harsh because this field does not truly value a critical lens and has a lot of fragility (white or otherwise) around privilege, so just me calling it out as I see it will sound harsh, I am sure.

And yet…I can interpret this statement no other way than to whitewash the group and turn us into robotic versions of ourselves.

“Make it a space for empowerment and grace.” 
I love this statement on its own, but connected to the other statements I am not sure who you want to empower…

However, I do think we could do a better job of giving each other (especially young professionals) some grace on mistakes made.

“Use it as less of a therapy session and more of a place where we can brainstorm how to help our students—and each other—when engaging with the tough work on our college campuses.” 
I am actively disappointed in this statement and frown every time I read it.

First, I’m not sure what “therapy session” means. Is it alluding to the comments where people speak openly about their marginalized identities and advocate for their right to live without oppression? Or does it mean when people complain about having to serve Midnight Breakfast? I have no idea but I assume the former due to the tone of this blog post.

What some people consider “therapy”, others consider “building community”.

“Let’s use this page as a space where victories are shared, staff successes are celebrated and resources are given.” 
I think all this is great! It sounds like a nice message board on a 1995 Geocities page – very basic and dry.

While these are all great to include, this idea excludes having engaging conversations around social justice and other issues. It also excludes the idea that we cannot as workers gather to discuss issues in higher education like low pay, ineffective graduate school programs, bias in the workplace, and others. In this day and age, it is important that we share our struggles so it is no longer ‘me’ but ‘we’. This will help us better advocate for ourselves and one another.

Again, I like the positive aspects but we need to be critical minded professionals as well. I am worried by only emphasizing the positive the end goal of this blog post is to cancel out authentic and challenging conversations among diverse folks.

“In the quest for this group to be inclusive, it has backfired to become divisive (young, edgy, pros vs. old curmudgeons) and let’s live up to the title of the group—Student Affairs Professionals.”
Does what makes the young professionals edgy are their commitment to social justice?

“All professional interaction and engagement with one another.” 
The term “professional” was defined by White, Straight, Cis-Men. It’s an exclusive concept that strips us often of our humanity – especially if you don’t have all those privileged identities. “You Call it Professionalism; I Call it Oppression in a Three-Piece Suit” is a great piece by Carmen Rios on Everyday Feminism that people need to read.

“That being said, “I volunteer as tribute!” to help whoever is interested to give this page a face-lift, a re-do, an upgrade.”
As both a Member and a Moderator, I just want folks to engage in the group critically with an open-mind, and participate as often as they can.

As someone who low-key likes research on these topics, it is very difficult to change the structure of a large and diverse organization (especially in a desensitized virtual space). I am not quite sure how to go about fixing things, but I know no matter what, people will leave. So, it comes down to values and what voices we value when we are upgrading a space.

“There is enough hate, anger, and pain in our country right now.  Let’s compassionately lead our campuses and be kind to each other.”
I wholeheartedly agree. I just think this is a “both/and” situation. We can be compassionate by also recognizing the unhappy and broken pieces within each of us and fighting for all of us.

Conclusion
What does this all boil down to – in my opinion?

Privilege and oppression.

And mostly – White fragility and systemic racism. While not all social justice posts in the group are about race (trans and queer issues are also frequent) it usually does come down to race. Which does lead me to believe that all this hand wringing about the tone of the group and a desire to return to the old model of mostly job postings stems from racism.

Which is honestly just sad. I hope we can be more open-minded, utilize a critical lens, and do better as we move forward.

Finally, let it be known that while Dr. Klotz wrote a rather viral blog post calling attention to issues in the group, she has the privilege of being rather high profile in the SA blogging/social media world. Remember: People of color – especially Black Student Affairs Professionals via #blksapblackout – have been calling out issues for a very long time. Many queer and trans voices as well, and many other marginalized voices. Please recognize this as the discussions about The Group™ continue online and offline.

***

Feedback can be left in the comments or tweet me at @NikiMessmore.

Facilitating Dialogue: 8 Steps to Supporting People in a Post-Trump Era

Do you understand what this country has done in electing Donald Trump as President of the United States of America?

I do.

Donald Trump employed divisive fear mongering tactics to engage millions of people who are not happy with their lives by scapegoating minorities – women, people of color (especially Black and Latinx folks), people with disabilities, queer folks and trans folks (LGBTQ+), undocumented people, immigrants, Muslims, Jews…the list goes on.

So naturally in the aftermath of the election college students (and many folks overall) are scared for the safety and civil rights.

Fox News and other media outlets (and humans I know – SIGH) have made a mockery of how universities have worked to support students after the election results & in general mocked the “whining of liberals”. This is rude and unnecessary – they lack compassion.

This blog post is focused on talking to people one-on-one and in groups who feel upset and fearful by Trump’s victory and his looming presidency.

For those of you working in Higher Education/Student Affairs and wondering how best to support your students, here’s my recommendations. I spent all day Wednesday, November 9th meeting in small groups or facilitating large group discussions with students + colleagues and have engaged in dialogue since then – and I am sure will continue to do so for quite some time. These are my observations and hopefully they are helpful in aiding discussion.

1. Don’t Assume

Remember that long list of demographic groups I listed in the opening statement? Don’t assume people from these groups are against Trump. Out of the people who voted, exit polls say that 52% of White women voted for Trump. About 19% of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Latinx folks voted for Trump. Some (in much smaller numbers) Black folks voted for Trump too. No numbers for other groups, but I am sure some voted for Trump.

Likewise, people who don’t seem at risk for losing their civil liberties and/or the majority of the demographic voted Trump (rural folks, cis-men, straight people, white people), didn’t all vote for Trump and also disapprove of the election outcome.

Therefore, don’t assume anything when discussing the election.

2. Listen

This should go without saying but not necessarily a natural trait for some people. Even if you have the same/similar identities as the person talking, you may not have the same fears/hopes/experiences that they hold. If you hold privilege in an area that they speak of (i.e., a disabled person speaking to a non-disabled person), be very careful of how much “space” you take up. I have seen people with privilege taking up space in these post-election conversation; the more privilege they have the more they tend to talk. This is a time where we need to let marginalized folk say what is on their mind because they may not have other spaces where they can speak about these things. (follow-up with Everyday Feminism Article “The Importance of Listening as a Privileged Person Fighting for Justice” by Jamie Utt)

3. Allow People to Discuss Their Fears

Fear is natural in this situation. This is not a normal election. It has been a long time since a candidate for the top office in a country has been outspoken against multiple minority groups and made heinous statements. This goes not just for Donald Trump and all the slurs and harassing statements he’s made but also for his VP Mike Pence. Throughout his political career, Pence was intensely anti-LGBTQ and pushes for conversion therapy and the right of people to refuse service to queer folks.

International students are afraid their VISAs will be revoked and they’ll have to leave the country before finishing their education. Women and survivors of sexual assault know that Title IX protection is in danger with a president with a long history of sexual harassment and alleged assault. Undocumented Undocumented Undocumented students and recent immigrants fear being deported and/or losing family members to deportation. Black students wonder how much less their lives will matter with a president who has made many racist statements. Muslims fear being placed on a registry. Jewish folks know what a leader with these sorts of attitudes can do and recognize from history & present-day events that they are targets (and have been grieving at synagogues this week). Disabled folks/people with disabilities know their health is at risk with a president who wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act; without their medication they will be in pain and may even die. All these groups of people knew there was discrimination in this country and now know that millions of American citizens voted for a man with racist, sexist, xenophobic, ableist, transphobic, homophobic, Anti-Semitic views….so how honestly can they expect to be safe here?

Not to mention – in the three days since the election over 200 hate crimes and acts of harassment and intimidation have been reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center (very similar to the aftermath of Brexit in the United Kingdom). People of color, LGBTQ folks, and women have been impacted the most – from elementary school children to adults. Bigots have been emboldened by Trump – a bigot who made it to the highest office in the land.

So yes. People’s fears are real. Acknowledge them. Validate them. Let them talk about them.

4. Beware the Oppression Olympics

This has not occurred in any discussions I’ve hosted yet but I have seen a lot of it on social media.

Many groups of people have been targeted by Trump’s rhetoric and his supporters. Many are in fear of his stated policies that will eradicate their civil rights.

Not every group will be equally affected and that should be understood. Intersectionality of identity is critical to understanding how we will be affected. A lower-middle class & disabled cis-white woman in a relationship with a man will experience the Trump Administration differently than a middle-class & able-bodied cis-Latino man married to another cis-man.

It’s like Mad Libs – you can insert all these different identities and the story is the same: the majority of the American populace will be affected. The only demographic unaffected will be those who hold all the majority identities (a very small number of Americans). And of course, then there are the folks who have marginalized identities but still support the Trump Administration and do not expect to be affected.

Either way, cut this shit out – STOP erasing marginalized groups from the conversation on who will feel the impact of the Trump Administration. If it comes up in discussion, guide the conversation out of this loop of Oppression Olympics.

5. Don’t Be Optimistic/Try to Lighten the Mood (Without Reading the Room)

Some people are uncomfortable with conflict, negative energy, and sad/angering news (especially when they feel helpless to change the situation and/or don’t think they can change the situation). Their coping strategy is to “look on the bright side” and may make statements that they hope are meaningful and inspirational but actually are meaningless in practice at that moment. Sometimes, you just have to let people grieve. False platitudes don’t protect someone from being attacked for wearing a hijab, someone losing their Driver’s License when Trump revokes DACA, or when a disabled person’s monthly medication increases from $45 monthly to $1,000.

Of course – it depends on the relationships you have with the person/people talking, number of folks in the room, how the conversation has been going, and so on. This takes some finesse, so please be observant of what that space needs in that time.

6. Bring Hope into the Conversation

I know – I just lectured on how we don’t need to thrust optimism into every conversation.

What I asked my students was: “Do you feel hopeless? Or do you feel hope? And if so, what does hope look like for you?” – or some variation of this.

It’s important to note that not everyone feels hope right now and that’s okay – so bring up that hopelessness is an option. Yes, we want people to move through that feeling to find hope but this is when you need to “ meet students where they are” and just let them be humans for a second.

But this question is critical and should come after everyone has discussed their fears. Hope is instrumental in overcoming whatever policies and laws that may come at us as a nation in Trump’s presidency.

And there is a LOT to give us hope: Many people are beginning to mobilize and vow to do the work to protect the most vulnerable of us. And Tuesday night may have elected someone who openly boasts of harassing women, but also gave us the first Somali Muslim woman in the House, first Latina senator, first openly queer governor (also a woman), and so much more. Overall, many women of color won Congressional seats!

One of my favorite proverbs has been shared by many of my Latinx friends this week and it feels appropriate in this period of fear and hope for the future:

“They tried to bury us; they did not know we were seeds”. (Mexican proverb, attributed to the Zapatistas but it’s hard to find an exact source).

7. Move into an Action-Oriented Phase

A smaller number of the electorate (eligible voters) cast ballots this year than the last two presidential elections. According to Five Thirty Eight about 1.4 million more Americans voted in 2016 than 2012 but the number of eligible voters had grown, diminishing this appearance of victory. Around 45.4% of eligible voters did not show up.

WE NEED TO SHOW UP.

So after discussing fears and then hope – ask folks what changes they will take in their life to become more civically engaged. This includes daily acts of radical self-care and caring for others – and it also includes engaging in community-based organizations. The only way we can progress the civil liberties of this country is to get organized. Have the group discuss ideas and work together to create a list.

Plus – making a plan of action is often helpful when managing fear and anger in the wake of the election.

8. Self Care

Black lesbian womanist writer and activist Audre Lorde (February 18, 1932-November 17, 1992) said “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I recognize this is said from her perspective as a black queer woman and I know this quote recognizes the unique stress experienced by black queer woman. I am not sure if Audre Lorde intended this quote to be colonized by people outside of her identities as she was the daughter of Caribbean immigrants from Barbados and Carriacou who focused on the intersectionality of black women and lesbian identity. However, I will say that Audre Lorde inspires me to care for myself and has inspired many others who do not share her identities.

Therefore, please take care of yourself. You yourself may be experiencing the same/similar fears as your students and here you are listening to them speaking their truths. Even if you hold many privileged identities, you may fear for your students and other people in your life. This can be taxing. Take breaks when you need to, refer students to others when you need to, and do what you need to relax and replenish your soul.

For me, Wednesday night I cuddled with a cat, ate ice cream, and watched one of my favorite light-hearted shows “Jane the Virgin”. It helped – and then a solid 8 hours of sleep helped even further.

The “Other Side”

While this blog post is dedicated to supporting the folks who feel fear in seeing Trump elected by the U.S., I know that many people are happy and many are indifferent. These aren’t necessarily bad people (note: people who are committing hate crimes are bad people imo, but redemption is a possibility) and as a nation we need to work with these folks together. That doesn’t mean you specifically have to, but overall we do as a society. I would never ask someone who feels under attack in this period to work with their oppressors – so if you have privilege in an area, work with the people who hold that same privilege.

Conclusion

Take care of yourselves and each other.

 

How “Writing Women Friendly Comics” Panel turned into the “Bill Willingham Show” ( Part 1/3)

How “Writing Women Friendly Comics” Panel turned into the “Bill Willingham Show”
A Full Report on the Less Than Friendly Side of GenCon 2015
By Niki Messmore, M.S. Higher Education & Student Affairs

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

You know what’s the perfect way to moderate a “writing women friendly comics” panel? To have a man interrupt every woman that speaks and then center the conversation on himself.

At least, that’s how the “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at GenCon 2015 happened, with moderator Bill Willingham (writer and artist).

I know that if he is reading this, Bill Willingham may bristle at this introduction. He stated to The Mary Sue in an interview earlier this year that he bristles when conversations start off in an accusatory tone. Yet considering how he began Thursday’s panel, I think he can take it.

This is a report detailing the “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at GenCon, hosted by the Writer’s Symposium, and resulting in quite a bit of press. I attended the panel, took detailed notes, spoke to both Bill Willingham and Marc Tassin (head of Gen Con’s Writer Symposium), and conversed with folks on Twitter.

Oh yeah – and I’m also the woman who called out to Bill Willingham at the panel, interrupting him and pointing out his consistent interrupting.

GenCon 2015: "Writing Women Friendly Comics" panel

GenCon 2015: “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel. L-R: Willingham, Ha, Pete, Zub, Roberson, Dawson

INTRODUCTION
This following report will cover the panel, provide background information on his this panel happened, Twitter talk, and will include some commentary. I hope to provide an account of what occurred with integrity, since there are quite a few folks who don’t believe the article The Mary Sue (TMS) published on Friday: “[UPDATED] Dissenting Opinions May Occur: Some Thoughts on Yesterday’s Troubling “Writing Women Friendly Comics” Panel”. I warn you, my report is over 6,000 words so I’ve broken it up into several posts (links will be included). But I didn’t want to leave anything out. If you like, I worked everything into headings by topic so if you are skimming you have an easier time of it.

If you have any questions about who I am, why I’m writing this, and why you can trust my word, see the FAQs.

Disclaimer: “Quotation marks” = direct quote. Ellipses (…) mean I couldn’t write fast enough to capture everything and I’ll put the quote in context. Since I was taking notes, I was not able to notate everything that was said but I do stand behind what I captured. Placing something in [brackets] means I, as the writer, add in context to the quote. As much as necessary I include hyperlinks to back up my references and give the reader the option to do further research. When there is a large amount of dialogue, I’ll write it out in a more-so script format that journalistic/research piece because this is a blog and already this report is long enough. Finally, I separate my commentary from the account to provide the reader with an breakdown of all the going-ons; it gets sassier as the report continues.

SYNOPSIS
In case you don’t want the detailed notes, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Bill Willingham (comic writer and artist) worked with the Writer’s Symposium at Gen Con to establish a comic writing track, and he organized a panel called “Writing Women-Friendly Comics”
  2. The description for the panel gets published in May. It is written in such a way that it’s clear that males are the intended audience for the panel. When women are described akin to aliens (what comics do they like and it is even possible to please them?) and the text reads “Are you damned no matter what you do? Is it a good idea to try to write to a specific readership?”, well that is clearly not the way you would write if you expected women to attend. Following it up with a snippy “Note that this isn’t a Women in Comics panel. Dissenting opinions may occur” meant Willingham was immediately on the defensive and this women-friendly panel ain’t sounding friendly to women.
  3. Also in May, it is revealed that all the panelists are male. The Mary Sue runs an article and folks are rightfully outraged. Women creators volunteer as tribute and the panel is integrated.
  4. The panel occurs at Gen Con. The panelists are lovely but Bill Willingham as moderator has a clear agenda. He does not want to acknowledge that identity makes an impact when telling a story and he consistently interrupts women on the panel and in the audience.
  5. I called him out towards the end, interrupting him from the crowd. Another woman did as well. Bill is very displeased and doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong.
  6. The next day I speak to Bill. He’s “said all that needs to be said” yesterday and doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. He follows up a day or so later tweeting his official response on the panel, and it’s a YouTube video of dancing baby girls.
  7. I also spoke the organizer of the Writer’s Symposium to express my concern and learn how this oversight happened. It was a great conversation and this report will go further into it.
  8. I and other folks who were there tweeted about it; Gail Simone and others picked up on it (a Storify of tweets I sampled can be found here; quite a bit of outrage). The Mary Sue wrote a follow-up and quoted attendees along with reactions from the two women panelists. At least one bookstore, Tubby & Coo’s in New Orleans, have boycotted Fables due to Willingham’s mad mod skills (mad, as in not cool but he literally made folks mad).

BACKGROUND – BEFORE GENCON
On July 23, 2015, The Mary Sue (TMS) broke the story that GenCon (North America’s largest gaming convention) would be hosting a panel titled “Writing Women Friendly Comics” and that the panel was all men. This was to be hosted by the “Writer’s Symposium” (WS), which is a speculative fiction writing conferences in its 21st year and sponsors over 140 hours of programming at GenCon. They have different tracks and this year was the first “coming writing track”.

Considering that The Mary Sue and others had written articles on Denver Comic Con’s “Women in Comics” panel with all men in May 2015, the all-male panel was certainly a *headdesk* moment. However, that same day, Marc Tassin (the one-person show of WS), stated that TMS’s article had multiple women reach out to him to be on the panel. Hooray!

NEXT – Part 2

PS: I know this is a fairly long blog series, so please just listen to Marko from Saga (Vaughn/Staples – aka they created one of the greatest series of all time)

saga please keep reading

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

#BillFriendlyComics – Panel Transcript with notes (2/3)

Part 2/3 covering “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at 2015 Gen Con, with moderator Bill Willingham.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

THE PANEL
Featured on the panel were (in order of seating, L-R):
Bill Willingham (Fables), moderator and organizer
Gene Ha (Top Ten), panelist
Alina Pete (Weregeek), panelist
Jim Zub (Samurai Jack), panelist
Chris Roberson (iZombie), panelist
Delilah S. Dawson (Monkeybrain Comics, Hit), panelist

Identity, especially when speaking on identity issues, matters. Identity influences our experiences and perspectives. Therefore, based on self-identifying statements, bios, and observations (forgive me if I am incorrect and notify me to make corrections), the panel consisted of three White males, one Asian American man and son of Korean immigrants, one multiracial woman of Native American and White descent, and one White woman. No identifying information on sexuality, gender identity, disability, or class were provided.

WRITING WOMEN FRIENDLY COMICS – THE PANEL HAPPENS!
I arrived to the panel apprehensive but in good spirits. I chatted with some other women in line and found out that most of us had heard of the panel thanks to The Mary Sue (TMS). In fact, according to Tassin, that article increased registration for the Writer’s Symposium (WS). While I was indeed apprehensive due to how the panel was originally set-up, I felt hopeful since WS had accepted new women panelists so openly.

It starts.

The first thing that moderator Bill Willingham said?

“This is NOT a women in comics panel…A certain rabble-rousing website [The Mary Sue] with no journalistic integrity whatsoever tried to redefine this as a women in comics panel…”

I was taken aback. What a sharp-tongued remark. This was certainly not a friendly way to begin a panel discussing women friendly comics. It’s even more surprising because although TMS compared this panel to Denver Comic Con’s “Women in Comics” panel they never called it that. Also ironic is Willingham provided an interview to TMS just a few months ago. I suppose TMS had integrity when they were giving positive publicity.

The rest of the panelists introduced themselves. Zub even said “when I heard there were not going to be any women on this panel I wanted to say ‘let’s not have it” and he was glad that there were now women panelists.

After introductions, Willingham followed up with stating that “I wrote this without trying to appeal to any audience…” and that he was here because he’s “been accused” of writing women friendly comics; providing rationale for his presence. He asked panelists if they try to appeal to different audiences in their work.

Roberson stated “Was iZombie designed to be women friendly? I kind of had an agenda. I’m quietly an angry progressive. I was intentional in constructing a cast that was representational of America…It was a little intentional…there are no straight white men [in my story].” He spoke a bit more on that.

Willingham moved from that question to addressing the audience. He asked for three women of what makes women friendly comics. Woohoo! What a kickass way to start things off! Women in the audience responded that they like comics where the woman has agency, where she’s not just a sidekick, and more.

Willingham followed up with audience members, seeking to figure out what exactly makes a comic woman friendly. He stated that he wanted “to construct the panel because that was the topic at the time, which is women friendly comics…”

Zub added how there are similar problems with kid’s books as well, and gave the example of how boys are taught not to empathize with female protagonists and that this carries on in their readings.

Wllingham: “…so are the rules [to writing women friendly comics]”?”

Zub: “I don’t think there should be rules. We shouldn’t pander – just not sexualize people [and do stereotypes].”

Willingham followed up by asking Delilah S. Dawson what was women friendly for her. She spoke of loving Wonder Woman as a kid and later as an adult walking into a comic store. She described her experience of scanning the comic book covers and how the featured women were over-sexualized. “Spiderwoman not for me…Wonder Woman not for me…and then I saw Saga with a woman breast feeding and said THATS FOR ME!” Essentially, the way that women in comics were over-sexualized was a major turn-off.

Willingham pushed back at Dawson, interrupting and saying “Are you representative of all women?”

Dawson seemed a bit surprised at that comment and stated “No! I said it was right for me.”

Then Willingham says that “yes, that’s [women] a broad demographic”

…and then Willingham added an anecdote of how a couple women enjoyed more of his erotica work; presumably working to argue that over-sexualized female characters can be appreciated by women.

Commentary: BILL. REALLY? So he speaks over a woman’s experience of disliking how so many comic characters are over-sexualized by throwing out a minor anecdote of how some women actually like that sort of thing. This is a covert act of sexism, to discount a marginalized perspective by overshadowing it with an anecdote of how ‘but actually you’re wrong.” Bill, if you wanted a panel on “Writing Women Friendly Comics” maybe you shouldn’t, ya know, actually discount what the women on your panel say and actually, ya know, LISTEN TO THEM.

Thank goodness for Roberson, who continued the panel stating “…this is why it goes back to the representation thing. I am a straight white middle-class man. I want to make the writing representative of the world but I don’t want to speak for other people.”

Commentary: This is a GREAT RESPONSE! Nice male allying action, Chris Roberson.

Willingham doesn’t get it. “Why can’t you speak for people?”

Ha jumps in, providing an example of the film “City of God” which is an Indian film and takes place in India. It was well-received in India but American audiences became too conscious of it and didn’t like the negative portrayals of India. In an attempt to support India, they denounced the film and encouraged people not to see it. Meanwhile, Indians in India were confused and wanted overseas audiences to watch the film and support its revenue. Ha explains that this is an example of why you cannot speak for other people – you don’t actually understand what they want or need.

Zub adds on. “You have to be careful, not to speak for other people…” His Japanese comic “Wayward” takes place in Japan. They work to maintain social consciousness of their story. Zub’s co-writer is raising a family there and they have a scholar to read over and give feedback. Zub states “there is value that we can tell a good character story” and describes how Japan has embraced the book – “and it’s not like they don’t have comic books.”

But “…we used to treasure outside views”, responds Willingham.

Alina Pete speaks up and comments on Warpath, Marvel’s Native American hero, and his very stereotypical outfit. She adds that “if you’re part of an underrepresented group you feel happy to at least be included, even if it is done poorly” and discusses the concept of appropriation (see: cultural appropriation). She states that appropriation is “bad”.

“Why?” Willingham is curious why appropriation is bad.

Pete gives the example of a writing about a Lithuanian ditch digger. She could write about a character who is a Lithuanian ditch digger, but she doesn’t know that experience. It’s very likely that a real Lithuanian ditch digger would read it and say ‘that’s not my experience’ and a slim chance that they would think it’s like their experience. That is why appropriation is bad (and speaks to the other panelists describing why you can’t try to speak for other people).

Willingham cuts in again, asking if people knew who wrote “Arabian Nights”. The panelists respond it was a French guy and Willingham is gleeful and says yes, a French guy. He describes how great the story is and that we have this story because of an outside voice.

Commentary: Bill incorporates white supremacy here – as in, he is working to uphold white voices above people of color by using this example to allow for white voices to tell the stories of people of color. Check your facts, Bill. Arabian Nights was NOT WRITTEN BY A FRENCH AUTHOR. It was translated by Antoine Galland into French from Syrian and other texts. Galland is not a trustworthy translator, as he added several tales not included in the original text and his Arabian Nights includes negative portrayals of Arab society and Africans that colored the lens through which Europe saw the people of these lands. So quite honestly, this is actually a great example of why people should not write about the experiences of people/societies with different identities without a great deal of research (if they write it at all) because it perpetuates systemic oppression. Great job, Bill!

However, then the BEST PART OF THE ENTIRE PANEL HAPPENED.

#LikeABoss

#LikeABoss (ps: so sorry I have an iPhone 4 and the photo is fuzzy!)

Willingham finished up his lecture with “Is appropriation bad? I bristle at that.” He goes on to say that if it was bad, “the sin of bad writing” will make sure it is not successful, evoking a capitalist argument.

Dawson jumped in. “…I don’t want to be that person but that’s because you’re a white dude! You have privilege.”

Commentary: Yesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss. The entire audience responded with enthusiasm – up to this point there were many frustrated and angry faces.

Sputtering, Willingham responds. “I don’t think being a white dude is a crime!”

Dawson: “I don’t think so either – I married one!”

Commentary: Omg yesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss

Willingham: And I don’t think it’s [being a white male] a disqualification!

Willimgham then gave an example of a white dude anthropologist who learned Mayan things or something. To be honest, he rambled. The audience was mostly full of confused faces. Essentially he was comparing a white male anthropologist and a young Mayan girl, the former speaks English and the latter does not. If the white male anthropologist writes a book on it, that makes him an authority because the girl can’t write on it.  Willingham said “And we have someone who can’t really speak to it, who is the authoritarian here?”

Commentary: The Mayan girl. Duh. An outsider can never truly know the experience of a situation if they cannot, have not experienced it. Bill is really on some white supremacist bullshit if he thinks that a white man can write better on an indigenous society than the indigenous people themselves.

Zub spoke next to the concept of listening to other voices outside one’s identity. He said his wife really helped him grow to understand women’s issues and experiences. “My wife has been giving me insight…she says ‘please give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.’ I look at her and think god dammit, you’re so right. I do feel with a story I can write well but I take care so I don’t assume my opinion takes precedent.”

Commentary:  PRAISE BE TO JIM ZUB’S WIFE! “Please give me the confidence of a mediocre white man”, indeed! Perhaps after this panel it should be changed to “Please give me the confidence of Bill Willingham”. And way to go, Jim, listening to women’s opinions and taking it to heart!

“I don’t like the generalization!” Willingham is unhappy with Zub’s comment. Things are feeling tenser by the minute, with each interruption and denial of experiences and perspectives that Willingham delivers.

Pete responds to Willingham by sharing her story. Pete: “I am half native and my sister is fully. We have different experiences due to color. I walk into a store [and everything’s fine]…and she gets security on her.” Pete goes on to describe how people of color can’t talk back to authority, mentions police brutality, and other examples.

Commentary: All the love to Alina Pete for further introducing intersectionality to the conversation and sharing her experiences! I was very impressed that she spoke on Native American issues and also issues faced by other racial minority groups. It is important that this happens, for too often discussions on women usually equate to leaving all other marginalized identities out of the scenario. Again, this is why representation matters. A person with a multiracial background can speak to their experience and are also more likely to talk about race issues than a white person (note: this is a burden an unfair to them at the same time to always have to be the person to bring race up).

Then, the most “what the fuck” comment occurs:

Willingham: But “the most homogenous white group is the Appalachian and why aren’t they running the place?”

Bill, stop. This is getting embarrassing.

Commentary: What Willingham attempts to argue here is that the people of Appalachia are all white (which actually isn’t completely true) and are also in extreme poverty. So, he’s arguing that if white people are so supreme, then why are white people in Appalachia without power? Oh Bill.  This is almost a comical lack of critical thinking. There’s this thing called intersectionality, as in a human being has many intersecting identities. Race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status – these and more all affect how human beings move through the world. White people can totally have white privilege and experience discrimination due to poverty or other issues. People who perpetuate white supremacy enjoy using the people of Appalachia as a strawman argument against the concept of white privilege. But again, here is Bill trying to speak for a group that he’s not a member of – the people of Appalachia are not asking to be your strawman argument, Bill.

Anyways, that Appalachia comment got the audience very riled up – there were annoyed murmurs and rustles as folks turned in the seat to see how others were reacting. A half-dozen audience members raise their hands in the air.

Roberson speaks up, describing him as progressive, anti-racist, and more. He said “and while I am not overtly sexist I did realize I wrote male protagonists with last name and women always first name [i.e., more respect is given to males and women are treated as ‘girls’]….And I found I would do it in comic panels…” Roberson worked to share the concept that privilege limits our lens and a person can perpetuate sexism without consciously realizing it.  He stated, amidst his explanation of his privilege, “I am the product of a sexist society.”

Commentary: Um hai Chris Roberson, many shiny gold ally stars for you. That is a TERRIFIC RESPONSE! It’s wonderful when men help to explain the concept of male privilege and sexism to other men, as people with privilege statistically listen better when other privileged folks discuss oppression. Yes, we are ALL products of a sexist society. When we recognize that, we gain awareness and we can work on taking sexist actions and language out of our day-to-day lives and work towards making society less sexist.

Now Willingham takes questions.

There were many hands up and Willingham selects a younger white male audience member standing in the back. There are murmurs of dissent – after this people were rather outraged that the first person Willingham allows questions at a “writing women friendly comics” panel is a white male. LoLz.

The audience member defers; he clearly didn’t think he had it right. Willingham responds that overall he was there first. As an observer at the panel, I’m honestly not quite sure but I do think it speaks something that the audience member recognized that perhaps he was not actually the first one to raise his hand. Who knows.

This audience member? Amazing.

He states that he identifies as a person who is disabled and that he is on the autism spectrum, among other things. He stated “historically the disabled community has not been able to speak for themselves…and I think that speaks to how communities – disabled, women, black, [etc] and how we feel. We’ve seen it done over and over how it’s done in a paternalistic way.” The audience member really is trying to support this idea that people with privilege need to question whether they are the best ones to write stories involving marginalized groups. Fantastic! Issues of disability and ableism are far too often overlooked in discussions on media representation.

Zub follows up with “there are so few times to tell these stories” and we don’t give them to the communities to tell them. He provides an example of when he was asked to pitch a black superhero (he wouldn’t say who) writing project and didn’t understand why he was asked and questioned the publisher.

Willingham: “Should we get the best female that’s available or just any female…?” He’s clearly struggling with the idea that identity plays a role in who and how stories are written. In fact, the whole panel feels, at this point, like it is meant to personally educate Willingham on how to write women friendly comics.

Ha talks about writing a story on two white sisters and how he did his due diligence by talking to the daughters of friends to try to get into the mindset.

Commentary: It is awesome that the panelists are trying to educate Willingham on these issues. It just sucks that this panel Willingham created is so self-serving, as he agitates the audience.

Now Willingham asks for a second audience question. He calls on a woman in a white necklace.

Audience member: “Going back to misappropriation, I too am in a tribe and am light skinned. Their experiences are far different…” She speaks about how her grandmother worked to ‘pass’ as light-skinned and Bill interrupts her.

Willingham: “I know there have been blacks trying to pass as white did that happen to Native Americans too?”

Commentary: Bill, it’s GREAT that you want to know that. Really. But there’s this thing called Google. This woman of color is not here to educate you.

Audience member responds to his question and continues. “We have a lot of white people who follow our tribes and exotify us—”

Willingham: “sure, saying they are 1/32…”

Commentary: At this point, pretty much everyone in the audience wanted Bill to shut up. A moderator is meant to moderate the panelists and ask questions, not talk over 50% of the time, interrupt the panelists (definitely the women; the men as well but not as much) and the women audience members. A moderator is not meant to ask questions and then answer all of them too. SIGH.

Audience member discusses all the “wise Indian” articles and memes that go around the internet and how they were written by white women trying to win contests in Reader’s Digest.

Pete talks, seconding this concept.

Audience member: “…there’s a lot of disingenuous when white people write our stories…I’m fine with white people writing Native American stories if they reach out to the tribe…”

Willingham: “There’s not a thing I disagree with that…” and then he goes on to talk about a story he wrote; something about a Chinese person.

Commentary: Honestly I and the rest of the audience were confused. I could not keep track of Bill’s anecdote. I really feel like he just was trying to give examples of how he as a white male could write any type of story and it would work, and he almost came off as desperate to gain approval for this. Like he wanted the rest of us to be “Why, of course, Bill! You can write anything! You’re so great! It’s totally not racist or sexist, the things you do!” Give me the confidence of a mediocre white man, indeed!

Audience member talks about how people can do research.

Willingham: “…that’s what they did, was read..”

Pete: “Wouldn’t it be better if they read that up and then fostered that author?”

Commentary: Yesssssssssssssssssssss Alina Pete! That’s the big problem in media. Privileged identities think they can play Pokemon and “Catch ‘em All!”, i.e. catch all these exotic and different experiences and then write about them – and PROFIT FROM THEM. Our society would be much better if we strove for authenticity and supported people with marginalized identities on how to foster their talent so they can tell their own stories, instead of someone with no personal understanding distorting experiences in their work.

Willingham: “No other person would have written that story.”

What Willingham said is an incorrect answer. Not "lying" perchance, but I bet Saga's Lying Cat would have something to say...

What Willingham said is an incorrect answer. Not “lying” perchance, but I bet Saga’s Lying Cat would have something to say…

Commentary: At this point, Willingham is truly pushing an agenda that promotes privilege. He desperately wants to prove that his methods are excellent and require no questioning. It’s quite sexist and racist of Willingham to presume that no other person could have written that story. Having a white penis doesn’t make you God, Bill. You can’t tell all the stories. You have a limited perspective as a white cis male human in a society that values white people, men, and cisgender folks above others. And that’s okay. We all have perspectives that are limited to our experiences and identities. Just stop trying to appropriate the stories and experiences of other people without critical thought.

Wllingham approved the third and final question. He selected the woman behind me who I had been chatting with in line.

The third audience member follow’s up on Willingham’s previous question earlier in the panel of whether it was better to hire good female writers or just any female writer. There is a lot of sexism within that question/statement that Willingham stated (the notion that only a few good female writers exist when it’s more likely that Willingham’s lens is sexist and he doesn’t give credit to many people outside his perspective), and while she doesn’t explicitly say that, she does elaborate that in this day and age there are plenty of women writers.

Willingam interrupts. Again.

I SPEAK UP. I had been growing incensed at Willingham’s behavior this entire panel.

I called out “Could you please let her speak? You keep interrupting the women on the panel and in the audience!”

Willingham looks flabbergasted. Hard to say why. Perhaps it was because I was interrupting him, or questioning his authority, or honestly surprising him because he didn’t realize his behavior this panel was awful. Or maybe a mix of all of this.

Willingham: “I respectfully disagree.”

He goes on to argue against my assertion and then just looks at me (I sat third row, on the end, almost directly in front of him) and goes “Really?” with a squint and scrunched-up face. I respond affirmatively. Willingham just looks angry. I’m not quite sure what else he said but Gene Ha began to talk.

However, as Ha begins to speak, Willingham interrupts him.

The audience is quite unhappy.

A woman in the second row on the opposite side of me shouts to point out that Willingham keeps “interrupting women, and now minorities!” In my account on The Mary Sue, I mistakenly identified her as a woman of color, but I realize I was looking at the woman sitting near her (hard to see from my perspective. This woman has identified herself on Twitter and in The Mary Sue comments as Jamie Isfeld (@jamieisfeld), a writer for Winnipeg is Nerdy.

Willingham’s ‘aghast’ face is quite comical when you realize the irony of him hating to be interrupted.

Ha continues what he was trying to talk about – that one needs to talk to the women in the communities to gain insight.

Willingham still isn’t buying it. He challenges Ha’s ideas by saying …” but what if I really wanted you but nope, you’re not qualified” due to Ha’s identity, and giving an example of writing about a military experience.

Ha has a really beautiful moment where he discusses how he could interview someone at a deep level to try to gain all the insight he could on how to write a character from a different background, or that person with the insight could write the story themselves.

Willingham provides another example – this time it was on a WWII Ice Carrier and what if he found it, does he just get someone else to write about it?

Reactions in the room...

Reactions in the room…

Reactions in the room...

Reactions in the room…

Reactions in the room...

Reactions in the room…

Commentary: Willingham is like a pitbull, clinging relentlessly to his tired ideals. Except, pitbulls are cuddly and not sexist or racist.

Ha responds but I honestly tune out at this time. Willingham is just desperately seeking a stamp of approval to do whatever he wants.

All of a sudden, time is up. Willingham ends the panel. The audience grumbles. Roberson quickly shouts out tips for writing and Pete informs the audience to forget publishers and the option to self-publish exists.

The panel didn’t go as expected, but the rest of the panelists: you were wonderful, and thank you.

deadpool awesome

~FIN~

NEXT – Part 3

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

#BillFriendlyComics: Follow-up (3/3)

Part 3/3 covering “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at 2015 Gen Con, with moderator Bill Willingham.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

FOLLOW-UP
I tweeted about my experience the following morning (Friday) and began working on this blog post. I gave a quote to The Mary Sue, but I was not comfortable with writing a report documenting this panel without first speaking to Willingham or The Writer’s Symposium. I saw via a quick internet search that the former has previous documented issues with women and minorities via his comics and public talks. Clearly Willingham’s past issues haven’t affected his popularity. It’s likely that this report won’t do that either. However, if I am going to publicly decry someone on the internet, I like to provide an opportunity for meaningful dialogue first. My ultimate goal is to work towards ending sexism, and I have a better chance of doing that if I dialogue first with the people responsible for creating a sexist environment.

bill willingham

FOLLOW-UP WITH BILL WILLINGHAM
I attended another “Writer’s Symposium” panel on comic writing with Willingham moderating. It was remarkable how much more subdued he was, although he still took up most of the air time. Bill, you just need to stop moderating. You’re not very good at it – you enjoy giving your own opinion too much.

I waited to speak to Willingham after the panel, even giving him directions to the restaurant that Zub was telling him about; they were going to have dinner that night.

I greeted Willingham (I was the last person waiting at that point; his assistant was the only other person there) and asked if he wanted to have a dialogue on what happened at the panel yesterday.

“I think I said all that needs to be said.”

I try to talk to him, because it was a pretty dismissive response that he gave me.

Willingham speaks a bit more about the panel.

“…That thing about me interrupting people was hogwash!”

I allow myself a small smile. The day before I was dressed in regular clothes. Today I was dressed in a cloak and fortune telling outfit. I guess he didn’t recognize me?

“That was me, actually.”

He pauses (surprise!), and then proceeds to say “Do you get how moderating works? You have to interrupt people to make sure they don’t dialogue too long.”

“Yes, but you really weren’t letting people talk.” I decline to ask Willingham if he actually understands how moderating works, because observation shows he clearly doesn’t. I also think about the linguistic research that shows how men perceive women to speak more often than they actually do and how men are prone to interrupt women in order to demonstrate power and status (read up on it: source1, source2, source3…).

Willingham responds by saying he really didn’t interrupt or talk that much.

“I kept track of how much you spoke”; I took careful notes.

This conversation is going nowhere. He doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. Ah, to have the confidence of a mediocre white man

I don’t know how to end this experience. But I hold out hope. “Okay, well I just wanted to offer the chance to talk.”

“I think I said all that needs to be said.”

Yep, you sure did. You sure did.

We parted ways. Hey, at least I tried.

genconWS

 

 

 

FOLLOW-UP WITH MARC TASSIN, ORGANIZER OF GENCON’S WRITER SYMPOSIUM
The day of the panel (Thursday) I had tweeted to GenCon’s Writer Symposium (WS) with a question on if I could arrange to talk to Bill Willingham. Tassin responded and gave a contact email so I could share my concerns with him. I emailed Friday morning and then Friday afternoon, after I spoke to Willingham, I approached Marc at the WS tables.

He greeted me warmly and invited to me sit with him at the back of the open author’s room to speak privately. I appreciate him doing this – critique is not easy to swallow and as a man, I wonder if he was worried at me being an angry or hysterical woman. Of course, I was apprehensive about meeting him as well – how could I be sure he, as a man who was in charge of putting Willingham on that stage, support my concerns and work to make sure they don’t happen again?

We had a promising forty-five minute talk. Here are some take-aways, separated by subject for the folks who don’t have time to read this incredibly long report and just need to scan:

Who is Marc Tassin? What is the Writer’s Symposium?
Tassin is a one-person show. This was his 4th year organizing GenCon’s The Writer’s Symposum.

Why is GenCon even hosting a comic writing track? That’s for Comic Con!
Tassin is a fan of comics but his realm is fiction writing, as that’s what WS is really geared towards. Somehow he got connected to Bill Willingham, who agreed to be on a WS panel. Willingham was enthused about a comic writing track and agreed to plan it. Tassin took the opportunity of Willingham’s perceived expertise (I say perceived because while he’s a popular comic creator he was not an expert on the panel we are discussing). Essentially, it was delegated to Willingham. However, Tassin said “the buck stops with me” and takes full responsibility as the person in charge for what happened.

Why a “Writing Women Friendly Comics” Panel? And why no women??
If you read the beginning of my account of the panel, you saw that Willingham wanted to do the topic because women in comics was a trending item at the time. Tassin spoke to me about how he envisions the diversity of WS to grow every year so it becomes a richer experience as it provides many different perspectives.

Tassin wrote about the process for selection panelists on his website addressing the all-male panel. Essentially, they had about 50/50 invites to male and female creators. The men who received the invitations responded affirmatively but the women did not. I addressed the issue that only four women were invited and one can’t only ask the busiest women in comics. Tassin stated that since the male panelists had Eisner awards, he wanted all the panelists to be at that level in their career, speaking to experience of how difficult it can be to be relatively inexperienced on a panel compared to the other panelists.

In regards to the confusion that Gail Simone expressed on Twitter, Tassin stated that it was a third party who asked her at a convention and she stated that she couldn’t do the panel.

Tassin decided not to cancel the panel when there were no women because he thought the topic was important and hoped if there was audience participation it could work.

From how I see it, Willingham asked people he knew well (thanks to Twitter and in person, I’ve seen him engage with at least 2 of the male panelists in a friendly manner) and that’s probably why those folks said “yes”. I’m going out on a limb and thinking that perhaps Willingham doesn’t know many female creators and if so, it’s not a friendly relationship. If you only extend invitations to your friends, you’re only going to get a group of people you know – and since humans generally interact with people that have similar identities, that’s why there is not a lot of diversity on panels organized like this.

For the record, Tassin stated that he tried to get the word out and ask people for suggestions so he can invite people who he is unfamiliar with, so please send WS many suggestions for the future.

ANALYSIS OF THE PANEL
This panel really didn’t stand a chance. The contributions of the panelists were amazing and beautiful, but Willingham was the wrong person for the job. Although he is praised for writing women, he has a poor history of interacting with them at cons – and frankly, Fables has quite a bit of critique for its portrayals of women as well.

Then there’s the panel itself. It’s described as:
–    Short Description: What is a comic for women? Is it a good idea to try to write to a specific readership? Is it even possible? Explore this topic with our distinguished guests.

–    Long Description: Writing women friendly comics has gathered a a lot of attention in comics these days, and it’s become a source of much debate and controversy. What is a comic for women? Are you damned no matter what you do? Is it a good idea to try to write to a specific readership? Is it even possible? Note that this isn’t a Women in Comics panel. Dissenting opinions may occur.

Straight off the bat, this description is NOT friendly. It’s written to a male audience – take note at how it speaks of women like they are aliens. Clearly, Willingham’s audience that he had in mind were male aspiring comic creators; hammering down the irony of the description wondering if something should be geared towards a specific audience. Then the “Are you damned no matter what you do?” signifies that the hackles are already raised on the part of the organizer – it indicates frustration and bitterness at the idea that women just can’t accept what they have and move on.

The fuel behind “this isn’t a women in comics” panel is laughable. If you are discussing women friendly comics then you ARE discussing women in comics. Comics that are friendly to women feature well-written women characters and one typically finds that women writers and artists do a great job at capturing female characters. The attempt to separate themselves from the scandal at Denver Comic Con is misguided.

Finally – dissenting opinions may occur? Yup, this panel sounds hella friendly to all the ladiez.

SO WHAT NOW?
GenCon’s Writer’s Symposium
I feel confident after my discussion with Marc Tassin, the organizer behind GenCon’s The Writer’s Symposium, that he took my concerns seriously. We spoke about how to work to improve the process of finding creators and I believe that next year will be better. I recommend that everyone who wants a diverse line-up at future events email Contact@genconwriters.com with suggestions. Tassin is a one-person show and we can never expect one person to find a way to create something that speaks to everyone. GS needs support by having recommendations sent their way. I hope that Tassin works to find an advisory team who can provide solid council and ideas, as ‘many hands make light work’.

Bill Willingham
Considering that Willingham’s “official response” to all of this was to call it “hysteria” on Twitter and show a picture of twin baby girls giggling and dancing, I don’t think he gives a damn about our opinions.

So, I encourage you to make him give a damn.

  1. Tweet him using #BillFriendlyComics (since that panel was really just about comics that were friendly to him)
  2. Email the coordinators for any convention that invites him to speak and request that they not provide Willingham yet another forum to espouse views that discredit women and other minorities.
  3. And money talks. I don’t want to advocate for a boycott of his products (for complicated reasons that can be read in the FAQs) but I do advise that you recognize your options.
  4. Tell the folks running conventions to invite folks from diverse backgrounds onto their panels – even if (and especially!) if the panel is not about a specific identity/diversity talk! There are folks who are putting together lists to make your search easier! Check out Comic Book Women, the Cartoonist of Color database, or Prism Comic’s database of LGBTQ+ creators! 🙂

QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, AND CONCERNS

Feel free to leave them in the comments. Don’t be surprised if I take 2 weeks to respond, as my schedule is intense this month. Please be respectful. Any rudeness, threats, or more will result in a screenshot, deletion, and (depending on the severity), reported to the FBI’s local office. Please don’t be a dick, and remember that I am an actual human being. It seems when women talk about sexism on the internet, people think it’s cool to forget what it means to be human and engage in greater savagery than beasts. So be cool, folks.

Also, see FAQs for further wonderings about who I am and why I wrote this.

deadpool cool story bro

Thanks, Wade…

***

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

#BillFriendlyComics: FAQs for the “Writing Women-Friendly Comics” Critique

Series covering “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel at 2015 Gen Con, with moderator Bill Willingham.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

FAQs

Why are you writing this?
It’s exhausting to deal with an endless array of discrimination, from low-level microaggressions to harassment to laws and policies meant to exclude your identity, and more. I only have to deal with some types of discrimination because although I have marginalized identities that consistently face oppression in society, I also have privileges identities as well (woohoo, the complexities of intersectionality). Note: if you want to learn more about these terms, here are good links:

I am writing this because I am angry that marginalized voices are left out of conversations in pop culture – women, people of color, people with disabilities, LGB people, trans* individuals, veterans, low-income folks, and more. There have been quite a few foolish events (like the all-male ‘women in comics’ panel) and we honestly just need to stop this bullshit.

This “Writing Women Friendly Comics” panel happened and a popular creator (Bill Willingham) turned it into a destructive mess. I am writing this report to provide evidence that a) it happened, so that b) it will hopefully not happen again. WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS.

But I LOVE Fables! And/or other Bill Willingham works!
*hands you a tissue and drink of choice* I know. It sucks when someone we really appreciative, perhaps even someone who has inspired us or who’s work helped us get through a difficult time, does something shitty and shows that they do not possess the awareness to be considerate of other people on a micro and macro scale. Don’t feel bad. We all have our “problematic favs”, aka things/people we love even when those things/people contribute to systemic oppression. I love Marvel movies so much even though they only perpetuate this idea that white cis able-bodied men are worth being heroes.

Should you stop supporting Bill Willingham’s work? That’s your call. At the end of the day, purchasing someone’s products is a stamp of approval for their work and their behavior. But on the other end, Bill isn’t the only human working on Fables or other works. His products include other people. Yet, perhaps not purchasing Bill’s works will encourage folks to not work with him, and perhaps help him to realize that uncool acts of his need to be reassessed. Or, maybe not. There are lots of ways to go on this and your purchasing is a personal choice.

Ultimately, Bill Willingham is only one part of a much larger problem – that the comic industry (like every other industry) is rooted in sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, and many other societal ills.

Whoa, that’s super intense. Why do you keep talking about sexism and racism and all that?
It’s common for folks to wave their hands away and go “it’s not that serious” when outlining issues related to identity, especially in regards to pop culture. However, in this day and age, media is so pervasive in our lives – television, internet, film, literature, and more – that it often has just as much (if not more) effect on socializing us throughout life as the people who raise us.

In the United States, one of our beloved morals is that everyone has freedom and the autonomy to make something of their life – “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. This is actually a fallacy. There are different barriers presented to people who have marginalized identities. The United States was originally designed to uphold white able-bodied straight cis Christian men – essentially upholding the values these people were taught in their European home countries. Sure, over time the U.S. has begun to recognize that people with different identities have rights as well and the country has progressed. But there are still many barriers in place.

Racism, sexism, and other ‘isms are more than blatant offenses like name calling – they are tiny decisions like speaking over a woman or not going out of one’s way to make sure women are on a panel that is supposed to talk about women.

For the current topic of comic books, while there has been progression and growing openness to creators and characters with different backgrounds, there are still plenty of barriers. So when a well-known creator at a major convention acts in this sort of manner, it just further normalizes that some voices are more important than others. This is discouraging if you’re not in the majority and results in fewer marginalized individuals to want to pursue this career and perpetuates the idea to other folks in the majority that it’s normal for a white man to speak down to women and people of color.

HOLD UP. Just who the hell are you, anyway? Why should I believe a damn thing you say?!
I’ve already read some internet comments (a foolhardy task, but I was curious) after The Mary Sue article came out and know there are people who don’t trust that the accounts were correct and also don’t believe The Mary Sue has any ethics in journalism.

I get that. Really, why should you believe someone you’ve never met before? I could be catfishing you all, mwahahaha! Except I’m not. And I ask that you believe the corroborating accounts in The Mary Sue and in my report. Too often women and other marginalized folks are not believe when they give personal accounts of their experience, even though that courtesy is often afforded to people in our society with privilege (male, white, upper-class, Christian – take your pick of identities. Oh, and ps: being privileged is not a bad thing, just a fact).

I did not expect the panel to go the way it did – I only meant to bring my 3 year old iPhone 4 (yay free phones) to take notes since my friends couldn’t intend. But when Bill started the session off as he did, I sure wish I had a better phone with more memory to record. Alas.

So, since you’re unsure if you can trust some random woman on the internet who is speaking out publicly about a favored comic creator, let me give my background:

My name is Niki Messmore. I graduated from Bowling Green State University (BGSU) with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in History. I worked for five years in the nonprofit and education sector, including time as the director of a small nonprofit that supported after-school programs for youth and other volunteer management positions. In 2014 I graduated from Indiana University with a Masters in Higher Education & Student Affairs. During this time I learned critical research skills and have written multiple research papers addressing theory, management, identity development, law, and more. Currently I work at a university in Indianapolis managing alternative break programs, supervising scholarship students, implementing campus-wide days of service events, and coordinating a first-year student community.

I have the skills and integrity to write about this event and other issues.

But you’re biased! Because you’re a woman!
What an assumption! Yes, I am a woman. But the concept of “bias” originates from watching Law & Order in how it is used in our lexicon today – like the world is a black and white courtroom. We shout that folks are biased when they speak to their experiences because we have idealized what it means to “be un-biased”. We believe that the best reports are cold Emma Frost-esque accounts where the writing is robotic and the person is a complete outside observer.

That isn’t how it works. Humans are shaped by their identity and how they have moved through the world, including what they see on TV, how they were raised, and more. We are ALL biased, if that’s the word you desire to use.

Historically, the concept of bias is most often applied to people who are already marginalized in this world – we don’t believe queer people when they discuss discrimination, we don’t believe people of color when they report police harassment, we don’t believe women when they say they’ve been raped, etc. We (society) tend to only believe it when that person is privileged, such as when a white person speaks about racism or a straight person speaks out about LGBT* issues.

What some of you in the internet world are looking for, just doesn’t exist. Don’t discard a report because it differs from your beliefs and claim ‘bias’. I have worked and reworked this report to be as clear as possible. So, read all of it again with an open mind

***

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [FAQs]

bill

Selecting a Student Affairs Conference Host City – Examining Ethics

Why are student affairs professionals outraged about NASPA’s 2016 conference location? And why aren’t they equally outraged about ACPA’s 2016 convention location?

Once the announcement of Indiana’s new law titled “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA); otherwise known as #SB101, was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Mike Pence (R) on Thursday, March 26th, student affairs professionals across the nation stated their concern. The reason? One of the major student affairs professional organizations, NASPA, is set to host their 2016 conference in Indianapolis next March (as is the 2015 ASCA Gehring Institute; ACUHO-I and AFA have made statements as well).

There is valid concern that the RFRA is intended to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals and the RFRA and political agenda of the state of Indiana is not congruent with the mission of student affairs. According to ThinkProgress, the RFRA  allows for “individuals who feel their religion has been burdened can find legal protection in the bill “regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.” In fact, even the Republican legislators who wrote the bill intended it to be used to turn LGBTQ individuals away from businesses and adoption agencies[link].

Please recognize that the wording of the law allows for a local business, for example, to use RFRA as a DEFENSE of their refusal to service a party due to religious concern bu that it could still proceed legally. Josh Blackman’s blog has a helpful legal analysis and Matt Anderson’s blog really breaks it down why the IN law is more threatening than other states’ RFRA laws. President Clinton signed a federal RFRA (1993) but the difference with Indiana’s law is that the term “person” can be applied to larger entities like businesses. Additionally there are 19 other states that have passed their own version of the RFRA – including states the host many higher education conventions, like Florida and Texas [link].

It is interesting that, from what this author has been told and from her recollection, there was little debate about the location of ACPA’s (the other major SA professional organization) 2016 convention in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Sure, there was concern about the cost of affording a passport and travel to a world-class city, but little concern cited for trans* individuals and undocumented individuals.

Why should travel to Montréal be a concern?

To begin with, a passport is required for U.S.-bound individuals. There are a number of undocumented folks who attend ACPA conferences that may be unable to attend (although DACA folks may be able to). For folks identifying as trans*, it is very possible that their photo and assigned gender on their passport may not match up with their preferred gender and how their present themselves. This could lead to confusion and possible malice and harassment by officials who do not understand or even are transphobic; leading to delayed travel and possible ban on travel.

The Montreal Gazette has a section of “Transgender Issues” where current news stories are posted. There have been several violent physical attacks on gay and trans* individuals in recent weeks. Canada Parliament Members (PMs) are currently debating to pass Bill C-279 that would allow gender identity to fall under protected identities but are receiving incredible resistance from folks who ultimately “don’t want a biological male in the same bathroom as their daughters’.

According to the Montreal Gazette there are multiple systemic discrimination issues against trans* individuals, such as “Article 71 in the Civil Code stipulates that in order to alter their gender marker on legal documents, trans people must have undergone “medical treatments and surgical operations” which structurally modify “the sexual organs.” Other conditions include being at least 18 years old and Canadian citizenship” [link].

Yet there is very little outrage against ACPA and Montréal.

Now, I am an ACPA all the way! It is my professional home. Of course what I love about ACPA is it encourages questioning the establishment. Right now, it is questionable why the convention is located in Montréal, where trans* and undocumented folks have difficulty with access. I don’t believe this decision can be changed at this point, so I am not advocating for that, but we need to acknowledge that even if the NASPA 2016 Conference is in a state that actively discriminates against LBGTQ folks, the ACPA 2016 Convention is in a city that actively discriminates against trans* individuals and the location bars undocumented individuals from attending.

As someone I deeply admire (or to be blunt, I fangirl all about zir; GO FALCONS), put it on Twitter; Dr. Dafina Lazarus-Stewart noted how silent folks have been on ACPA compared to how they have been on NASPA and Indiana. And wow. Yes. Already there are multiple conversations going on about how NASPA should/should not pull out of Indianapolis for 2016. There are many conversations in the “Student Affairs Professionals” group [Link 1] [Link 2] [Link 3] and even a petition for NASPA to pull out of Indianapolis (with 496 signatures as of 3/28/15).

So why is there more silence around an issue that affects trans* individuals than there is around LGBTQ individuals?

Ignorance. Bias. Hatred.

The United States is ignorant on trans* issues – even media outlets don’t know how to cover them if they even opt to cover trans* stories. Typically LGBTQ issues in the news center on marriage equality – an issue that are important, yes! But also seen as more “fluffy”; many in the community do critique marriage equality activism as not radical enough and just a more palatable topic for white middle-class/wealthy LGB individuals that doesn’t challenge systems of power.

Historically trans* issues have been ignored. Worse, many people are taught through social systems like religion, family, school, and the media to hate and fear trans* individuals – whether it is a subconscious or conscious thought.

As individuals mostly residing in the United States, the collective ignorance and lack of concern of student affairs professionals for trans* individuals and their human rights is a predictable and verifiable outcome.

Question why you weren’t concerned about ACPA’s location.

Question why, if the news about Montréal is new to you, why you weren’t aware in the first place.

If you are cisgender (you identity with the sex you were assigned at birth), examine your privilege in all of this and educate yourself. I have and I am continuing to do so – because until the T*Circle  wrote an Open Letter to ACPA and I followed up with a friend I had no idea about any of the ACPA Montréal issues affecting my trans* colleagues.

And that is a problem.

Dear Dr. Doti: On Policies that Perpetuate Racism at Chapman University

Dear James Doti, President of Chapman University,

Hello. We don’t know each other, but we do look a little bit alike. Well, I mean our gender, socioeconomic status, and age are different, as is our keen fashion sense (me in flowy dresses, you in some pretty sweet suits – kudos, btw), but we’re both white.

Eek. I know. You don’t see race.

I probably appear rude for pointing it out – that I’m white and you’re white. I know you mentioned your prescribed world view and policy mindset of colorblindness on several occasions; quoted in The Panther on 9/8/14, your editorial regarding The Panther’s comments on 9/15/14, and your editorial on Affirmative Action on 4/27/03.

You want to see a world where racial discrimination does not occur. That is so awesome. It’s important that someone in your position believes this.

I must inform you, however, that your views and actions perpetuate racism – not erase it.

Further, while your beliefs and policies may be well intentioned, they actually go against what has been presented in higher education research. Sir, you are not operating along best practices guidelines. Quite frankly, your ideology is harmful to students (both white students and students of color) and that is why I, some random higher education professional in the Midwest, saw it imperative to write this post in order to address, point by point, your September 15th editorial to The Panther.

[Disclaimer: Let me clarify before I continue: I see this as an open letter but also as a blog post intended to generate conversation on the topic. Dr. Doti is not the only higher education professional or decision maker in the world with this seemingly innocuous yet irrefutably harmful worldview. My communicative style will be casual and could be interpreted at times as disrespectful in either tone, word, or image. I assure you none is intended. I just believe that a humorous tone is sometimes the best in blog posts.]

[Note: In the time since I wrote this, Chapman students have responded in the student newspaper to Dr. Doti’s editorial.  Seniors K.B. Jenny Kim and James David Ruby both wrote responses, as well as former student Sonja Lund.]

 

1. The Value of Multicultural Centers

doti3

I would like to know where you have found this research because I am quite unsure if it exists. In fact, it is the opposite. There is so much research on the value of cultural centers – whether they are cultural centers for specific ethnic groups (African American/Black, Latin@, Asian, Native American), a multicultural center (meant to support all students of color/underrepresented identities), or culture centers for other marginalized identities (Hillel, LGBTQ+, International, Women).

Focusing on multicultural centers (or any center supporting students of color), these are a vehicle for providing social, emotional, and academic support. They are effective as recruitment and retention tools. Additionally, they promote ethnic solidarity.

I know. The words ethnic solidarity probably make you squeamish. But I promise that it’s not about ‘kill whitey’. See, students of color at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) face ‘straight-up racism’ (you know – the kind we tend to identify easily, like what’s been happening in Ferguson – as you took note of in your editorial) as well as microaggressions (Buzzfeed, NYT, Microaggressions Project) and other incidents related to systemic racism.

From a historical perspective regarding Black Culture Centers, African American students saw these centers as “’an island in a sea of whiteness’ that offered them a sense of identity and protection in an environment which they saw as hostile or indifferent” (Young, p. 13). These centers “were designed to help African American students on predominantly white campuses cope with the alienation, loneliness, and isolation, which so many often felt and still tend to feel” (Princes, p. 18).  “Today, particularly during this time of demographic change, cultural centers have been pivotal in providing safe havens for ethnic minority student groups who have traditionally been denied full access and, in most instances, any access to PWIs” (Jones, Castellanos, & Cole, 2002, p. 21).

While I am sure that your goal is to have all Chapman students feel fully integrated (and not just your 58% white students), I am making an educated guess that not all students of color (SOC) feel that way; my guess is educated, mind you, because it draws on numerous articles examining the experiences of SOC at public and private universities. Clearly, according to Chapman’s newspaper, there are a good number of Chapman students who do feel there is a need for a multicultural center.

2. “The Fundamental Flaw”

You believe there is a fundamental flaw in designating a specific location for discussing multicultural issues. I get that. Perhaps you believe that if you designate one area as the “Multicultural Center” then you will be saying, in essence that there is only one space to discuss multicultural issues. That you are limiting the conversation by creating the center.

Truthfully, that is one flaw at most universities. Cultural Centers are funded and then everyone considers diversity to be ‘their job’. Instead of undertaking the work to integrate diversity and multiculturalism into all areas of an institution, folks rely on the ‘diversity people’ to get the job done.

And yet.

At the end of the day, at least students have one place to discuss cultural issues. One place that feels like it is their own. One place where the space is safe(r).

Does your university have at least one space?

You see, by not designating any space as a ‘multicultural center’, you are not necessarily opening and maintaining other opportunities for dialogue on race, culture, ethnicity, and racism on your campus.

~~Racism is scary~~

It’s not something we want to talk about, as humans. Especially white humans.

So it makes sense that we don’t go out of our way to discuss it.

Ultimately: You are not neglecting dialogue on multiculturalism by creating one space in a multicultural center. You are creating a ground zero for discussion that can have ripple effects on the rest of the university. With no intentionally created ‘one space’ there is no space at all.

3. “Ghetto”

doti 4

Dr. Doti, I understand that the word ‘ghetto’ is defined as “to restrict to an isolated area or group”. I am sure it was not your intention to use a racial and classist slur.

However, intent does not equal impact.

For example, if I’m doing the dishes and I break my grandmother’s prized crystal wine glass, I did something wrong. I did not intend to break her prized glass, but I did. And while I can try to superglue those fragments back together, the glass will never look the same. Ultimately, I just have to admit I was wrong, learn enhanced washing techniques (maybe research some best practices scrubbing skills), and do better in the future.

“Ghetto” has never had a positive connotation. NPR’s Code Switch explores the etymology of the word in the article ‘Segregated From Its History, How ‘Ghetto’ Lost Its Meaning’. “In the 16th and 17th centuries, cities like Venice, Frankfurt, Prague and Rome forcibly segregated their Jewish populations, often walling them off and submitting them to onerous restrictions” (Domonoske, 2014, para 3).

Post-World War II and ‘white flight’ or large urban areas, “ghettos” referred to areas of black and brown bodies living in low-income households. Ghetto has been a slang word for decades. Please don’t tell me that you are unaware of how loaded this word is in American society.

doti-8 ghetto

really capt america

Dr. Doti. Stop. Please.

You cannot just keep throwing this word around.

think

4. White Privilege
doti-10 - naive

Yes, yes, and yes. I do believe that after reading your editorial (unfair, I know, but what would you have me do?) and I do agree that racism does exist.

Your ‘truth’ is your lived experience. You believe what you believe due to how you were raised by family/household, in schools, what you saw in media, and your overall life events.

I need you to understand that you may be operating from a singular perspective. As you read above, there are multiple reasons why multicultural centers are needed on campus. As you continue reading below, please pay particular attention to my remarks on colorblindness.

 

5. Enrollment Management Best Practices?

A.
doti-14 0 bad plan

First, thank you.

I do commend you on wanting to direct more money towards scholarships for low-income students of color.

However (you knew that was coming, didn’t you), you are overlooking something. Your plan will bring more students of color to campus….but will they stay?

Currently Chapman University’s retention rates for first-time freshmen from fall to fall are 91% and the six-year graduation rate is 72%. These are healthy rates – par for the course for most private institutions. Yet as we know, persistence rates for students of color do increase with programs that support their identity – such as a multicultural center.

It may be worth it to examine the 28% of students who leave the institution, what their backgrounds are, and their experiences at Chapman in order to understand why they left and what factors were at play.

B.

doti-99 - sounds pretty
I don’t understand how this helps students who are asking for a multicultural center on campus because they desire more support for students of color.

I recognize that Chapman University has students from over 60 countries so in that regard (and because yay global society), courses on global studies and world cultures would be great. But what about some increased courses in ethnic studies so students can examine race & culture from a domestic lens? While I see some within the sociology department, it looks like there could be an increased focus (I am an outsider, I recognize this, and only know what your website tells me).

As for study abroad – this may help students build empathy towards cultural and racial differences, but I do feel these additions within your editorial distract from the overall message that underrepresented students are requesting further support on your campus.

6. MLK is More Than “I Have a Dream”

doti-100000 - mlk

Sir, if you would allow me to be your socially-aware public relations manager for a moment, I urge you to refrain from ending any editorial regarding race and culture with a quote from MLK. It speaks of an eagerness to pander to those that care about racial justice and represent yourself as a ‘white man that gets it’.

MLK is more than his ‘Dream’ speech. He was a radical that has been sanctified since his death as someone who just wanted us all to get along. And above all, I do not believe it right when my fellow white folk use his words to plead for colorblindness.

 

7. Now for the Heart of the Matter: On Colorblindness.

Dr. Doti, when you embrace ‘colorblindness’, you are embracing racism.

This realization is growing as writers at places like Psychology Today and Policy Mic are discovering this; however it is rooted in academia, under interdisciplinary areas of Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT grew out of critical legal studies and has been innovated within education, women’s studies, sociology, and other fields.

“Furthermore, the notion of colorblindness fails to take into consideration the persistence and permanence of racism and the construction of people of color as Other… Furthermore, CRT scholars argue that colorblindness has been adopted as a way to justify ignoring and dismantling race-based policies that were designed to address societal inequity (Gotanda, 1991).

In other words, arguing that society should be colorblind ignores the fact that inequity, inopportunity, and oppression are historical artifacts that will not easily be remedied by ignoring race in the contemporary society. Moreover, adopting a colorblind ideology does not eliminate the possibility that racism and racist acts will persist” (DeCuir & Dixson, 2004, p. 29)

Or, if you want to ignore CRT scholars, consider what one of Chapman’s students told to a The Panther reporter in regards to your statement on colorblindness: “That triggers me so much. As humans, we see color, that is what it is,” said George. “Oh, so you don’t see me? They’re choosing to be ignorant that I am black.”

You may not want to notice race, Dr. Doti, because perhaps it is the ‘professional’ thing to do or maybe because you took MLK’s words to heart. But no matter what you want to believe, there are many different (socially-constructed) races and in America us white folk have a lot of privilege – such as the privilege to ignore race.

(a fantastic entry into understanding white privilege, btw, is ‘Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack‘. Also, try attending some events and locations where you are the only white person. See if you notice race then).

8. Conclusion.
Dr. Doti, please accept this message with an open heart and open mind. I do appreciate other areas of your leadership – in particular I appreciated your The Panther editorial on 11/6/11 on equality marriage. However, I was very disturbed to read your comments and thought some discussion was in order – and not just for you, but hopefully the many folks out there in education who believe the way you do and believe the way I do.

Also, since Chapman is a Disciples of Christ affiliated church, I felt more obligation to write for that denomination has been a key part of my life at one moment in time (upon moving to a new city, it looks like I may be Methodist..ah, church shopping! But that is another tale…)

 

References
DeCuir, J. T., & Dixson, A. D. (2004). ” So When It Comes Out, They Aren’t That Surprised That It Is There”: Using Critical Race Theory as a Tool of Analysis of Race and Racism in Education. Educational researcher, 26-31.

Jones, L., Castellanos, J., & Cole, D. (2002). Examining the ethnic minority student experience at predominantly White institutions: A case study. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 1(1), 19-39.

Princes, C.D.W. (1994). The Precarious Question of Black Cultural Centers versus Multicultural Centers. Annual Conference of the Pennsylvania Black Conference on Higher Education (Harrisburg, PA, March 2-5, 1994).

Resource Guide to Better Understanding Race in Higher Education
(adapted from my Critical Race Theory class syllabi, summer semester 2013, by Dr. Lori Patton Davis

Yosso,  T.  (2002).  Toward  a  critical  race  curriculum.  Equity &  Excellence  in  Education,  35(2),  93-¬‐107.

Teranishi,  R.  T.  (2010).  Asian  Pacific  Americans  and  critical  race  theory:  An  examination  of  school racial  climate.  Equity  &  Excellence  in  Education,  35(2),  144-¬‐154.

Gildersleeve,  R.  E.,  Croom  ,N.N.,  &  Vasquez,  P.  (2011).  “Am  I  going  crazy?!”:  A  critical  race  analysis  of  doctoral  education.  Equity  &  Excellence  in  Education,  44(1),  93-¬‐114.

Harper,  S.  R.  (2009).  Niggers  no  more:  A  critical  race  counternarrative  on  black  male  student  achievement  at  predominantly  white  colleges  and  universities.  International Journal  of  Qualitative  Studies  in  Education,  22 (6),  697-¬‐712.

Yosso,  T.  J.,  Smith,  W.  A.,  Ceja,  M.,  &  Solorzano,  D.  G.  (2009).  Critical  race  theory,  racial
microaggressions,  and  campus  racial  climate  for  Latina/o  undergraduates.  Harvard Educational  Review,  79(4),  659-¬‐690

Ladson-­Billings,  G.,  &  Tate,  W.  G.  (1995).  Toward  a  critical  race  theory  of  education.  Teachers College  Record,  97(1),  47-­‐68