By Amy Howton
The last few weeks have been heavy as our nation has experienced a steady crescendo of racial injustice embodied in the murders of Michael Brown, Tamar Rice, Eric Garner, and John Crawford and the failed response by the legal system to those murders. With racism so powerfully rearing its ugly head, I know I’m not alone in seeking out community as I try to make sense of my own feelings and consider ways to create change. I’ve been thankful for personal conversations, community forums, and online discussions including hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter, #FergusonDecision, #AliveWhileBlack #CrimingWhileWhite, and #FergusonSyllabus.
Nonetheless, I am also deeply disappointed by the silence I’ve also experienced. As a white student affairs administrator, I hear the impact of this silence on our community members and wonder, like others, how to learn from the past few weeks, sustain organizing efforts, and do better next time.
Tragically, there will be a next time.
As feminists in student affairs, what is our role in responding to racism on our campuses and in our communities?
At the recent National Women’s Studies Association conference, bell hooks called out feminism during her keynote. She charged that the way in which the movement has framed “violence” and organized to end it is one-dimensional and inadequate in the violence against women movement. To undo the interlocking systems of oppression that are the root causes of violence, we must approach violence intersectionally. Otherwise, we’re just attacking symptoms of the problem and reinforcing its root cause. This argument is not new; this time, hooks’ warning resonated with me differently. Her charge made me think of my own work on my campus.
On our campus for example, there’s been a powerful university-wide #ItsOnUs campaign underway to shed light on the issues of sexual and gender-based violence. With mounting momentum, our campus community galvanized to show up, speak up, and take action. It’s been amazing to experience the culmination of long and hard work on this campus related to these issues.
Just a few days later, the immediate response to the acts of racial injustice and violence was strikingly different on our campus. Where were the advocates, the activists, the feminists that had just organized and rallied on the frontlines of fighting gender injustice a few days before?
I felt the hard truth of hooks’ claim in my gut.
Following the #SAchat last Thursday, I learned our campus was not alone in experiencing this vast discrepancy between such distinct yet inextricably linked issues/responses. Several others—namely men of color–on the chat pointedly asked, “Can we get an “ItsOnUs” campaign?
And yet, there’s also been significant progress. It didn’t take long for the #UCItsOnUs campaign to be employed as a tool to address racial injustice. The hashtag and social media sites soon became platforms to foster coalition-building, such as UC Students Against Injustice. Witnessing other, national coalitions such as THE General Body effectively organize around distinct yet related issues of injustice instills in me a great sense of hope–and commitment to sustained efforts–in our shared fight for social justice.
As a feminist student affairs administrator, I feel responsible for developing students as active citizens committed and prepared to create change in our world. A few questions have emerged for me that will serve as guideposts to my work as a feminist and anti-racist educator:
- How can I practice awareness of my White privilege?
- How can I create opportunities for students to explore their multiple, intersecting identities and share their personal stories with others?
- What strategies can I use to name and act against racial injustice?
- How can I invite and include allies in our social justice work so that offices/positions charged with diversity and inclusion are not always assumed to hold sole responsibility for response?
- How can I help develop student leaders and activists that are committed to and intentionally building coalitions with other groups/communities?
- How can I foster coalition-building among student groups so that those students most affected by an injustice are not solely responsible for creating a response to that injustice?
- How can I best support my colleagues of color—particularly women of color—who carry so much of the trauma of racial injustice–both indirect (supporting students) and direct in these heightened moments of crisis?
- How can I reframe issues of social justice through an intersectional lens and retool campaigns & tactics to practice intersectionality more effectively?
- How can I sustain these efforts, even when the issues are no longer in the headlines
- How can I use my position within the institution to advocate for particular responses, such as statements issued by senior leadership, campus-wide moments of silence, listening sessions? I need to remember: as an instrument of the institution, it is not okay to call out my institution for the lack of response if I myself have not responded.
- Is listening enough?
I share these as a commitment to improving my praxis and in hopes to join in community with others with shared commitment. How can we sustain these coalition-building efforts and continue to do better next time? Because #ItsOnUs.