Student Affairs

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:

fear mongering 1

white womanhood.PNG

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.

CJ tweet.jpg

@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.

twitter - her tweet is great.jpg

10 Ways You Know You’re Following a Higher Ed “Thought Leader”

Thought Leaders(™) are the glorious saviors of higher education. With their keen thinky-thoughts, we can transcend the mere mediocrity of our field. All hail the Thought Leaders of Higher Education!hahahaha good one.gif

For those who cannot read intent online, that was sarcasm 🙂

Now, within #sachat and other spaces, recently folks like to make fun of the concept of a “thought leader”. I was inspired to write this fun post after yet another desperate and insipid post by a “higher ed thought leader” (lol).

What is a “thought leader”? Well, Wikipedia defined it as “A thought leader is an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.” Given the absurdity to which folks throw around the term, I thought something as basic as Wikipedia was just fine enough to cite.

How do I define it? Anyone with an ego and desire for attention that writes “thought leader” in their Twitter bio.

Onto the main event…

10 ways you know you’re following a

“higher ed thought leader”!

 

1. Well, it’s pretty easy, actually. They tell you they are a thought leader.

futurama - yay attention to me

(I could probably end the list here, but that seemed anti-climatic)

 

2. They tend to be long-winded and tweet a lot.

spn - cas - tell me

 

3. Sometimes they will reply to your tweets just to raise their own profile (and will use 2-5 hashtags just to make sure people see it)  – amazingly, this will sometimes happen even after they have blocked you for calling them out for their problematic behavior, but then unblock you because…they need attention, I guess? (this has happened to many millennial SApros…it is SO weird, y’all)

nicki minaj speaking

 

4.When you ask who their inspiration is, the honest answer is themselves.

mindy project - role model

 

5. They will use every student affairs/higher education hashtag that exists in each tweet.

doctor who - hashtags

 

6. They have the confidence of a unicorn (and sometimes the charisma of one). When someone calls them out for problematic behavior (like, say…an open letter seeping with racist and ableist microaggressions or denigrating a new #SApro on a podcast) they just keep flowing without ever apologizing for what they’ve done.

Confidence lol

 

7. They spew these kind-of-poetical but cringe-worthy sayings that sound familiar, like a hundred other people have said it before, but they emote the same feeling you’d get as a Dickens character being served some sad, cold gruel in the breakfast line.

i love lucy - cringe

 

8. Did you KNOWWWWW that you could bring them to speak to your campus?! I mean, yeah, you probably did, because they talk about it so much. It’s just the low low cost of thousands of dollars for two hours (and somehow they registered their business as a 501(c)3 nonprofit?!)…

buy chronic

(note: this does NOT apply to actual great campus speakers, including the former SA folks who have started a side hustle that I actually like – you know I heart you)

 

9. You’re…not actually sure what they are good at and why we should be listening to their thoughts? They are people who sometimes are still in the field. Or sometimes they were in the field for a few years before then making a career out of ‘coaching’ higher ed leaders for 20 years or so. Either way, you honestly have no idea what they bring to the table except a lot of noise.

mind project the office - so smart

 

10. A rare but truly hysterical tactic is they retweet ‘people’ who quote their inspirational sayings, and then you check the accounts tweeting them and are pretty sure its a bunch of Russian bots.

1000 followers

:::BONUS:::

11. They are most likely white and often a man, because there’s something about the socialization in a white supremacist patriarchal society that teaches men / white people that their voices deserve to be heard over others, regardless of their dismal mediocrity.

hairspray - nice white kids

9 Surefire Methods to TOTALLY Get People to Read your Student Affairs Blog!

Student affairs blogging is a popular hobby/side hustle/personal reflection tool/academic writing method. There is so much freedom on the internet that anyone can publish a blog post, thus there are a plethora of student affairs blogs out there. So how to make sure people read yours? Enjoy these helpful tips (that are especially helpful for more seasoned SA pros)!

  1. Trick them into clicking the link by using a sassy title that sounds like it came from a Buzzfeed intern.
  2. “Neg” the reader. Not only is “negging” a method that pick-up artists (PUAs, aka P-U they are gross) use, but so can you! Negging would be where the writer emotionally manipulates the reader by insulting them or being sarcastically mean in order to keep them reading.
  3. Perpetuate systems of oppression that seep into our everyday lives, like commenting how people shake hands without realizing you’re being ableist or complaining about how angry people sound when you’re white and hetero and ‘they’ include people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and QTPOC.
  4. When people call you on how oppression is trickling through your blog post like a busted septic tank trickles into a basement, ignore them. Just keep drinking your craft beer.
  5. If you choose to get into the comments of your post (because more comments = increased reader traffic, woohoo!), conjure your internal politician or Hollywood executive, and tell the commenters that you are sorry they feel that way. This way, you say the words “sorry” while resting the blame squarely on them for not understanding your brilliance. Silly peasants, mwahaha!
  6. If the comments become too much for you, just delete them. Keep the comments that agree with you tho, because its the victors that write history, amirite?
  7. When someone greatly respected in the field disagrees with you, make sure someone (a friend, or perhaps a boss?) with more identity privileges than the dissenter sees their post, and then writes a pedantic letter to the dissenter.
  8. If all else fails, delete the blog post and pretend that nothing ever happened! You’re still a Student Affairs Darling! Go book your next speech.
  9. If you didn’t delete the blog post, be sure to repost it every year and run through steps 5 and 6 again. Constantly refresh your blog’s traffic page while petting a fluffy white cat and chuckling darkly.

This blog post was brought to you by the letter S for “satire” and the concept of “punching up and not down”.

sarcastic - youre welcome

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

 

schmidt

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

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

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.

 

The Hamilton Guide to Quality Community Service! (Part I)

Hamilton _titlefor blog post.jpg

I’m a bit late to the party, but in advance of my vacation I downloaded the Hamilton soundtrack from Amazon Prime (yay #Amazon) and have been listening to it nonstop for almost 2 weeks. After presenting at the Indiana Campus Compact Networking meeting, I couldn’t help but take notice of all the different ways we can link the Hamilton musical to service-learning! While my perspective comes from someone who works professionally in higher education service-learning, this can apply to anyone who is planning to volunteer/plan service projects!

The “Hamilton Guide to Quality Community Service” will be a short series of several blog posts. This is the first one. Be sure to check the end for recommended readings based on concepts mentioned!

Let’s get to it:

1. “Talk less, smile more” – from the song “Aaron Burr, Sir”

Concept link: community voice; relationship building

As the nervous and young Alexander Hamilton approaches Aaron Burr to discuss his university education (and “punching the bursar, sir” – something I’m sure we have all imagined as students but really would be uncool in reality because the bursar is just working for their paycheck!). As Hamilton rambles more than Willow in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Burr offers some free advice: “Talk less, smile more”.

Burr’s words have a different intention in the musical, but I urge staff, faculty, and students engaged in service-learning to talk less. Historically, S-L programs tend to focus more-so on the needs of universities rather than communities. We have these ‘educated’ folks who come into communities and tell the community members what they will do ‘for you’.

This is where the value of ‘community voice’ enters the planning process. We must work with community members/organizations to ask what their community needs are, and then establish service projects that fit these needs. For example, if your group wants to do a food drive they must contact a food pantry first to make sure that the pantry wants/needs donations and, if so, what types of donations they need. It wouldn’t be helpful if the students collected 200 cans of green beans when the pantry does not have the space to store these items and/or have zero need for more green beans.

As for the smiling? That’s about being friendly and working to establish + build relationships with community members and organizations. Listen to their stories, learn about the daily lives of the community members, and work to develop an authentic relationship.

2. “Why do you assume that you’re the smartest in your room? Soon that attitude may be your doom” – from the song “Non-Stop”

Concept link: cultural humility, open-mindedness

Before, during, and after a service project there can be an issue of ego on behalf of service participants.

Prior to a service project, students (and staff + faculty!!) may assume they know everything about this issue. This may be because they have obtained an academic education on the topic. For example, if the service project supports an after-school program in a low-income neighborhood, perhaps the student is an education major who knows a good deal about children and education issues. Or a student took a sociology class and believes they understand a lot about poverty. But, academic knowledge is not the same as experiential knowledge. It’s important that students humble themselves before entering service to understand that they still have a lot to learn.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are students who may consider themselves an expert on the social issue(s) of the project because they personally experienced the issue. They certainly have a degree of insight, but must embrace humility as well. For example, as a person who grew up in poverty I once assumed I understood poverty. But the experiences of poverty differ according to region (urban, rural), race and ethnicity, immigrant status, sexuality, disability, and other intersecting identities that complicate the experience of poverty. Even if I, as a rural impoverished person, went to a different part of the country on an alternative break to support people experiencing rural poverty, my experience will never be just like someone else’s experience.

Following the service project, some students may consider themselves “the smartest person in the room” on the topic of the social issue at hand. Yet, they have only gained a brief insight into that one social issue in that one specific community. Coupled with the always complicated issues of social issues, there is always so much more to learn. The self-education of social issues and quality community service is a lifelong process.

Recommended readings:

Cruz, N. I., & Giles, D. E. (2000). Where’s the community in service-learning research. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 7(1), 28-34.

Miron, D., & Moely, B. E. (2006). Community agency voice and benefit in service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 12(2).

Nduna, N. J. (2007). The community voice on service-learning: A good practice guide for higher education. Education as Change, 11(3), 69-78.
Sandy, M., & Holland, B. A. (2006). Different worlds and common ground: Community partner perspectives on campus-community partnerships. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 13(1).

[marginalized folks are] Always Educators in Student Affairs

The “Student Affairs Professionals” (SAP) Facebook group is a strange little beast. At 21,000+ members, it contains both the best and worst of the profession.

That’s harsh. And…not quite true.

The SAP Facebook group demonstrates the best and worst of the profession. There are incidents where folks share resources and best practices, support one another’s highs and lows…sometimes it is excellent.

Other times? Not so much.This blog post will address one of the “SAP Problematic Concepts” (a term I’ve coined for now to describe the incidents/statements we see regularly) titled “But we’re all educators!!”

But We're All Educators

Discussion of social justice concepts and navigating privileged experiences with the realities of marginalized (in regards to race, the term used often is ‘minoritized’ but I chose /marginalized/ since it is a more commonly understood term) experiences in our society is necessary to advance ourselves professionally and personally. Of course, it can be tricky to have a fruitful discussion online and often with people you’ve never interacted with before – and even likelier it was never face-to-face.

Some argue that it is pointless to have SJ discussions in the SAP group or any other online venue. I disagree, but I do agree that there’s a series of regular incidents that tend to occur with these talks. The primary one? When a person with one or more privileged identities gets frustrated and pushes on someone with one or more marginalized identities to explain that marginalized experience.

Their belief? That the person with the marginalized belief owes it to the person with the privileged identity to “educate them”. Of course the person in question should do it/should want to do it “because we’re all educators” and “we’re all learning”.

eye roll - B Apt 13

That’s not cute. It’s bullying. It’s entitlement. It’s exerting your privileged status on someone. The term “check your privilege” has become trite but for real, you should do just that. It’s a better use of your time then carrying out acts of oppression.

Just because someone works as a student affairs professional, as an educator, does not mean they owe it to all the folks in the world to do unpaid labor to teach 24/7. Not to mention, the more marginalized identities a person holds, the more likely it is that systemic oppression affects them and they are paid less than your average person with a greater number of privileged identities.

When a person spends their work day getting paid to educate, they are also likely doing it outside of work in different sectors. That’s tiring. Folks with marginalized identities – especially people of color – are forced to educate far more often than privileged – especially white – folks.

And let’s name it: I see this SAP Problematic Concept most often when fellow white professionals bully people of color to “educate them” on different social justice perspectives related to race and racism.

Franky, that is bullshit.

If you’ve graduated from a masters’ or doctoral program, go back to your assigned readings.If you didn’t, then the internet and your local library are wonderful resources. Check out some recommended books. Ask other privileged folks to educate you – for you to educate one another. And above all, please use Google (and GoogleScholar). Here, I started you off with a search for “systemic racism in higher education“.

Systemic Racism in Higher Ed-let me google that for you

And don’t forget – when you have a privilege identity it is your responsibility to call in your peers when they are saying something problematic. Race, mental health, gender identity, sexuality, first language…there are a lot of identities and experiences to learn about. We’re always going make mistakes and learn new things. Help one another out with that. Do it online and offline (as I’m sure this attitude is common in the ‘real world’ as well).

Bystander intervention is a cool thing. It’s unfair to let folks with marginalized identities fend off pushy entitled privileged folks.Let’s support each other in doing better. Which sometimes means tough love, and that’s okay.

***

Those are my thoughts. It’s been a while since I’ve written a critical blog post but I just can’t take seeing these patterns over and over. I took a long break (with only minimal check-ins) from student affairs’ social media spaces for the specific reason of how draining and demoralizing they can be. There’s some good stuff, for sure! But there’s also a lot of folks with advanced degrees who need to engage better with their peers and learn how to Google.

 

 

 

Niki’s Guide to Indy: Dining at #NASPA16

Hello folks! I’m excited for my first ever NASPA Conference (after 3 years, I had to miss ACPA this year due to alternative break conflicts) and I’m thrilled that it’s in Indianapolis! After working in NW Ohio for five years, I moved to Indiana almost four years ago for my graduate program and have been working in Indianapolis since June 2014. It’s a great city and I’d love to share some local tips!

Today’s focus: Food! At preferably inexpensive and local restaurants! Or if it requires two money signs ($$) or more, I’ll recommend your mid-level/SSAO-type mentor take you here! (and if you, Gentle Reader, are a mid-level/SSAO-type and are looking to feed mentor a nice new-ish #SApro, please say hello!).

new girl - eating - winston

As a Yelp Elite I’m quite the foodie and love to give my opinion! 🙂 The list will be ordered from closet to the Convention Center (100 S. Capital St) to farthest; it will likely be raining during most of #NASPA *womp*womp* Note that distances is in minutes walked; I use this term because I can’t think of a better term although I know not all folks are able to walk/walk at the speed GoogleMaps uses, and may move across distances in other ways.

Downtown Restaurants (Less than 1 Mile from Convention/20 minutes walking/traveling via sidewalk)

  • Giorgio’s Pizza: Dudes. You have to go here. Only 11 minute walk and it’s right off of Monument Circle (aka the most beautiful part of downtown Indy), it’s been open for 26 years, and more than likely Giorgio is working (and singing in Italian). Get slices of pizza (try the stuffed pizza!), the AMAZING MARINA SAUCE, and get a cannoli. Then, if it’s not raining, I want you to walk the two minutes to the Monument and (if you’re able) go up the steps, sit down, snack, and revel in the city sights around you.
  • Ali Baba’s Cafe: First, the food is GOOD and inexpensive. Second, go here because during a #BlackLivesMatter march (in the wake of Ferguson) from Monument Circle to the Capital, the employees cheered on the protesters, Now my friend and I always hit them up when we’re around. #solidarity #solidaritywithhummus #butforrealyouneedtogetthishummus
  • Indianapolis City Market: Walk north 15 minutes to Market/Deleware to find a larger building with at least two dozen different shops inside. A meal is generally around $10; less if you are just getting a couple items. There’s Three Carrots for my veg friends, Spice Box if you want some quick Indian, and many other places. See a map of shops on their website.
  • Subito: A 12-minute walk NE is a fairly new sub/soup spot open 10am-3pm. Already pretty popular. There are $8 sandwiches and fairly cheap add-ons like soup and salad on the menu.
  • Pearings Cafe & Frozen Yogurt: One of my favorite places! At only 8 minutes away, this is a great destination for froyo, CREPES, and tasty paninis. Most of the paninis use meat from a local place and they are only $6 – a bit small but tend to make for happy tummies. There’s also ice water set up by the door if you need many refills from all the walking! The froyo is expensive, but what do you expect downtown and across from the mall?
  • BARcelona: Are you feelin’ fancy? This Spanish restaurant is two money signs ($$) and 16-minutes away, but can be a fun adventure with friends (small plates = try all the things). Check out the drink specials, eat some of the goat cheese in marina, and pretend you’re an SSAO for a day!
  • Bangkok Restaurant & Jazz Bar: Same with BARcelona – GREAT food but two money signs ($$). Perfect place for your mid-level/SSAO mentor to take you! Plus, jazz! Only a 17-minute walk!
  • The center city mall is also nearby and a swell of chain and local restaurants. There are plenty of options – the ones above are just some of my favs!

Mass Ave Restaurants (1-1.8 miles away/20-38 minutes away) – check out one of Indy’s popular cultural districts! This is where the Indy Pride Parade starts every year and after RFRA the businesses all had rainbow flags in their windows. It’s a bit bougie (all two money signs here, folks) and definitely is popular with the ‘young professional/hipster crowd that loves pay $10 for trendy tacos’ crowd. If that’s you, woohoo! If not, (like me!) there are lots of other cool spots.

  • Forty-Five Degrees: Do you love half-off sushi? Come here anytime on Sundays! Or, no matter what day you come, the sushi is good, the drinks are strong, and their salad dressing is thebomb.com
  • Bazbeaux Pizza: First, it sounds like a French word (even tho it’s not) so you could eat here to quell the jealousy in your heart from folks kicking it at #ACPA16 in Montreal. Second, the pizza is really, really good. Don’t get a boring pizza (like pepperoni – simple pies aren’t great here). I recommend the Mediterranean. It’s so good your tastebuds will do a dance of joy.
  • Sub-Zero Ice Cream: Do you like ice cream, SCIENCE, and an ability to have dairy-free ice cream treats? This place has all of that! Pick your ingredients and they Hogwarts it together to make your own specialized ice cream. And by Hogwarts, I mean liquid nitrogen. #science
  • AVOID: Bakersfield (‘street tacos’) and The Eagle (‘soul food/southern’). I’m not a fan of any places own by White mini-restaurant moguls who use the recipes of other cultures to make a profit (#somanymoneysigns), especially when we already got kickass latino (so.many.places!) and soul food (Kountry Kitchen!!) restaurants.
  • DO: Visit non-food places like Global Gifts (fair trade from around the world!), Silver in the City (always vote the #1 local shop!), the Small Mall, Midland Arts & Antiques Market (I bought a gavel there once. Just because), Indy Reads Bookstore (it’s a nonprofit and funds literacy programs!), and many other local shops!

Interested in a long walk and/or driving to a destination?

  • Panorama Grill: Want some awesome Dominican food? Or maybe middle eastern food? Have both! Only 1.3 miles away (26 minute walk) and right across the street from our amazing central library is this food fusion place. I wasn’t a huge fan of the hummus but the DR food is on point. The mofongo provides a party in my mouth!
  • Kountry Kitchen Soulfood Place: PRESIDENT OBAMA WAS HERE. And for $10 you can eat your little heart out on the finest fried chicken in the city + sweet tea, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, etc. Go here. You will thank me. It is only 3 miles away  on 19th/N College- 9 minute drive or 51 minute walk (actually – you might want the walk leading up to this meal!)
  • Mama Irma’s: Either a 15-minute bike ride or fairly quick drive to Fountain Square, and you can eat some AMAZING PERUVIAN FOOD. Plus owner Hilda Cano is always around and so friendly. If you’re in this area, walk around to the many other restaurants, bars, and shops, including some of my faves: comics and geekery at Hero House Comics (this is where my paychecks go!), play board games at Game Paradise, coffee and art at Funkyard, and so much more!!
  • You have to drive 20 minutes to the International Market District aka Lafayette Square area. Ethiopian, Cuban, Afro-Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Peruvian,Chinese, Greek, Vietnamese, etc. Check out the website or scan the Yelp results for this area.

Like what you read? Have a suggestion? Tweet me at @NikiMessmore! I may write up a few more recommendation lists (coffee, drinks, breakfast, outdoors, etc), so surely feel free to propose a topic.

Hope to see you at #NASPA16!

***

For more guides on Indy, check out these NASPA-related blogs + Indy resources