Social Justice

The Breakdown on the Meme that Broke HigherEd Twitter, Part 1

Note: The following is an analysis of the contentious debate(?) among higher education professionals (primarily in student affairs) on Twitter, and its greater application to the field. I believe this will serve as a strong case study on the generational differences in higher education professionals, meme culture, and the reactionary techniques utilized to protect white womanhood. Given the intricate and fascinating (to a nerd who enjoys examining how power dynamics in higher ed play out on social media) pieces to this story, I have broken up the essay into two parts. [Part 1] [Part 2]

I disclose that I was very involved in the dialogue and I have strong opinions – hence I’ve provided screenshots so folks can read and form their own opinion alongside my analysis. It’s okay for multiple truths to exist on one topic, for folks to disagree with me, and for folks to tell me I did something wrong (if true, I’ll fix it).

Please note that I am not the only voice on this topic – see threads by Sachet Watson, Dr. D-L Stewart, and (in response to the tweets on blacklisting) Jana.; plus multiple tweets (not all in a thread) by CJ Venable, Sunny, and Lena Tenney (here and here) and SO many others.


Table of Contents:

Part 1

  • I. To Meme or Not to Meme
  • II. So…what broke Twitter?
  • III. The issue on the table? (#Hamiltonreferences4ever)
  • IV….um…
  • V. And then?
  • VI. Are we done yet?
  • VII. But the Students!
  • VIII. The Next “Hot Take”
  • IX. Changing the Narrative
  • X. Actually, It’s About Legislators
  • XI. Victimization Narrative & Gaslighting Others

Part 2

  • XII. White Woman Victimhood ramps up
  • XIII. Gaslighting Continues…
  • XIV. Divisive Tactics
  • XV. She Didn’t Shame Anyone!
  • XVI. Ok and this one is just funny
  • XVII. Call Her Khaleesi
  • XVIII. Peak White Feminism: Misgendering and Racism
  • XIX. Fear Mongering of the “Secret Black List”
  • XX. In Conclusion
  • XXI. But what’s next?

I. To Meme or Not to Meme

On Monday, May 27th, a meme from the parody student affairs account Humans of Higher Ed (HoHe) run by (I believe) entry-level professionals (see the interview with the creators by Amma Marfo here) [update: Twitter informed me two are director-level folks] posted the following kind of tweet they normally do (link, since its a gif):

HOH original

Image Text: “When you realize that when you get to work tomorrow no students will be there.” Image: Baseball players jumping out of their chairs celebrating enthusiastically.

This is the standard sort of thing you tend to see from educators, in k-12 or higher ed. In fact, it is quite prevalent in k-12 education – there are plenty of memes by and for teachers celebrating summer (see: google image results); if you have a teacher friend, you’ve probably seen them celebrate summer. Same is true for retail workers around holiday hours, CPAs during tax season, and parents excited to send their kids back to school in September. Some folks like memes like this, other folks just shrug because its not for them.

But for some folks, they couldn’t just shrug it off.

One professor replied to the meme “This is absolutely disgusting and inappropriate.” A Senior Student Affairs Officer (SSAO) took the meme literally to say “<face palm emoji.> <— that feeling when folks who work in higher ed don’t realize many institutions continue to educate and engage students all 12 months. It might be a bit quieter, but I am so glad that our students still show up, get involved, and make progress toward their goals!”. A higher ed consultant with their own HE company called the meme gross and went on a bit about it. (no names b/c its their titles/positionality that matter here)

Why the disconnect?

If we approach this from a sociological perspective, we must first understand how differences in generation, class, and other identities/experiences will lead folks to approach memes differently. Memes are a unique tool of communication based in culture and can be difficult to understand, especially if one is not from that culture (Nissenbaum & Shifman, 2018). They are considered a form of “creativity” in “everyday conversation” (Willmore & Hocking, 2017, p. 140).

In regards to age, millennials love memes and use them as a source of comfort, humor, connection, etc (Urban, 2017; O’Connor, 2018; Milner, 2012). As the parody account creators and most folks interacting with the discourse are millennials, this is relevant. In particular, their usage is often made for humor, and that is a good thing for well-being and society (Taecharungroj, & Nueangjamnong, 2014). Millennial memes have, and continue to have a huge effect on society and organizations (Atay & Ashlock, 2018); it is only natural that they would shake up long-held perspectives in student affairs/higher education (SA/HE).

For a subset of millennials, specifically people of color, memes are used as method to thrive in an oppressive world. The college newspaper The McGill Daily discusses this in their article “What it memes to heal: Memes as a tool for healing for POC” (Dahanayake, 2018). The Digital Sociology Magazine at Virginia Commonwealth University also wrote “memes as racialized discourse” (tabi, 2017). This applies to many other marginalized groups as well, including women, LGBTQ+ folks, etc (Highfield, 2016; Westfall, 2018).

And on humor – well, good memes often utilize the comedic device of hyperbole. Clearly, I don’t know of any Student Affairs professionals (and I know many) who actually run, jump, and cheer when the summer session starts. Of course many of us still have some students, albeit a much reduced caseload.

II. So…what broke Twitter?

Well-known researcher, faculty member, and administrator Sara Goldrick-Rab (SGR, per her website branding; see list of media appearances). She founded the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University and does very strong work supporting first generation and low-income college students via research and advocacy. Her background is in sociology but focuses on higher ed research; she claims to have worked in student affairs at one point but it is not listed on her CV (but then again, nothing is before 2004), so I cannot confirm her actual experience in this area. She’s enough of a public figure that she is verified on Twitter with over 32k followers.

In response to critique of the HoHE original tweet, entry-level Student Affairs professional Kimberly explained the tweet to the critics, and asked to not be shamed.

So what does SGR do? Shame her.

1st Tweet from Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab (also known as SGR): If you need a “break” from students, take a vacation. If you find they sap you then you might need @Jessifer and others to help you learn how to be more effective. And let’s remember- there is no higher education without students. #RealCollege. Second tweet from SGR: Celebrating the departure of students in summer is a trope. The idea that staff wellbeing requires distance from students, dependent on “summer break,” is privilege itself and ignores the hard work of staff and faculty educating year round. #RealCollege. Note: the quote she was tweeting was from Kimberly Newtown @knewt14, who said: We can miss our students but still appreciate and welcome a change of pace. I was pumped for my students to leave for the summer and that doesn’t make me care about them less. They are amazing! I encourage you to not shame people for needing a break.Now, SGR has (rightfully) critiqued oppressive ‘jokes’ that do punch down on students – the faculty who joke about all the dead grandmothers, etc. Those are excellent critiques because they have real world implications for students who actually do experience a crisis and then faculty may not care because of the trope that students lie to get out of exams.

III. The issue on the table? (#Hamiltonreferences4ever)

This initial critique is not based in logic.

  • “The idea that staff wellbeing requires distance from students, dependent on “summer break,” is privilege itself and ignores the hard work of staff and faculty educating year round.”
    • The folks who were initially responding are indeed staff who work educating year round. Very few colleges actually have 0 students during the summer – it just means educators have a reduced workload.
    • A summer break is a privilege? Uh…she appears not to be aware of the inequities that entry-level student affairs professionals face. The long hours, the low pay, the older professionals who expect younger folks to make work their #1 priority even if the institution considers them easily replacable? The immense workload of supporting student needs on top of program planning and other administrative tasks – never feeling like they can manage it all and thus look forward to the respite of summer? This is a common discussion topic in multiple student affairs spaces, especially among millennials
  • “If you need a “break” from students, take a vacation. If you find they sap you then you might need @Jessifer and others to help you learn how to be more effective. And let’s remember- there is no higher education without students.”
    • Sara doesn’t seem to understand the realities of student affairs work. I have learned from my colleagues in facebook groups that they often cannot take vacations because they may not earn that much PTO, or have oppressive supervisors who literally will not allow them to take off time or only allow one day at a time during certain time periods. This is a classist statement, and not one we would expect from someone who studies class. Apparently she only cares about folks while they are college students, much like how Republicans only care about fetuses.
    • She tagged Jesse Stommel, a Verfied Twitter account and Director of an office of Teaching and Learning Technologies. With over 23k followers, Jesse seems a deliberate tag in order to advance her Thoughts(™) to a wider audience. To be fair, Sara defended tagging him with the rationale that he’s her writing partner on the topic of “student shaming”. This can indeed be true. But the impact of her action makes it appear much differently from folks who do not have blue checkmarks.
    • She insults the entry-level professional by indicating that the person is not effective with her time, and that a leader in teaching could aid her. Sara appears to say that if the SAPro were more efficient, she wouldn’t miss the downtime of summer….
    • Finally, she mentions the students piece. This is a truth. Another truth is the the discourse among millennial student affairs professionals on social media is that they/we are very tired of institutions espousing that they prioritize students (even though they often don’t for students at the margins) but don’t prioritize staff support and care. Entry-level professionals are disposable because there are so many student affairs graduate programs that there are more candidates than jobs. For example, I know a white middle-aged male director who is never worried about high staff turnover because there are always so many applicants for any opening. That’s the toxicity of our environment. That is our reality for many folks. And as with any person in under-appreciated and low-paying roles (teachers, social workers, etc), research tells us that if we support staff wellness that the students will greatly benefit.

Gif of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend character Heather Davis saying: So then what happened?.

Kimberly responded to SGR and said “no need to be demeaning.” Instead of a response like “I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to be demeaning”, she responded thusly:

First tweet is from Kimberly Newton in response to SGR: No need to be demeaning. Students are my primary focus, I do take vacation, but I’m also entry level which means I do all of the things. Thanks though [includes emoji of someone shrugging]. In the second tweet, SGR responds with: Virtually all of us do all the things. I pull 80 hours a week every week and you’d never catch me saying I’m glad the students are gone. I’m an educator because the students are everything.

IV….um…

Gif of actress Kristen Bell playing Eleanor Shellstrop on The Good Place staring in amazment and saying in all caps "HOLY MOTHER FORKING SHIRT BALLS!"

It is interesting that SGR took a neoliberal pro-capitalist approach to the tweet (and in another), instead of recognizing the humanity of an entry-level pro, she doubled down on how she does all of the things, works 80 hours, and is clearly just a better person. (note: does she count all her time on Twitter as work? 80 hours is v unhealthy, girl).

good person.gif

This song from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” came to mind. Lyrics: “I’m a good person better than you!”

reponse to 80 hrs

In the above tweet, SGR assures that she is not bragging about her hours, but it is my interpretation – and many others – that she did weaponize her ‘work ethic’ in the original tweet to the entry-level pro.

I can see the point about her viewing the original meme as a destructive trope and why she, from her position, may see that. Her entire research and perspective on higher ed creates such a lens that it is logical how she would place that judgement on a meme like this. But again, she (and many other higher-level HE folks) inflated the meme to great importance – the meme (and its defenders) never said SA folks get a summer break or that students are people we need to get away from (in the narrative that she is wrapping – again, it is normal to enjoy time periods with a smaller caseload). They would not listen to other perspectives.

As one SAPro said – it’s a meme, not a minfesto.

manifesto

Finally, she made statements several times that her earlier tweet did not glorify long work hours:

glorify no

new girl-thats not true

V. And then?

Again, Kimberly defended herself from the high-profile researcher. SGR’s response is condescending and rude to the extreme.

sgr next 3.PNG

VI. Are we done yet?

Sadly, no. SGR starts retweeting her followers who also issue critiques of the meme. Then she says something that is so hyperbolic, one must imagine she understands comedic devices:

sgr 4.PNG

A reminder: It is still Kimberly, the entry-level SAPro, who is still connected to all these tweets, but also a few other student affairs folks (mostly entry level, some mid-level, mostly white, diverse along LGBTQ+ and class backgrounds) who have now critiqued SGR’s critique of the defense of the critique (tired yet?).

Amazingly, SGR has connected the college retention problem to a meme and the desire for student affairs professionals (note: she is not a member of that community and holds a higher position in the hierarchy of the Academy) to enjoy a quiet summer. Either this is comedy or I question her research methods.

VII. But the Students!

While SGR kept saying the meme was about shaming students, she could only find one ‘student’ who found it shaming. And to be fair, they were a college administrator who graduated undergrad in 1995 and said “if they were a student” they would have been offended. That did not stop SGR from repeatedly quote-tweeting this person as a student in order to prove her point.

IMG-3965

Somehow an undergraduate student studying history did find their way to the conversation…but SGR dismissed their concern.

IMG-3961IMG-3968 Although, again, no actual students spoke up, SGR continued to force the narrative to say that students did speak up and no one listened. Perhaps she was including herself as a student of the world, for we all never stop learning?

twitter no students spoke up

VIII. The Next “Hot Take”

After multiple critiques from higher education professionals (again, many hold a marginalized identity and are critiquing SGR’s capitalist perspective on higher ed), she then has the audacity to redirect the narrative around how it is the folks critiquing her who are privileged – not the nice cis white woman making a nice salary with national recognition….

sgr5

This is where the narrative starts to turn. Despite multiple student affairs professionals (again, the community in which SGR has inserted herself to tone police their lived experiences) describing the negative impact of her tweets, SGR has positioned herself to be the “Good Person” in this dialogue. Worse, she is taking a systemic issue of political support for higher education and placing the blame on the folks with lesser privilege than most who work on the front lines of colleges each day. And the ultimate insult? Stating that students struggle because entry-level folks are advocating for themselves…many of whom were just recently a struggling student and now work to support struggling students.

math.gif

I tweet at her, because I believe she is coming from a great deal of privilege on the matter.

response to me.PNG

Fun fact, but running a university center  and saying you oversee 11 staff is an administrator role; it is common for some faculty to have dual roles. But identifying as an admin doesn’t fit with the narrative, so she rejected it in two tweets. She also never addressed her privilege or that there are multiple ways of understanding so she should listen.

IX. Changing the Narrative

mute.PNG

By Tuesday night, SGR stopped responding to (most) SAPro critics and posted that she muted folks. Interestingly enough, she posted a quote from Brené Brown “If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

This implies that SGR is the one doing the ‘real work’ and that these entry-level Student Affairs professionals are not. You know, the ones supporting sexual assault survivors living in their residence hall, holding conduct hearings for students who make minor and major mistakes, advisors who connect their students to food pantries, coordinators who help their first-generation students navigate the complexity of the institution. You know, those people.

Towards the end of the ongoing Twitter dialogue on May 30th, SGR attempted to change the narrative even further by…outright lying. Once again, the energy was directed at the newer professional that originally was quote-tweeted by SGR. Carefully read Kimberly’s post…

twitter - kimberly 1 Now see what SGR said when she quoted Kimberly’s tweet…twitter- where did i say snowflakes

If I was the New York Times writing about this like they write about Trump, I’d say something vague like “she said a falsehood”. Since I’m not, I’ll just say: this is an actual lie. Which is very odd and I cannot understand her behavior here, except to make the narrative about mean student affairs professionals who hate nasty little students like our names are Gollum and she’s the White Wizard (but surprise! definitely Saruman).

X. Actually, It’s About Legislators

 

Apparently, the new concern is legislators. What if they see this? *hand-wringing ensues*

chloe response leg

Now, not only is the meme responsible for student retention, but also our own working conditions. See Chloe with the swell response above.

leg 55

I explained in a Twitter thread using my knowledge in this area on how how SGR has really created a strawman argument around legislators and this meme.

XI. Victimization Narrative & Gaslighting Others

We often see this in conversations on social justice topics involving white women – they cry and play the victim (see: When White Women Cry: How White Women’s Tears Oppress People of Color by Dr. Accapadi) as a defensive tactic when someone points out they did something wrong. Although majority of SGR’s critics were white (many SAPros of color stated that they already knew how this would play out; whiteness is predictable), there were still a number of folks of color, especially women of color, and especially Black women who critiqued SGR.

victim

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, as has been painstakingly detailed above…SGR doesn’t believe she shamed anyone. In fact, she is a hero to stand up to such a hurtful meme. These silly SAPros decided to make it about themselves.

Further, she keeps retweeting her supporters (just a few, and all seemed to be faculty with no connection to student affairs) who honestly misrepresent the issue and the student affairs professionals who are frustrated at the tone policing and inability to have their full humanity exist.

mischaracterize

Again, they all play into the narrative that SGR is a wonderful person/expert and truly the victim in this dialogue so she retweets them.

annie responseRepeatedly, SGR played the victim. Her earlier tweets conveyed her sense of superiority as she was rude and insulting to the original entry-level pro she responded to – she demonstrated quite carefully how she believed she cared more.

response to kristen

As @itsmewhiteman and others pointed out, folks were just repeating her previous statements back to her.

victim 500

Again, she maintains the narrative that folks are lying about what she said (when they only repeat her statements) and plays the smallest fiddle in the world that she cannot share her reality…despite not allowing folks with much less privilege than her be able to share their own truths.

Then when someone questioned how/why she does 80 hours of week per week, again she maintained the victim narrative and does not hold the self-awareness to see how she has committed baseless attacks against quite a few folks in the conversation.

baseless attack

Her perception of what took place was very different from almost everyone else. Take note of the words she uses in the next set of tweets: “dragged me”, “mob scene”, she didn’t “hit no one”, and “punching bag”:

cliff notes

didnt hit no onefalse statements

Another example:

wow

This is just one tweet from a very good thread, with great work done by Jennifer to engage SGR and help her understand the difference between intention v. impact. Unfortunately, Sara was unwilling to learn or admit she did wrong. Instead, she once again painted herself the victim of a violent scenario.

Then, when another scholar held SGR accountable on her maintenance of power structures, she acted like she had no idea what was going on. It is a tough leap of logic to believe that SGR missed the repeated statements of folks mentioning they were younger professionals and that she did not make assumptions about profile photos considering she later misgendered someone. But, this ‘playing dumb’ response works to uplift her as a victim and not an instigator:

twitter- younger professionals.jpg

Finally, it all comes back to the original newer Student Affairs professional that SR quote-tweeted at the beginning of this dialogue:

apoligize 5000apologize 66006006

SGR fundamentally doesn’t understand the purpose of the #sachat hashtag, which is community building and drawing attention to interesting or hot topics in student affairs and higher education. To say that Kimberly, who had politely engaged with SGR while the latter was rude, instigated a mob is…well, quite inaccurate.

Finally, Kimberly responds:kim

But SGR did not respond to this.


To continue reading, please see Part 2. The latter half of the essays explores the reactionary tactics to protect white womanhood and how the dialogue went into a downward spiral that included transphobic and racist actions.

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The Breakdown on the Meme that Broke Higher Ed Twitter: Part 2

Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part essay analyzing the contentious debate(?) among higher education professionals (primarily in student affairs) on Twitter, and its greater application to the field. I believe this will serve as a strong case study on the generational differences in higher education professionals, meme culture, and the reactionary techniques utilized to protect white womanhood. Given the intricate and fascinating (to a nerd who enjoys examining how power dynamics in higher ed play out on social media) pieces to this story, I have broken up the essay into two parts. [Part 1] [Part 2]


Table of Contents:

Part 1

  • I. To Meme or Not to Meme
  • II. So…what broke Twitter?
  • III. The issue on the table? (#Hamiltonreferences4ever)
  • IV….um…
  • V. And then?
  • VI. Are we done yet?
  • VII. But the Students!
  • VIII. The Next “Hot Take”
  • IX. Changing the Narrative
  • X. Actually, It’s About Legislators
  • XI. Victimization Narrative & Gaslighting Others

Part 2

  • XII. White Woman Victimhood ramps up
  • XIII. Gaslighting Continues…
  • XIV. Divisive Tactics
  • XV. She Didn’t Shame Anyone!
  • XVI. Ok and this one is just funny
  • XVII. Call Her Khaleesi
  • XVIII. Peak White Feminism: Misgendering and Racism
  • XIX. Fear Mongering of the “Secret Black List”
  • XX. In Conclusion
  • XXI. But what’s next?

XII. White Woman Victimhood ramps up

Sara uses the name of a well-known academic and tv personality who wrote a supportive tweet in her reply below. It is interesting for her to use the name of a Black man in the mentions of a well-known Black woman scholar, even though by this point she has engaged in a racist tactic towards a man in student affairs (more on that below).

IMG-3964

By this point on May 30, SGR has engaged in oppressive acts (racism and transphobia – described later in the article) but believes she is being “dragged” because she is a female scholar.

One could argue that student affairs doesn’t come hard for men who perpetuate oppression…but then just look into the case of a certain Higher Ed Thought Leader who owns a speaking bureau business (that is fronted as a nonprofit) that held accountable multiple times, banned from the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook Group, and taken to task on Twitter. He engaged in racism, sexism, and nastily criticizing a young professional on his podcast. I’d name him, but the word is he has threatened legal action against folks who speak about him and he calls their universities to make false claims about them.

sips tea gif.gif

Anyways…

IMG-3966

It is ironic that Sara brought up Ann Marie Klotz and sees similarities with her, considering what took place (also described later in this essay) in 2016.

XIII. Gaslighting Continues…

Much later into the conversation, SGR tries to argue that her word use of “effective” is different from the perceived meaning of “effective” (how people took it). Kind of like those silly Twix commercials where they go “or like how I’m a ghost and you’re a spirit!” This is called gaslighting, folks.

huh

Which directly contradicts what she said.

victim 5000000

This is understandable. She wants to be able to hold her opinion. That would have been fine…if she hadn’t engaged in the initial rude behavior, and then went wild on elements of racism, classism, and transphobia. A nice attempt at changing the narrative to her victimhood, tho…

BUT YOU DID

But she did attack people!

we could say

…student affairs folks could say the same for you

pushback

But in reality, SGR actually never responded to the substance of my very respectful comments on Tuesday night or many other folks’ respectful comments.

XIV. Divisive Tactics

pitting them against each other

Now we have reached the point where SGR – a cis white woman with class and Academy privilege (and I am quite sure financial privilege compared to the folks she mentions here) – seeks to engage in divisive politics. How dare these SAPros advocate for themselves and their right to enjoy a quiet summer! Meanwhile, look at these other groups who must struggle!

This is classism.

This is union-busting rhetoric.

This is divisive.

Although transformational higher education requires solidarity among all who hold privileged and oppressed identities…SGR would rather be pit groups against each other.

This was probably the most disappointing take. I’m unsure if SGR grew up in poverty like the students she advocates for, but it really doesn’t seem like it here. There’s no community mindset.

XV. She Didn’t Shame Anyone!

she didnt shame

LOL still says no shaming

But…

thor - is it tho

shaming 500

Now she’s saying that folks are lying – she never shamed.

And, uh, I’m not buying on her never shaming staff. Not unless all staff she’s worked with provide some confirmation of only positive experiences. At this point, it seems like the way she treats people would make it…interesting to work for her.

she has no ide

Then she deflects the harm she causes and engages in further  gaslighting – that she never caused harm at all.

When someone specifically addressed her problematic language, she refuted it and blamed how folks perceived the injury to be their own fault:

ahem

no shaming telephone

If that was her way of empathizing with a heavy workload, I imagine she learned how to connect with folks from this guy:

how you do fellow kids

Here’s the thing – she never emphasized with a heavy workload. She actually weaponized her heavy workload as a way to say folks who are looking forward to summer need to be more efficient. And again, if multiple entry-level SAPros say “you’re shaming us” and you keep saying “nope!”, uh…that means you are shaming folks – even if it was not your intent.

XVI. Ok and this one is just funny

cc pros weird tweet

Thanks for jumping in there, Clint.

XVII. Call Her Khaleesi

khaleesi sea of brown people.gif

Khaleesi! (Game of Thrones reference)

Sara began to continuously play into the role of “savior”; not an uncommon approach from white people (see: Teju Cole’s ‘The White-Savior Industrial Complex‘).

proven advocate she is

She’s a proven student advocate, y’all! Unlike all of her mean, nasty critics. To another SAPro she went back on the ‘this is student shaming’ and glorified herself:

savior of SA

Multiple times SGR made statements that SHE is working on behalf of entry-level SAPros and really spun an interesting web of savior mentality.

Perhaps her self-victimization comes from her fans? Many tweeted how brave she was to stand up to a “Twitter mob” (people self-advocating, many from the margins of society) and she retweeted many of them. She even retweeted someone who is saying there were death threats when there were not any made at all, and it was truly egregious to pump up the situation so much:

retweets

Her savior and sanctimonious vibe continued in multiple tweets. Within her “apology” on May 29th, Sara again played up the new narrative that she was empathizing with people, reminds her readers that she is righteous and standing up for students, and that her 20 years of work speaks for itself.

apology 1apology 2

Folks, she is on GOOGLE. Clearly, not someone to disagree with:

twitter - google her.jpg

XVIII. Peak White Feminism: Misgendering and Racism

I identify strongly as a feminist and really prefer to uplift other women…but I am also very dedicated to calling in/out fellow white women when they engage in harmful practices.

I also don’t like it when privileged white women use feminist terms to shoot down ideas they disagree with. It negatively harms women who actually use the terms in sincerity. There were a couple of people who critiqued SGR’s tweets by recounting what she said and she told them to “Stop mansplaining” her (example 1; example 2)

And then…

SGR misgendered someone.

transphobe

It is very clear that she said folks were mansplaining her to anyone who (she thought) presented as male in their profile picture and/or had a “male” name. She did not take a second to check the person’s profile, where their pronouns are listed (they/them). When fairly critiqued on this issue, SGR doubled down on the transphobia with fake news:

cant be wrong

uhh firefly.gif

Uh…

trans 4 For some reason, Sara used a random article from a British newspaper to argue it is not a gendered term…but the article actually confirmed that the term “mansplaining” is a gendered term. She explains that this is what her students say…but many white students I know still believe ‘reverse racism’ is a real thing and I don’t coddle inaccurate use of social terms. Mansplaining has been a gendered term since it was published by Rebecca Solnit in the LA Times article ‘Men Explain Things To Me‘.

twitter- genderAh, clearly SGR is “woke”, as she knows the term “gender non-conforming people”.

transphobe 3

There’s a great thread of folks challenging her ‘definition’ of mansplaining.

The kicker? She kept doubling down and never even responded to the person she misgendered.

asshole

Two days later, Bryan, the person Sara misgendered, added:
twitter -never apologies
These actions are transphobic, Sara. And this is not okay.

Then SGR made a classist, elitist, and ableist statement. (Why ableist? Anytime folks pull those elementary school taunts about people not being able to read, of being dumb, etc – these are part of a greater abelist narrative around intelligence). And, to be fair, if this is how Sara responds to someone with the word “tranz” in their user name…I think it’s fair to say that transphobia could have played a role with her response.

transphobe 2

Then she responded to a Black man working in Student Affairs with this:

twitter-paul porter

Girl.

racist qu.gif

Anytime a white person is in a disagreement with a Black person and tries to compare the situation at hand to racism, when it does not relate at all to racism? This is a racist action. This is not okay. Sara never responded to responses of how her tweet was not comparable and racist.

XIX. Fear Mongering of the “Secret Black List”

This whole situation and issues of white feminism reminded me greatly of Ann Marie Klotz, a senior administrator in student affairs. In November 2016, her blog post tore down a group on facebook and implicitly calling many folks of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and folks with disabilities a dumpster fire (read: ‘The Open Letter to the Open Letter’ to understand more) because they engaged in the profession authentically in a way she did not approve of (i.e., challenging oppression). An anonymous person commented on her blog post (now deleted) something like “well I won’t be hiring any of those people”. AMK did not challenge this statement rooted in racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, or classism. Instead her response said something about how she understood.

Well, the secret black list made another appearance in this following thread:

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Folks repeatedly asked her how she responded to the people who made these threats or if she thought they were okay. She tweeted several times that she said it was not ok…yet that was not in her original tweet or took meaning in any tweet. As @sunnydaejones stated in her response, this threat keeps arising when younger SAPros make critiques, yet those that make these threats are protected. Sara and AMK both would not out these anonymous administrators or take a stand against the unethical statements.

XX. In Conclusion

First, thank you for taking the time to read this essay.

There are a few takeaways from this incident. First, there is a generation gap in terms of online communication use and a difference in attitudes towards summer between student affairs staff and some faculty.  Second, this is a good example of how conversations can devolve on social media. Who knew when Humans of Higher Ed tweeted the summer break gif that it would ultimately result in a senior scholar engaging in oppressive behavior?

Finally, this incident is a good example of white womanhood (anywhere, but especially in academia) works to protect itself, by both the white woman involved and her advocates. Gaslighting, reframing the narrative to suit one’s purpose, self-victimization, and then (as the conversation continued over several days) diving into oppressive tactics to prove her point and make herself appear the victim.

PhD student CJ Venable analyzed SGR’s language and cited ‘Getting slammed: White depictions of race discussions as arenas of violence‘ (DiAngelo & Sensoy, 2012) in regards to SGR’s violent language and self-victimization.

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@TranzWrites contributed to discussion on this being an example of fragile white womanhood.

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I already mentioned at the start of this essay that Sachet Watson, wrote an outstanding critique (click to see the thread), but here are a few key things to understand (click images to view full-size):

To be honest, “The Fragility of White Women Thought Leaders” could be its own essay, comparing what took place from AMK in 2016 and SGR in 2019. It is my hope that readers will critically consider how whiteness shows up in academia, and in academic social media spaces.

XXI. But what’s next?

Do we “cancel” SGR? This is an interesting ethical issue. There are some that say “cancel” culture is too much – that everyone is problematic and we cannot cancel everyone; that everyone grows and learns over time. There are folks who believe that individuals who do good work (artistic or academic) but engage in harmful behavior should still be protected, because we don’t want to lose their contributions to society. SGR is a strong academic who engages in advocacy around important issues. Yet, she still engaged in oppressive acts and refused to take responsibility or apologize. What do you, Gentle Reader, think the next step should be?

As someone who easily could have been one of Sara’s research subjects (very low-income, first generation college student, and food insecure in college), I do find her attitude interesting. In my opinion, the way that she engages with others and weaponizes her reputation and advocacy work to attack others who come from that same background (but are a bit older) demonstrates that she is a good example of folks who do not have the lived experience of the people they are studying. There is a hubris that can easily develop when one is privileged compared to the populations they study. It does appear that serving as an advocate for low-income students has built up a savior mentality for SGR. Gentle Readers, please remember this case study for when you engage in research or advocacy for underrepresented populations.

On the topic of power, privilege, and understanding one’s positionality to others in higher education, it is imperative that individuals holding major privileged identities learn from this case study of what not to do. When someone says “hey, the impact of your statement was harmful”, do consider how you may have been wrong, engage thoughtfully, and apologize. If you misgender someone, for Thor’s sake, apologize. As a white person, don’t compare inane topics to racism when speaking to people of color. Get yourself people who will check you when you mess up and don’t inflate your ego.

And finally, remember that no matter how much “good” you’ve done, social justice isn’t a set of scales administered by Anubis. Your good acts don’t give you a “get out of racist/transphobic/etc jail free card”. We all make mistakes. But what matters is how we own up to them, apologize, learn from it, teach others, and keep moving on to make the world a better place.

And one more thing: Carefully consider this well-timed retweet by SGR. Sounds like good advice for all of us.

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Interrupting Racism at Starbucks: My Talk with a Fellow White Woman

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Well, turns out that visiting Starbucks the day before they close for the racial bias training was kismet. This just happened today:

 

***

I am sitting at a bench with two round tables at a Starbucks within a very white Indiana city that is a suburb of Indianapolis. A white man and woman sit at the other end of the bench. They are perhaps in their 50s? But I have difficulty judging age. They sit down to read. I notice the woman’s iPad wallpaper is a scripture quote.

I turn back to my work – which coincidentally is examining analyzing how white people categorize themselves within a survey I sent out.

It looks like they are getting ready to leave. The man comes back from the counter and tells the woman “They are closing at 2pm tomorrow”.

“What? Why for?” she asks in annoyed tone.

I hear all of this over the riot grrrl playlist I’m listening to on headphones. I take them off, as I am very curious how they will discuss this topic.

“Because of some training,” he responds. “It’s that sensitivity training.” His tone is placid and I cannot determine his opinion of said training.

The woman seems to express further annoyance, both in tone and facial expression. “How are they doing it? Videos?”

The man wasn’t quite sure.

I saw this as a good intervention moment.

My voice is low and soft; my goal is to come across friendly and not aggressive. “I think they are doing it seminar style with each team.” In all honesty, I have no idea how Starbucks will do the training. I just wanted to gently step into the conversation (USA Today does mention how the training will be conducted, if you are curious).

They both kind of go “Oh”.

Then the woman, still seated on the bench just two feet away, turns to me. Her voice takes on a sly, conspiratorial tone, sharing a secret that only I – a fellow white woman – can enjoy and appreciate. “It’s because of that thing that happened with the two men…”

It felt in that moment like she completely expected me to roll my eyes and laugh about the absurdity of it all with her.

I do not.

I quickly nod my head, as if I am misunderstanding her train of thought and share her opinion.

“Yes, I agree. It’s good they are doing a training on racism. There is a lot of it everywhere.” It is a push-back. I do not agree with her. This is usually not what a white person who explicitly or implicitly says something racist hears back in return.

I don’t have time to explain how white supremacy has shaped and continues to shape our country or give her a reference page full of critical race theory academic papers she should google. I would honestly like to see the conversation keep going and to help her interrogate her perspective that it is unnecessary (or worse) for Starbucks to have this bias training and that the men in Baltimore did not experience racism. So I kept my words short and waited.

Flummoxed, she shook her head and began stuffing things into her bag. “I’m not one of the younger generation who sees racism wherever I look,” she scoffed.

Her husband, probably for the better, is silent during this exchange. He’s still standing next to the table and waiting for his partner.

What I want to say is: “I have no idea how old you are, but I am sure you have seen some racism. You just didn’t care enough to pay attention.” But this is a bit more aggressive and people – strangers – don’t usually learn through aggression. It is a totally different story if they are the ones who are being aggressive, however this was not an aggressive situation. My goal as a white person is to be patient as needed when educating other white folks (while continuing my own education and listening to people of color – we all have a lot of collective work to do!).

“Well, you wouldn’t,” I respond. My voice maintains its softness, but there is a strip of steel running through it – I want to grab her attention. She looks at me with uncertainty. “We don’t usually see racism because we don’t experience it,” I continue while glancing down notably at my white arm and then back to her.

My statement bothers her. Her voice heightens just a bit in pitch and speed. “I don’t know what they talk about with that white privilege,” she says with derision. “I’ve never had anything handed to me. I’ve worked hard for everything.” Aggression spills out through the last two sentences, like a plastic bottle of mayonnaise that just got stepped on in a grocery store.

This is a common refrain from white people. Again, I don’t think she will give me the time to give an hour lecture on white privilege – or even time for the knapsack metaphor. I know she will leave soon. I’d rather her not leave without having some more food for thought.

“Yeah,” I say slowly as my wheels turn to find a relatable – and quick – story of how I experience white privilege. “I’m white and I grew up poor. But people definitely treated me better because I’m white than if I wasn’t, like with scholarships.” At my undergraduate institution I was often ‘a face’ for various things for the administration. This certainly privileged me. I was a good example of a poor kid trying to improve her life, but I am absolutely sure that if I wasn’t white I would not have received this same level of recognition.

I add quickly because she is getting up now: “Think about resumes and people with certain names don’t get—”

She cuts me off. Her words are stilted and not full sentences, as if she is at a point in her anger/annoyance/discomfort that she is trying to come up with something. She then says something akin to: “Well then what about women? If we going to talk about this…”

I internally roll my eyes. I am presuming her social class based on dress and devices, but it is a very older conservative middle-class white woman tactic to not care too much about sexism until it is a tool they can pull out of their purse to beat back issues of racism.

“Oh yeah!” I say this almost cheerfully, like ‘yes, that’s right, let’s discuss the interaction of multiple identities’ (note: intersectionality by Dr. Kimberlee Crenshaw gets misused too often, thus this wording).

The woman gives me a confused look. I continue. “Like I experience sexism because I am a woman, but also I experience privilege since I am write.”

She stands up. She has probably had enough of my ‘hippie liberal shit’ at this point (I assume).

I bring out what I hope will be my deus ex machina (a plot device that saves the day) even if previous experience community organizing in Christian churches for social justice has taught me it unfortunately is not.

“It’s what Jesus would want,” I say quietly. I believe this, even as I weave my own spiritual path that comes in contradiction of some religious institutions.

Her eyes narrow and, now standing, she almost looms over me (‘almost’ because she’s roughly five feet). “What did you say?” Venom soaks her voice. Either she heard me and disagrees or truly has no idea what I said.

I continue in a soft, yet not meek, voice. “I believe in getting rid of these issues like racism because that is what Jesus would want.”

An ugliness crosses her face that would (I assume since none can speak for any entity) inspire shame in Jesus. Her pale lips press into a thin line and she stares at me with furrowed brows.

“We have read the Bible back and front. There is nothing like that in there.”

I wish she could hear how she sounds. But her reaction is actually quite a common belief for many white Americans who go to church and read the Bible but are nowhere close to understanding God – not to say I understand God, but I sure know God is explicitly against evil. Racism is an evil.

“Sure there is,” I offer encouragingly. She begins walking away. “Think about the Samaritan story. That is all about race and difference.”

She says nothing more, nor does her husband. They leave Starbucks.

I honestly hope this woman (and her silent partner) think more on my words. If anything, I hope she asks herself the 1998-era saying “What Would Jesus Do (WWJD) and recognize that Jesus would not be down with racism.

***

Why do I share this story?

It’s important for white people to share strategies on how to interrupt racism in everyday life. The fact that this took place at a Starbucks with a stranger due to Starbucks closing to do racial bias training? It was a timely reminder that these conversations can happen anywhere and at anytime – so let’s make the most of these opportunities when we can.

I hope my example can help others find the words and actions they can use to interrupt racism (and other acts of systemic oppression) within their own lives. However, I don’t hold up this example as perfection. I am imperfect and I do wonder if there are other speaking points or actions I could have taken; I certainly need better examples of white privilege that are brief to explain. But if this can help motivate other white people to jump into conversations, push back, and to educate – then awesome.

We, as white people, lose very little in confronting racism, especially compared to indigenous people/people of color  whose very lives can be at risk. But we also live in a world of ‘nice-ness’ where society teaches us not to confront people, especially strangers or elders, and to work towards harmony. Harmony only protects racists, so interrupting racism is important.

Starbucks, I’m glad you’re doing a bias training tomorrow. If anything, it provided an opportunity for at least one conversation on racism and white privilege to occur.

***

Feel free to leave a comment sharing your thoughts or send me a tweet at @NikiMessmore.

 

 

Inclusivity in December: Action Steps for Higher Ed (and beyond)

 

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Image Caption: Meet Winston Schmidt, a Jewish character from the comedy “New Girl”. Image Description: Schmidt says “I don’t celebrate Christmas, okay? Or as I like to call it, White Anglo Saxon Winter Privilege Night.”

♪Tis the season to perpetuate oppression ♪

♩ Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!♩

You may be thinking, “silly blog writer forgot the words to ‘Deck the Halls’, but trust me – my lyrics accurately sum up the December experience for many folks.

As an educator, I write this to speak to other educators (particularly those in higher education), but my words should hold true to most environments.

December is a magical time for many, be it the celebration of the holidays or just a winter break from school. However, many staff and faculty members – as well as the institution itself – often (un)intentionally harm students by their cultural/religious emphasis on Christmas

Who are the students who may be harmed by the campuses that normalize the Christmas holiday and don’t make space for others?

  • Any student who is not Christian/doesn’t celebrate Christmas. In particular, our Jewish and Muslim students, who represent the two major world religions that are practiced in the U.S. after Christianity, experience disregard for their own major holidays yet have to experience Christian hegemony. Indeed, this has been a tough year for these groups, given the rise of White Supremacy/Nazi movements that are pro ‘Christian’ (which couldn’t be furthest from the truth and anyone worshiping a middle eastern Jewish man that loved foreigners and the poor should get His name out of their mouth when they act like this) and is decidedly anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-People of Color, and, well, basically most folks), the “Muslim Ban” of the Trump Administration that the Supreme Court just allowed this week to take effect. Additionally, our students who are pushed even farther to the margins for their religious beliefs because they are not of the Abrahamic faiths (Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Pagans, and more), must also experience a country that prizes only one religion on a societal/institutional level. Then there are even students who do fall under the umbrella of Christianity but may not celebrate Christmas, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    • Related: Consider your international students, especially, who may come from countries where there is a different majority religion. How may they experience the month of December at your institution?
    • There are many December holidays other than Christmas! Some of these may rotate throughout the year based on moon cycles, but Princeton University has a pretty good comprehensive list for this academic year.
  • Any student who is Atheist or Agnostic. According to Pew’s Religious Landscape Study, 22.8% of Americans are unaffiliated in regards to religion – 3.1% identify as atheist, 4% as agnostic, and 15.8% don’t believe in anything in particular. If you visit their page and scroll down, you can click on your state to view a breakdown of religious beliefs to better understand the religious make-up of your institution.
  • Any student who doesn’t experience the societal standard for Christmas.  Society, through media, education, politics, and the local community, tell us that everyone who does celebrate Christmas, does so like they’re in a 1950s Norman Rockwell painting. There’s a happy dad, happy mom, couple kids, a dog, a nice middle-class home, piles of presents, and a giant ham/turkey for dinner. Ummmm, yeah. We need to remember:
    • Not all students have two parents. Students who have lost a parent (or both) or never grew up with parents (instead maybe other caregivers or relatives) don’t fit into society’s Christmas family. In fact, it can be very difficult, speaking as someone whose dad died in August 2013, to deal with holidays.
    • Not all students have money to buy or receive presents. There are some families experiencing poverty who may get charity help to give presents to children and teenage children, but once a child turns 18 they are “cut off” and don’t count. Maybe there is a savings for presents, but the fridge breaks. Families may just give a couple presents, but not that bucketful that other privilege folks get and definitely nothing fancy like a new electronic.
    • Not all families are happy. There is drug and alcohol addiction, abuse, illegal activity, and more that students may have to experience when they go home – if they choose to go home. Personally, as a college student I limited the time I spent home during winter break to protect my own metal health.
    • Not all students can go home to their families. Not all students may have a family – maybe their families have passed away or weren’t there to begin with. Remember that some LGBTQ+ folks may have cut off ties (or someone cut them off) from their family or going home just isn’t safe – see this great 2016 The Root article for more on this. Tied into the item above, there are many reasons why it may be unsafe for a student to return home.
  • Any student who has strict Christian beliefs. Surprisingly, it is rare for people to understand that Christmas celebrations have their roots in pagan traditions of Europe. The Roman Christians were cunning. In order to convert the pagans (a general term; depending on the region folks worshiped different deities in various pantheons) they incorporated pagan celebrations into Christian traditions. This maneuver successfully converted people to Christianity (well, that alongside other good and not-so-good tactics). Therefore, there are many Christians who strictly believe that engaging in societal traditions is an affront to God.

Questions to Reconsider Asking (especially if you barely know the person):

  • What are you doing for Christmas? Or: What are you doing for the holidays? 
    • Instead: “What are you doing over winter break?”
  • What did you get for Christmas?
    • Instead: Just don’t. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and even so, not everyone may get presents. We can’t all be Dudley.
  • Are you going home for the holidays?
    • Instead: “What are you doing over winter break?” YUP, that’s the first recommendation on this list to say. But remember, not all people can go home or want to go home or even have a home – if you don’t know someone’s story, don’t ask this. When you ask this question, you can make the other person feel shame for not fitting into a societal standard for what a good person does.
  • Did you have a good holiday?
    • SUCH A LOADED QUESTION. Let’s say folks do celebrate a holiday and you know they do. You should still refrain from conditioning the quality of their holiday in terms of “good” which means if it is not good, it is bad. There’s huge pressure that gets placed on folks who don’t experience a white picket fence holiday situation.
    • Instead: “How was your holiday?” This is better, because it is more open to interpretation.

Things to Stop Doing (especially at a public institution):

  • Putting Christmas trees in your office, or tinsel, ornaments, mangers, etc. Your office (yours or the department’s) represents you and it informs students who you are. Are you someone who just cares about people celebrating Christmas? How you decorate let’s students know if they are someone you can trust. And yes, there are many folks who don’t celebrate Christmas that enjoy the festive decorations of the holiday. So feel free to use context based on who you are working with and students who are in your office.
  • Christmas gift exchanges. LOTS of folks like gifts regardless of religious beliefs, so if you want to do this, consider taking out the religious aspects (“secret Santa”, “Christmas Exchange”) because yay prezzies.
  • Forcing staff to take paid time off during the holidays. It is one thing if your institution gives full-time staff a full week or multiple weeks off because the university is closed during winter break. It is another thing to encourage – or even bully – staff to use their vacation days the same day as everyone else because maybe the office is formally closed or the staff’s supervisor won’t be there to watch them. If you expect your staff to not work during the holidays, you cannot make them use their vacation days. It is actually illegal to do this if the person is exempt status – see Ask A Manager.

Things to Start Doing:

  • Recognize other religious beliefs throughout the year. If you are going to go hard on Christmas, Ramadan (Islam) lasts a full month so you have more than enough time to recognize this major holiday that commemorates the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad and a time period of seeking God (Time Magazine has a good article with different perspectives).
  • Learn about other other beliefs, as well as the differences within atheism and agnosticism. 
  • Approve time-off for student workers and full-time employees who want time off to recognize their own religious holidays. Don’t make them feel like a burden for taking time off, when (if you celebrate Christmas) your main holiday is recognized by the federal government as a paid day off.

In conclusion:

Please be conscious that not everyone lives in a Norman Rockwell painting. This is a time of year that can be very difficult for people due to a number of different reasons, or even just mildly uncomfortable. If everyone you work with and all your students practice Christmas (and you’ve asked), that makes a difference in how you talk and decorate. But if you are not sure and you have not asked your co-workers and students, be considerate.

If you have other recommendations for inclusion, feel free to write in a comment or tweet me: @NikiMessmore

The Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault (ICESA) and Their Interpretation of “Feminism”

Or: Repeating History: “Feminist” PhDs & Activists Silence Women They Are “Saving”

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Me, to them, in regards to the words “feminism” and “pornography”

I am troubled to feel the urge to address the recent actions of the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault (ICESA) when their mission and work is urgently needed in Indiana. The state’s statistics indicate that the rape of high school girls is second highest in the nation and that only 18% reported their rape (WFYI), Indiana has inadequate laws and policies to support survivors (RTV6), in 2015 at least 70,000 rape kits weren’t tested (IndyStar), across our country there are 321,500 people raped or sexually assaulted every year (RAINN), and since the #MeToo viral campaign last week it is likely folks are more aware than ever of how many people they know have experienced rape, assault, and/or harassment (The Root).

Regardless of their good work, we must discuss the organization’s frankly disturbing take on what it means “to use a feminist lens”.

For those unaware, ICESA is hosting a 2-day free training this week titled “The Harms of Pornography: A Feminist Framework”. Hosted in downtown Indianapolis, ICESA says “Join us to learn about the harms of pornography through a feminist lens this coming October!” and the link describes the sessions and speakers, including “a panel discussion featuring feminist scholars and experts” consisting of Dr. Rebecca S Whisnant (University of Dayton, professor – Philosophy), Dr. Robert Jensen (University of Texas, professor –  Journalism)*, and Lisa Thompson (National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Vice President – Education and Outreach; this panelist operates from a Christian morality framework as does the organization so it is an…interesting addition).

*Edit 10/23/17: A bit of research on Robert Jensen reveals he engages in transphobic actions and listed alongside other academic TERFs. His inclusion to this event is even more insulting now.

Local feminist activists are angry about this event. As posted on Facebook, a protest against the training is taking place on Tuesday from 12-2pm at 450 Ohio Street outside the event. In the evening, a panel discussion featuring actual sex workers representing We Are Dancers USA (instead of people who just research sex workers) will speak on “Rights Not Rescue – Resisting A Single Narrative” at Butler University from 5:30pm-7:30pm, sponsored by Global & Historical Studies and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. These events are being organized by Cassandra Avenatti on behalf of Queering Indy and Dr. Beloso (Butler University – Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies)

What happened next is what led me to write this blog post, because I am sure some of my fellow higher education professionals plan to attend this training and they deserve a fuller picture of this social issue.

Dr. Mahri Irvine (Anthropology background + Adjunct Professorial Lecturer, Critical Race, Gender and Culture Studies Collaborative –  American University) is the Director of Campus Initiatives at ICESA and has done a lot of research within the IU system (my alma mater). She also wrote the most condescending letter titled “ICESA Statement in Response to Harms of Pornography Protest October 2017” that immediately made me wonder if she/ICESA knew what feminist theory was (as the event says it is from a feminist lens) and question how someone teaching in a critical studies department could write something so insulting. Everyone makes mistakes when they are doing justice work, and I just hope Dr. Irvine and ICESA recognize their mistakes here.

So what did ICESA do so wrong? Let’s start with the event itself:

  • Pornography is a nuanced topic that ICESA decided to steamroll with a machine built out of Indiana puritanical morality.
  • “I don’t think that word means what you think it means” as Inigo Montoya (Princess Bride) would tell them. Pornography is a V A S T industry. There is a lot wrong with it(!), but also there is a lot wrong with every industry (tell me why I work in a field that is predominantly women but men hold the majority of leadership positions and myself and women I know experience sexism at work?). Also, did y’all know that there are multiple branches of pornography, including feminist pornography (porn done by women creative teams for women viewers)?
  • What feminist lens are is ICESA using? One from 1953? Your program is designed in such a way that I do not see any resemblance to contemporary feminist theory and activism.
  • The National Center on Sexual Exploitation was invited to speak on the panel. This is the same organization founded by Christian leaders and originally named “Morality in Media”. The literal top victories on their website include: “Stopping a bill in New Hampshire that would have fully decriminalized prostitution” (which only HARMS sex workers, please do the research), “Ending the sale of pornography at U.S. Army and Air Force exchanges” (“please put your life on the line, but making sure you don’t have porn is so important we need to spend resources on this lobbying”), “Marsh supermarkets removal of Cosmopolitan from checkout lanes in its more than 80 stores” (EYEROLL), “Resolutions declaring pornography a public health crisis passed in four states” (again, what a waste of resources). While I see they are doing some good (on sex trafficking and child sexual abuse), this puritanical organization gets a seat at the table and actual sex workers do not?!
  • Speaking of…the disability rights movement created “nothing about us without us” and it aptly fits many underrepresented and marginalized communities. ICESA thinks PhDs know more about sex work than actual sex workers. Folks, if you want to ally right – you need to let folks personally experiencing the issue lead the conversation. Currently, you’re garbed in a dingy white cape of savior mentality and it is not a good look.

‘But, Niki’, you may say, ‘ pornography IS bad’! Again, the conversation is nuanced.

  • The porn industry is so complex and there are many negative societal effects. But it is clear that not ALL porn is bad and honestly? ICESA is using a heteronormative lens by neglecting the differences with [queer-produced] LGBTQ+ porn + neglecting to discuss porn not featuring a cis woman and cis man and engaging in sexism by not realizing/ignoring that not all porn is made by and for cis men.
  • Read this to start off with (sorry, readers with PhDs, you’ll have to get a gist of how some porn can be feminist with an online article like us peasants) an article by Everyday Feminism titled “What does Feminist Porn Look Like”.
  • Umm, queer woman-centered porn produced by queer femmes exists! Literally, I found this in my first Google search and its listed in the article above.
    • Check out Crash Pad Series. Description: CrashPadSeries is based on the 2005 feminist porn award-winning ‘best dyke sex film’ The Crash Pad about a clandestine San Francisco apartment where lucky queers share its key to rendezvous for wild sex. Adult filmmaker Shine Louise Houston brings to the web her unique cinematic direction, hailed for its honest depiction of female and queer sexuality. It can be hard to describe this site, since what you’ll see here may vary. Our queer porn casts ‘real life’ couples who identify as dykes and lesbians, femme, masculine of center (boi, stud, tomboy, AG, and butch) and can be cis or trans women, trans men, people of color, people of size, older queers, and people with disabilities (including neurodivergent). Performers choose what they want to do on camera, so it’s common to see things like safer sex, role-play with onscreen check-ins and communication, strap-ons, kink and BDSM, orgasms and aftercare”
  • Did you know the Feminist Porn Awards exists? The co-creator Chanelle Gallant wrote a HuffPo piece this year that explains the history of the awards, the criteria of what is “feminist” porn, and what they got wrong by missing the chance to include fair labor issues for women in the field.
  • Read a pro/con of why porn is/is not feminist by Ms. Magazine to gain different perspectives.
  • Sex work (a term that covers the broad expanse of work involving sex and sexual activities) in general is actually seen (I have met folks and I have read articles) as empowering for some people or at the very least just another job like any other. Due to systemic racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, and classism, certain populations of people have difficulty obtaining a job and/or a job that pays a living wage. Sex work is sometimes a work that is chosen. Unless your critique of porn is also addressing these ‘isms and capitalism, then it feels more like moral policing than a desire to help make this world better.

Now we must review the “ICESA Statement in Response to Harms of Pornography Protest October 2017” to better understand their mentality.

Here’s where, to me, it jumps out as condescending, demeaning, and just rather ignorant.

  • Paragraph 1, line 1: “It has recently come to our attention that a group of pro-pornography/pro-prostitution activists..” – huh what now? If you are using a feminist lens – especially a CRITICAL feminist lens, drop this ‘prostitution’ business. It’s called ‘sex work’. The year is 2017. It was this word that leapt out at me and, to me personally, discredited the organization and people associated with it. If you propose that this two-day training is using a feminist lens but you can’t keep up with feminist terminology that respects the people personally experiencing the issue? Then I don’t think you are the right folks to lead this conversation. At all.
  • I know Indiana gets the trends later than the coasts, but “sex work” has been used by the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) for years and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) all use “sex work” as well.
  • As Australian sex worker and Political Science PhD student Elena Jeffreys says “”The term ‘sex work’ has been and is an important tool for sex worker movement solidarity building. When used as an umbrella term, ‘sex work’ is useful to ensure inclusivity in organising, policy and service delivery endeavours. The way in which the sex worker movement has adopted – and continues to fight for appropriate terminology educates the world that sex work is work. The term also unites all sex workers, by definition, under a common banner. The term ‘sex work’, and the history of the term, has a huge impact on the way the sex worker movement fights today.” (see more of her research here; definitely read “Sex Worker Politics and the Term “Sex Work” because all of us who are not sex workers need to understand that sex workers have been writing and advocating about/for themselves for decades+!)
  • Paragraph 2: “…pornography industry is inherently exploitative…” Please go read all the resources above and also talk to women and genderqueer/trans/non-binary people who work in the industry.
  • Paragraph 2: “…We recognize that some individual people, including women, financially benefit from this industry and therefore, they may believe that they have been empowered by it. However, the financial empowerment of a few individuals is not enough of a reason for us to support an industry that intentionally promotes violence and misogyny” This is so incredibly condescending and ICESA is truly out of their element here (see: all my previous points). Also, please realize that this exact same thing about EVERY FIELD that exists because our culture is inherently violent and misogynist.
  • Paragraph 3: “We are also excited that some students will be attending this event, because this training will give them a chance to learn from a variety of experts who have spent extensive amounts of time studying the negative social and health impacts of pornography.” The mistake is you are bringing folks with all the same mindset to teach students. There is not diversity of thought, just your ‘all porn bad’ agenda.
  • Paragraph 4: “In addition to academic research on this topic, we have heard from colleagues as well as friends that porn has an extremely detrimental impact on intimate relationships.” I cannot take researchers seriously when they tell me their friends agree with them (how does one cite this in APA?). It sounds necessary to expand one’s circle of friends to encourage critical thought on complex matters. I am happy to make new friends, and love coffee meet-ups.
  • Paragraph 4: “For example, many women and teen girls feel obligated to act out scenes from porn in order to please their male partners, or they feel pressured to watch porn with their male partners as a “normal” part of their relationships. Clearly, these are situations of sexual coercion and violence, because no one should be forced to engage in sexual activities when they have not given genuine consent.” First, please cite this. I am unsure how many women feel obligated to act our scenes from porn. Also, unless their partner is actually coercing them to do sex acts from porn, this is not an example of sexual coercion or violence. There is a difference between someone feeling obligated (internal push) to act out something on tv, compared to someone asking/demanding/begging (external push) to do so. This viewpoint is quite inaccurate, will confuse folks who are still trying to understand concepts around coercion, and are not fitting for ICESA.
  • Paragraph 4: “…pornography has become such a normalized part of life that many women and teen girls feel pressured to engage with porn or behaviors that have been promoted in porn (like anal sex)…” Okay, so this is what we call kink shaming. And trust me, people would know about anal sex even if porn didn’t exist. I have a wide online network of women from many diverse backgrounds and one started a facebook post on the topic of anal sex – surprise! Many women actually wanted to/or did and enjoyed anal sex with their male partners.
  • Paragraph 4: “The ICESA team is extremely proud that our agency has decided to address such a “controversial” topic, because it would have been much easier for us, as an agency, to stay quiet about this issue and avoid any potential conflicts with people who disagree with us.” If ICESA were to host an event on this topic and invite guests from multiple backgrounds (academics and sex workers) with multiple perspectives, then that would be something to be proud of. Instead, ICESA is actually avoiding conflicts with people who disagree with them by not inviting them to have a voice at the table.
  • Paragraph 6: “If a protest will be held, hopefully it will not distract our attendees from the educational goals of our event.” *cringes* Actually, wouldn’t it be better to engage with the protestors and, ya know, actually have a dialogue? Wouldn’t that be a great educational goal?
  • Paragraph 7: “We welcome pro-porn industry activists at our training” No you don’t. Otherwise your language and descriptors for these activists would be much more respectful.
  • Paragraph 7: “Hopefully some of them will decide to attend so that we are all operating from the same evidence-based research when we engage in conversations with one another.” But literally someone working at a Christian-centered organization (NCSE) without an academic research background is at this panel but actual sex workers are not! And you are only sourcing from one area of academic opinion and not others. So how evidence-based is this? And more so, this sentence is just so arrogant. ICESA presumes they are operating from the best form and hope to have their critics tag along and learn, rather than them learning from their critics in mutual cooperation and community work.
  • Paragraph 7: “…so that we can ensure a safe learning environment.” But safe for who? The ideas that will be thrown around at the training may actually harm sex workers.

The bottom line is: Just because a person has a PhD doesn’t mean they are not ignorant. One can research all they like on a topic, but if they do not have the personal experience (and also do not have personal relationships with those who have those lived experiences since every experience with a social issue is different), then they will never be a true authority. And that is okay. None of us can be true authorities on every single aspect of life. That is why it is imperative to work in solidarity with individuals who personally experience the social issue and allow them to lead the conversation.

I will say, I do appreciate when the open letter says “ICESA is committed to preventing sexual violence and making Indiana a safer place, which means that we have decided to facilitate difficult conversations about the role that porn plays in sexual violence” in the fourth paragraph – we need to have these conversations. I, and many others, just extensively disagree with your framework.

In summary, this event is not feminist and its framing of pornography is incomplete. I hope folks go to protest and I hope folks at the event have dialogue with the protestors. I hope ICESA will think deeply and critically on their framework and their words in the statement, and I hope they apologize to sex workers for how this has been handled. But most importantly, I hope ICESA understands where they went wrong, learn from this, incorporate what they learned into their practice, and keep continuing to do important work in Indiana. We need it.

And one more thing – if you really care about sex workers and want them to not be exploited, support advocacy work for fair labor conditions. Check out this rad guide: “No justice, no piece! A working girl’s guide to labor organizing in the sex industry

Comics for Social Justice Nerds: Reviewing “Moonstruck”

Note: This new blog series #ComicsForSocialJusticeNerds will highlight comics that are different from your standard White Male Superhero – in relation to the comic itself and the creative team behind the scenes. Many of my blog readers tend to work in student affairs & higher education, so if you are into social justice and media representation (and I hope you are!), then I hope you appreciate this new series (also I just want more colleagues nerding out with me!). If you are not working in higher education, but just like comics – this is for you as well! This is the 2nd post in the series; read the first post reviewing Hi-Fi Fight Club here.


The cover of Moonstruck struck me right in my feels.

I mean, a fat lead female character? Two black cats? A centaur? And coffee??!!

Instantly I bought issue 1 a few months ago and now I just completed issue three. I figured it’s time to let you in a secret to those of you not in the know: YOU NEED TO READ MOONSTRUCK.

Moonstruck_01-1

The cover for issue 1

Published by Image Comics, Moonstruck is the rainbow baby of co-creators Grace Ellis (She/Hers; well-known for her work on Lumberjanes as co-creator and co-writer, and now the writer for Moonstruck) and Shae Beagle (They/Them; Comic artist). It all came from their class project at Columbus College of Art & Design (in Columbus, OHIO aka my home state aka a city I’ve been too aka it’s like Ellis, Beagle, & I are practically BFFs, right?). As told to Entertainment Weekly, their professor Laurenn McCubbin (She/Hers) thought the story had potential and she helped pitch the project to Image (side note: she was once the Art Director for Image and has such an awesome list of work!). Talk about an amazing college class!

The first page of Moonstruck’s issue one is whimsical as you quickly realize this story will include a love of cats, coffee, and centaurs. Our Puerto Rican queer, fat*, heroine Julie works at the Black Cat coffee shop alongside her friend Chet, who is a non-binary centaur that brings joy into every panel that features them (*note: I am all about that body positivity and fat is a descriptor and not a moral issue. In fact, I am SO HAPPY to see a fat female lead character in a comic!).

Quickly the reader understands they are in a fantastical world as a panel shows a coffee shop full of decidedly supernatural-esque folks. Soon we learn that Julie has her a secret (and one she especially wants to hide from the world) – you may even say she has a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)” to keep this a secret (heehee). She’s dating the self-assured and beautiful Selena; every scene they are together is SUPER CUTE and will make you squee. And of course, there is a prophecy, a villain, and a magical mystery they must uncover…

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Look how cute Julie & Selena are!

I just love this creative team. Writer Grace Ellis loves her puns, and one of the best lines in issue one is Chet’s corny pun followed by “My gender identity is terrible puns.” Artist Shae Beagle’s illustrations have a soft and dreamy touch that makes it simple to fall into this different world. Every issue they bring in a guest artist to draw panels from the book Julie is reading ‘Pleasant Mountain Sisters’, starting off with the well-known Kate Leth in issue one! Online, Leth speaks a lot about her feminism and bisexual identity, so this paired with her adorable and vivid illustrations is a perfect fit (note: Her “Patsy Walker AKA  Hellcat)” was one of my fav comics of last year).

  • AND every issue includes extra content at the end, like an interview with a comics professional that the creators love! Issue one is Nilah Magruder, a writer & illustrator of the webcomic MFK and the first Black woman to write for Marvel comics! Issue two features Brittany Williams (illustrator, Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat) and issue three features MariNaomi (cartoonist and creator of the databases Cartoonists of Color and Queer Cartoonists)

If I care about social justice, why should I read this comic?

  • The comic industry is still dominated by men, so a creative team only one cis man (my favorite letterer Clayton Cowles) is amazing! Discussed in their Twitter & Tumblr pages plus Rogue’s Portal, Writer Grace Ellis identities as a lesbian and Artist Shae Beagle identifies as non-binary.
  • In case you missed that, this comic is being drawn by a non-binary artist AND one of the main characters is non-binary. THIS IS IMPORTANT. #representation
  • Queer creators writing queer characters is so important (again)! As artist Shae Beagle said to Entertainment Weekly, “Well, I think it’s important to have these stories that involve queer characters by queer creators that are not, at their core, a coming-out story. These characters are comfortable in their identities and have a life outside of that. I really enjoy that kind of story, and it’s great that we’re expanding on that and putting it out there.”
    • Editor/Designer Laura McCubbin added “I wholeheartedly agree. It’s so important that there are other ways to experience queer characters that aren’t about trauma, that aren’t about the worst moment of a queer person’s life. That’s the only way audiences ever experience queer characters. The idea that we have to hear over and over about coming-out stories or getting beat up is silly. There are other aspects of queer characters’ lives, like just going to a café.”
    • Writer Grace Ellis added “I just want to add that this is the kind of book that I want to read, if I were not also writing it. It’s nice to have something that’s sincere and warm added to the LGBTQ canon.” She also told Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls website “I just want this book to be a place that a queer person can go to and know that their sexuality is not going to be under attack”.
  • What I’m saying is: It’s awesome to have a comic that has queer, fat, non-binary, and people of color characters doing rad things in a visionary world! And it’s not just that these comics have diverse characters, but that they are drawn and written so damn well!
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Plus this moment in issue 3 is a great example of the social justice themes. Chet is great!

Overall, get this comic today! It makes me feel lots of feels + Ellis & Beagle have created a fun supernatural world. Pick up issues 1-3 now and issue four will be out November 1st!  New to reading comics and maybe, as someone who has a marginalized identity (or multiple), you are looking for a welcoming store? The Tumblr page ‘Hate Free Wednesdays’ (because new comics drop on Wednesdays) has a master list + you can submit your own. If there are no stores near you, order on Image, Comixology, or one of the many other sites.

Also, buy issue 0 for $_(whatever you want) online – all proceeds will support Puerto Rican hurricane relief (since the main character is Puerto Rican) and you can read the initial story for Moonstruck!

Follow the creative team on Twitter!

Review Round-up!

Notes: All images are property of the creators and Image.

 

Comics for Social Justice Nerds: Reviewing “Hi-Fi Fight Club”

Note: This new blog series #ComicsForSocialJusticeNerds will highlight comics that are different from your standard White Male Superhero – in relation to the comic itself and the creative team behind the scenes. Many of my blog readers tend to work in student affairs & higher education, so if you are into social justice and media representation (and I hope you are!), then I hope you appreciate this new series (also I just want more colleagues nerding out with me!). If you are not working in higher education, but just like comics – this is for you as well!


Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’d love to see a burgeoning young queer female romance + teenage women kicking butt, all within the main setting of a record store”?

Well, you won’t believe it, but the world has been given this gift!

Award-winning director, writer, and producer Carly Usdin serves as the creator and writer of “Hi-Fi Fight Club”. The book artist is Nina Vakueva (look up her webcomic: Lilith’s Word). The other members of the creative team are Irenes Flores (inks), Rebecca Nalty (colors), and Jim Campbell (letters).

Today my partner said “Find a new comic” so I scanned the shelves at my favorite local comic shop (Hero House, Indianapolis) and saw a cover featuring four badass-looking young women. The art was fantastic – artist Vakueva puts a lot of personality into her subjects and it has a bit of a manga vibe (and I don’t even like manga). AND, I figured any comic with ‘strong female types’ and from Boom! Studios (one of my preferred comic publishers) would probably be good.

It was better than good.

I was sucked into it by page 2, where our anxious and high-energy heroine Chris stumbles into the arms of Maggie aka “literally the cutest”, on the way to the record store where they both work. The moment was adorkable and there are not enough queer women romance stories in the media (especially where the “Bury Your Gays” trope doesn’t happen).

Hi-Fi Fight Club panel 1

SQUEE. The moment that sucked me in.

 

Instantly, as the reader, you feel thrust back into your teenager past as Chris navigates her workplace in 1998 New Jersey. There’s her crush Maggie (who may like girls and may even like Chris), the goth Dolores who has a chip on her shoulder when it comes to Chris, cool girl Kennedy who knows everything about music, and their 24-year old boss Irene. The blend of dread (does my crush like me or not?), hope (they did x and I think that means yes!), and overall uncertainty about one’s future is brought to life by Chris and it’s easy enough to find a kindred spirit in this illustrated 17-year old character. The creative team does a brilliant job in making these characters feel real.

Of course, something strange is happening. Chris isn’t sure why she is not allowed to work after hours with the rest of the girls or why Maggie has strange injuries on her hands. When the lead singer of Chris’ favorite band goes missing before the concert, boss lady Irene brings Chris into the fold.

Her co-workers are actually a “secret teen girl vigilante fight club”! It’s amazing.

If I care about social justice, why should I give this comic a chance?

  • The creative team (except for lettering) is all women.
  • The writer and creator Carly Usdin is a queer woman. In an interview with Autostraddle (August 8, 2017), when asked “ How gay is this comic gonna be?”, Usdin said “Like, really gay. I’d say extremely feminist and very gay. And CUTE!”
  • The main character is Chris, a queer tomboy 17-year old trying to find her way in the world
    • Ergo, it is totally awesome to have someone with an underrepresented identity writing that identity into comic reality!
  • Seeing the blossoming maybe romance between Chris and Maggie will make you SQUEE. There are multiple cute moments.
  • All the central characters presented so far are women.
  • There is not enough racial diversity in comics, so it was good to see that the “impossibly cool” 18-year old Kennedy is a Black woman with braids and a nose ring amid a cast of White women. She’s in a happy relationship with her White boyfriend Logan who works at the comic book store. We’ll see how this area of representation goes – as I know there needs to be more Black women characters in comics but one must be cautious when there are not Black women serving as the writer or artist. In general, I also wish there were more Black women characters serving as the main character in comics and not just as supporting characters. It is important, however, that White writers do incorporate characters of colors since more White writers get published in comics – so this is overall good.
    • One area of concern: I did wince at seeing Kennedy punch her boyfriend (a bit playfully?) on the arm when he teased her, leading him to say “Ow! Honey, you know when you do that I’m bruised for like a week.” Society does often play up Black women as angry and Black folks in general as violent, so even though I think this is supposed to be funny and reveal a clue as to how strong Kennedy is (because she is in a secret vigilante fight club), I think it should have been done with a different character. At least Logan admires her strength and badass-ness, since in issue 2 we learned that he fell for her when Kennedy broke up a fight between two men fighting at the comic store. Overall, I look forward to getting to know Kennedy’s character further in the series.
  • Favorite quote so far: “Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is…fighting the patriarchy is great, you should try it sometime” (Maggie, issue 2)
IMG_6712-yes

#goals My favorite quote, found in issue 2.

Overall, I fell hard for this comic and read the first two issues immediately. Issue 3 comes out on October 25th so pick up a copy at your local shop! For indie comics, it is important to buy single issues as they come out to show support and not wait for the paperback trade. So please head to your local comic shop (call ahead to make sure they order it/have it!) or order online from its publisher Boom! Studios, nd or buy them online on Comixology (owned by Amazon) read as a PDF. Currently this is just a 4-issue arc, so it’s not like you’ll need to buy a bunch of comics to get caught up!

Also – I REALLY hope that while reports say this is a 4-issue arc, that Hi-Fi Fight Club continues onward!

Related Reviews of this Series:

Notes: All images are property of the creators and Boom! Studios.

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.