by Zebulun Davenport
I am new to social media. I joined Twitter in January, 2014 and in this short time, I’ve made several observations. Candidly, I read a lot of good information and I generally appreciate the content. But, what I would really love to see is somebody say is “I read this Tweet, blog, or article and it made a difference for me.” Consequently, I have changed my thoughts my words and my actions.
So, I opted to write for the #SAFeminist blog because, I see this as a space for dialogue and discussion. Discussions of which I want to be a contributing member, not just a passive reader/observer.
Let me begin by contextualizing this for you, I am the son of a feminist; when being a feminist (in the 50s-60s) was not popular or “in vogue.” My mother was the breadwinner, the decision-maker, the care taker, and mother to five children while my father had a terminal and long-term illness and consequently could not work. I can remember as a little kid overhearing my mother complain to my father about not being able to gain access to a job because she was a woman. I can remember her saying, she didn’t get an A on a paper because her professor told her that no African-American woman could make higher than a C in his class. Forty years later, it pains me to read about and see the injustices that I witnessed as a child still happening to women, and to African-American women in particular, in today’s society. But, they are. What are we going to do to stop the madness? I say all this to say, regardless of whether it is for race, gender, sexual identity, it is time to move from advocacy to action. Stop talking about it and do something about it. As an African-American male SSAO, I recognize that I have privilege in some arenas and I am disadvantaged in others. Regardless, I can choose to make a difference every single day. We have to decide that we are going to make a difference; describe what that difference looks like; and then take action moving towards a more ideal future.
Social media, I’ve found, can provide a venue for taking action, but in the short time that I’ve been engaged in the Twittersphere, I’ve rarely seen much that moves beyond personal “brand” development, opening conversations, and helpful tips. How can we move this space of dialogue into one of action? This notion was confirmed for me after I read a statement in Stacy Oliver’s very insightful and important blog. In her post she made a point that hit home for me. She suggested that we discuss important topics that rise to the surface of our social media feeds, they fizzle, then we wait for the next topic. We rarely take action. When I read this statement, it confirmed for me that I needed to write this blog as it relates directly to being a feminist in Student Affairs. I think it is now time for those of us who are in influential positions, regardless of the title, to begin making a difference for those who will follow.
There are so many injustices happening in our society every day. As members of the academy, we are in positions to change the course and discourse of these injustices. In my role I have been fortunate to be able to influence some changes. I have personally increased the proportion of women in leadership roles as I recognize how visible women in positions of power serves as a touchstone for students. I have worked to correct systemic inequality by implementing salary equity regardless of gender. And, I have led initiatives to create diversity workshops and seminars in the Division of Student Affairs to raise awareness of issues and challenges facing the underrepresented populations.
I have lived my adult life striving to make a difference for those who are underrepresented within my sphere of influence. Good or bad, I grew up not realizing that I was in a class that is disenfranchised. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that I was an inner-city poor African-American male who statistically should have ended up incarcerated verses pursuing a degree from an institution of higher learning. My exhortation to you, my friends, is instead of just tweeting about the topic, I would love to see people tweet about the difference they are making. We have to rise up and stop the isms. I stand boldly for what is right and just. Will you stand with me? Let’s move from conversing to converting, from advocacy to action, from talking about it to being about it. I invite you all to start today making a difference in the lives of those of whom you serve (friends, family, students, colleagues, sisters, brothers, children—it doesn’t matter). So, I will leave you with this challenge, decide today what difference you are going to make. Clearly articulate it and then go about making that change. If it is to be, it is up to you and to me.
So, the challenge that I want to put before you is, don’t just tweet it, believe it, and do something about it. If you are compelled to make a difference, comment below or Tweet me @drzdavenport what you will do or have done to further equity and inclusion on campus and in your community. Let’s start somewhere and impact change.
Zebulun Davenport is the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. His purview includes Educational Partnerships and Student Advocacy; the Campus Center; Office of Student Involvement; Counseling and Psychological Services; Housing and Residence Life; Campus Recreation; Student Health Services; and Student Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct. Davenport earned a Doctorate in Higher Education and Leadership from Nova Southeastern University, a Master’s of Education in College Student Personnel Administration, and a Bachelor of Science in Communications/Public Relations with a minor in Human Services from James Madison University. He has served in various leadership roles at Northern Kentucky University, Appalachian State University, Lord Fairfax Community College, and James Madison University. A nationally known author and speaker, Davenport’s recently co-authored a book entitled First-Generation College Students – Understanding and Improving the Experience from Recruitment to Commencement. Connect with him on Twitter at @drzdavenport