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Hair Narratives

Posted By Maria Rivero She | Her | Her's Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Tuesday, December 31, 2019

My experiences with hair have led me to connections and knowledge.


Ever since I was little, I was taught that my curly hair needed to be fixed and the best way to do so was with the flat iron. I would sit every Sunday morning at the hands of my mother as she went through the process of straightening my hair. This is what I looked forward to every Sunday. As someone from Dominican Republic, I believed that my hair needed to be tamed. The sleekness and glow from my flat curls would bring compliments and looks at school. However, when I went away from home to college, my communication courses taught me that there was no need  to hide. I learned that I could let my curls pop in personal and professional spaces. I dedicated myself to learn about curly hair and the cultures that go along with it. I thought that I knew everything there was to know about hair, specifically Black and Latinx women’s hair.

A couple months ago I decided to get braids. For those that do not know what this means, this is not like hair extensions/clip-ins. This is the process of getting hair strands braided, sometimes twisted, into someone’s hair. I decided that I wanted to do this because I thought it would look good on me. I was hesitant at first because, although I am Latina, I also have a light skin tone and was afraid of appropriation. After much thought, I went for it. I got twists in my hair and then I got braids. When I got braids, I went with my Resident Assistant to where she gets her braids done. During this moment, I learned things that cannot be taught in lectures, books, or articles. The thought of getting my hair straightened when I was little excited me. I felt no shame for my curls but knew my hair would be more manageable if it was straight. However, as I sat in the chair getting my hair braided, my Resident Assistant relayed her hair narratives. Every month she would sit in the same chair also excited to get her hair braided. However, something was different. She was happy to get her hair braided not because it would be more manageable, but because her natural hair to her was indecent and needed to be altered. I cannot imagine what it would be to grow up disliking your hair so much. 


I thought I knew all about hair. I know how to take care of different curly hair types. I know which moisturizers work with the different kinds of curly hair. I know about the dangers of the media and hair product placement from ethnic isles to beauty isles in the supermarket. I know hair narratives in relation slavery trauma. No article or book will ever hit harder than someone you care for relaying how much they have disliked part of themselves. This made me think of all the commentaries I naturally brushed off about my hair. I thought how difficult it would be if I really did not like my hair. 


I believe that hair can never be natural because we choose to style and not to style. Hair is molded by human hands, thus absorbing context and culture. Hair narratives from Black and Latinx women are important and need to be heard. Although not everyone is comfortable sharing hair stories, there are two important things to take away. One: reflect on your hair story because it might reveal aspects that have been hidden. Two: there is no one ideal way to style hair because hair types and hairstyles are as rich and deep as people themselves.  


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Book Review of The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border, by Francisco Cantú

Posted By Angela Delfine | she, her, hers | West Virginia University, Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Book Review of The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border, by Francisco Cantú

Review by: Angela Delfine | she, her, hers | West Virginia University

 

Recently I had the opportunity to read The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border, by Francisco Cantú. As a member of the Campus Read committee our goal is to read texts that continue to enrich the educational experience of our student population. Further, our hope is to select a book that can be interwoven into many elements of campus programming, such as Residence Life. This text was selected by the committee because the topic of immigration is critically important, especially with the upcoming 2020 presidential election. I cannot praise Cantú’s work enough.

The author worked as a Border Patrol agent from 2008-2012 and shares his personal account of the horrific incidents that migrants face both at the border, and in their home country of Mexico. The first part of the book talked about the beginning of Cantú’s career as an agent. One of the most disturbing stories described an incident where Cantú’s fellow agents found the belongings of migrants who were crossing the border. What many Americans may not realize is that the Mexican/American border is a desert, which naturally serves as a dangerous barrier for those who attempt to cross countries. The agents destroyed the belongings by kicking them around and urinating on them. The migrants who owned the belongings would face possible death without water and clothing. This is one of many accounts of unnecessary cruelty by Cantú’s fellow colleagues. The author consistently describes his struggle to maintain a sense of humanity throughout the duration of his career, often describing night terrors of the incidents that he witnessed.

The second part of the book described the part of the author’s career when he worked in intel from an office. Although he was away from active duty on the border, Cantú speaks about his cravings to return to the border where he used to serve. This again was a point where the author struggled with his sense of humanity. Although he recognized that many Mexicans crossing the border faced treacherous conditions, possible death, and additional horrific conditions after they are potentially caught by Border Patrol, the author still desired to return to active work on the border. The author did return to more active duty before stepping away from his role in 2012.

In the third part of the book, Cantú is working as a barista in a coffee shop and befriends a man named José, who he later learns is an undocumented immigrant. José went to Mexico to visit his dying mother after living in the United States for over 30 years and was detained when trying to cross back into the country. The third chapter paints the challenging process that many undocumented Americans face when they are detained. Although José had a good immigration lawyer who collected evidence to prove that he was a dedicated American and loving father, he was still deported to Mexico. The author concludes the book with an afterward about the current political climate in relation to his experience; he summarizes this perfectly with the following: “Today, instead of looking back on an uglier time, we see a border that has become ever more militarized, ever more deadly for migrants, ever more dismissive of their lives and indifferent to their suffering. (251)” Cantú also speaks to how critically important his story has become with the current fixation on “building the wall” and ostracizing our fellow humans from the south.

As student affairs professionals, it is critically important that we understand our student populations and their stories. Many students are undocumented on today’s college campuses or have faced stories similar to the ones shared by Cantú. The Line Becomes a River has moved me more than any book I have read in a while and I cannot recommend it enough. I have also learned a lot about what the border genuinely looks like and the horrific challenges that are faced by detained undocumented individuals. The unfortunate reality is that many Americans remain ignorant to the inhumane conditions of the Mexican border due to deeply rooted xenophobic beliefs. It is critical that Americans deepen their understanding of how inhumane the conditions are in detention centers and how challenging it is to become a United States citizen. Our system has failed so many and it is time for us to do better.

The author concludes the book with a number of sources and information on how to become more involved with immigration reform. As responsible citizens of this country it is our duty to learn about all social issues that are faced by fellow Americans and aspiring Americans daily. It is also critical to understand why many of our neighbors from the south seek refuge in our country. The book talks about the drug cartel in Mexico and the terror that many face in the wake of the cartel as they try to live their lives in Mexico. In the final section, José says that he does not want his children to grow up in Mexico because growing up in the midst of the cartel is a way of life: “I realized that, as a good father, I could never bring my boys here. I think a lot about the environment here in Mexico. Here it is normal for children to hear of murder. There’s a school just down the street from here, I walk by it every day. I see the children in the schoolyard play at killing. (234)” José also shared a story of how the cartel murdered 43 educated college students in Mexico because they were simply trying to be politically active and make positive changes. So many people fail to check their privileges when it comes to safety. They fail to recognize that many come to our country to live a safe life, one that they may not be able to live in their homeland.

My hope is that this book will inspire others to become more educated on immigration reform and that those who express hatred toward the Mexican community will understand why many are faced with no other options than to cross the border illegally for the sake of their families. My hope is that those who read the book will create space for empathy; To think about what they would do in the shoes of our migrant siblings. My hope is that as student affairs professionals we can do a better job to understand the stories of our students and to understand the extreme challenges that they may have faced to get to where they are today. Again, I cannot recommend this book enough and I encourage you to make time to read it before voting this upcoming fall. When we vote, we vote for all Americans. We vote for those who may not have the space to vote. We are responsible for all our fellow humans in this country and those who aspire to walk among us as citizens.

 

Cantú, F. (2018). The line becomes a river: Dispatches from the border. New York: Riverhead Books. 

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Brown Skin Girl

Posted By by La-Riese M. Eldridge | Chestnut Hill College | She, Her, Hers, Friday, September 27, 2019

I personally believe that everyone who enjoys Disney movies has one that they consider to be their Disney movie. The Lion King is my movie. It is the first Disney movie I remember watching and I can recite almost the entire script. One can gather that I was more than excited when I heard that Disney would be remaking the movie. I couldn’t wait to see it!


No, this entire post is not about the Lion King remake, rather it is about my experience with the soundtrack. The Gift, was brought to us by none other than the Queen herself, Beyoncé. It is an album that I can play straight through without skipping any of the songs which I have not encountered in quite some time. There is one song on the album that has managed to grab my attention. That song is called Brown Skin Girl. 


Brown skin girl, skin just like pearls, the best thing in the world, I’ll never trade you for anybody else. 


This is how the song begins and it drew me in immediately the first time I heard it. The song describes me, a brown skin girl who grew up feeling like she was never quite good enough. The first time I listened to this song, I found myself dancing around my living room while tears of happiness made their way down my face. Hearing a song that explicitly celebrates women and girls who look like me made me feel all kinds of special. I still can’t quite make it through the song without crying. 


It is my opinion that colorism is alive and well in the Black community. Hearing a song that specifically glorifies Brown skin women like Kelly Rowland, Naomi Campbell, and Lupita Nyong’o simply feels good and also makes me feel seen. It also never hurts for one woman to lift another woman up. 


To all of the Brown Skin Girls out there who have ever felt that they are less than, I see you, you are beautiful, and you are more than enough. 


 Attached Thumbnails:

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Queer-Like

Posted By Danah Lassiter | Wilkes University | She, Her, Hers, Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Queer-Like

By Danah Lassiter | Wilkes University | She, Her, Hers

 

It’s one of the most intense feelings in the world, if you can picture it—sweaty hands, shaky knees, the giant pit in the base of your stomach. The anxious breathing. The constant questioning. All the Buzzfeed videos in the world can’t help you answer: are you making the right choice? What if you lose friends? Or family? Do you have the support you need where you are? Do you have to do this right now? Today?

I don’t know.

It’s October 11, 2018: notably both the best and the scariest day of my life. I had spent a few weeks thinking about the process and how I was going to come out. I knew Instagram would be the platform because Facebook had too many family connections. The caption couldn’t read, “Hey, I’m gay” or “Let’s get one thing straight, I’m not” because that didn’t feel quite like me.

The reveal had to be bold, yet simple—cute but without dramatics. After months of me scouring the internet for all things queer, it took my supervisor, Joanne, all of three seconds to come up with the perfect backdrop and dive head first into an hour-long photoshoot like she was Nigel Barker himself.

It’s safe to say I posted the perfect picture: me smiling while lying on a pride flag made of construction paper and holding an actual pride flag. The caption: “Lesbe honest here.” The likes and notifications flooded my phone, as this easily became the most liked picture on my feed. There was elation, but also worry.

I couldn’t help but question what my sexuality would look like for me. I hadn’t been in a romantic relationship with a woman up until that point, so I began to wonder if I would be able to love a woman in the way I desired. Would the nuances of my needs align with who I loved physically? Emotionally? Spiritually?

Navigating the nuances of sexuality and sensuality can sometimes be a gray area. We’re taught that sexuality is fluid and on a spectrum based on who we are and where we are; that being open to possibilities is open-mindedness. We’re taught labels hold people back. But what do you do when you come out publicly only to question the status in which you proclaimed? What do you do when you find yourself at multiple pride parades knowing you’re not straight, but not quite knowing much else?

These were the questions I mulled over time and time again as I committed myself to a community that in many ways rejected labels put on them. So was it weird that I wanted to fight for mine? As a queer community, we fight endlessly to be accepted for who we are and who we love. We take pride in our identity, but what if the overarching term of “queer” wasn’t satisfying enough for me? What if I wanted something more concrete?

I’ve learned to constantly be open to the fact that there are multiple facets to my person and different needs that can’t be met in the same way or by the same individual. My other supervisor, Alex, calls it hetero-romanticism—being sexually attracted to women but emotionally attracted to men or the idea of heterosexual relationships. Maybe that makes me bisexual or bi-sensual (as I’ve dubbed the term), or maybe it means I’ll thrive best in a polyamorous relationship. Maybe it means none of those things. Maybe all of this just makes me human with a need for connection and intimacy.

If I’m not open to learning, I bar myself from ever finding contentment. So for now, I guess you could say I’ve found my less than concrete identity. So label me.

Label me queer-like. 

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Here is What I Bring- Cultural Capital!

Posted By by Daksha Khatri | Stevens Institute of Technology, Thursday, July 25, 2019

 

When I was back home in Pakistan, college for me meant either computer sciences or biology. There were not enough options because of 1) lack of awareness 2) lack of diverse fields 3) political unrest. I chose to study biology because I did not like computer studies at all. I did not love biology, but I knew I could not do computer science. I did not know what I would be interested in studying since those two were my only options. I was not bad at biology, but I knew I would have more options once I move to the US. I did not know who I was or what my identity as a student meant until I started high school in the US. I joined high school my mid junior year; I spent 1.5 years in the US high school because of the credits I carried over from O’levels, British education system. After all the calculation and credit transfer, my counselor told me that I had an option to choose whatever class I want because I had an open slot. It was the first time I had an option to pick whatever class I wanted in high school; I was in a British education system and they had a set curriculum. I went to a private school; however, it did not have open options for students nor had any extracurricular activities. There is a set curriculum you must follow in Pakistan that doesn’t allow you to choose any class other than what the curriculum has set. 

 

On the contrary, the first class that I chose for myself, ever, was film study class. It was the first time I ever had a choice. Back home, with the choice of biology or computer studies, I had to pick biology as I loathed computer studies. However, I knew that was not my field. Life back then was merely school and then home. Due to political issues and me being a female, I was not allowed to go outside after my school. I never had sleepovers or had a friend circle outside school. My best friend was Chinese whereas rest of my classmates were from dominant ethnic groups in Pakistan. Once I moved to the U.S, mid junior year of high school, I was able to delve deeper into my passion of dance. Fast forwarding to the end of undergraduate studies, I was on 5 different dance teams (Bollywood, Bhangra, Step team, Belly dance, etc.) and did multiple solo performances at every event on campus. Why?  Because I was given opportunities which I lacked in Pakistan.

 

The power of freedom and the ability to choose and make decisions for myself was important to me as a first-generation, immigrant student. It was a wild thought to pick ALL my undergraduate classes as I please. It was bizarre! I was so ecstatic. It was my undergraduate institution, University of Mary Washington (UMW), where I first felt full freedom. Liberty. During my undergraduate career, I had the liberty to pick my classes, find my friend group, join as many clubs and organizations as I enjoyed. The liberty that I was given, and explored within, to develop my identity as a student was meaningful and did change the course of those four years. I applied to become a UMW Writing Center Consultant during my freshman year. Usually, faculty members would recommend students to the writing center Director and she would hire them accordingly. None of the faculty members had recommended me. My first language was not English and all the consultants I saw at that time were predominantly white students who spoke English quite fluently. My passion for English Literature drove me to apply for the position. Being a first-generation, immigrant student of color, it was a proud moment for me when I discovered the offer letter in the email. 

 

It was one of the most memorable moments for me. It was meaningful because that was my first step towards my personal and professional growth because it was my very first job in my entire life. I was able to prove to myself, and my family, that I could achieve something bigger. I am the youngest of 4 siblings and this was my AHA! moment where I saw my family feeling the pride. It was this very job that paid for my freedom, i.e. my hourly wage was used all in the gas money until my senior year, which was a bummer, but it came with freedom to travel. Little did I know that this position will not only provide me with a plethora of knowledge and experience but one of my closest friends with whom I now share my graduate school experience. I made connections with so many students from different majors along with the faculty as I would send them a writing consultation report at the end of each appointment. Most of them remembered me by my first name, and frankly some just remembered me as the brown consultant with long hair because I was the only consultant of color. I did not realize how powerful that was until I started joining ethnic dance teams on campus and became a pre-college counselor and resident assistant for minority students and worked on projects to increase the numbers of students of color and international students utilizing the writing center resources.  

 

Overall, the position not only developed my professional skills, but it also allowed me to explore my beliefs and values in relation to my bicultural identity. As the years passed, I was a completely different person with different values by the end of my senior year. The change was significant because I began to bring my passion and experience working with minority students to the writing center. I realized how familial and cultural capital are a huge part of me and that I bring it with me everywhere I work. Soon enough, I would bring Indian food to the center and it instantly bonded all the consultants and it seemed to be like a family dinner every now and then. The meaning of writing center reached far beyond working with words to building a community and sense of belonging despite our differences. The more I shared my culture, my identity, and my core values with others, the more I was able to assimilate in my undergraduate community. I was always on the forefront to celebrate my culture, whether it was through Indian food or a Bollywood dance performance. It was new for the UMW community; however, they welcomed me with open arms. In fact, because I would bring a different taste to the table, i.e. my Indian and Pakistani culture, they would encourage me to be a part of every major event and programs on campus. At first, it felt slightly awkward and I felt insecure because I was the only one dressed in an Indian ghagra or the only one to bring Pakistani style, vegetarian samosa for lunch. However, I discovered that the more I shared my culture, the more the UMW community was accepting of it. My cultural capital played an integral role in helping me develop as a student. It wasn’t just through classes where I would always ask my professors about writers of color or dancers of color. Throughout my college career, I was able to find my circle, friends, and passion by merely working at the writing center, which was a stepping stone for me to enter the field of Student Affairs as it was the very first time I got to have a one-on-one connection with another student while discovering my student identity and celebrate my cultural capital.  


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Words Matter When Issues Matter: An announcement from the soon-to-be-renamed Diversity Committee

Posted By by Amanda Slichter | she, her, hers , Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Words Matter When Issues Matter: An announcement from the soon-to-be-renamed Diversity Committee

by Amanda Slichter | she, her, hers | Lehigh University | Diversity Committee Co-Chair 

 

Diversity and inclusion rhetoric asks fundamentally different questions and is concerned with fundamentally different issues than efforts seeking equity and justice. Diversity asks, ‘Who’s in the room?’ Equity responds: ‘Who is trying to get in the room but can’t? Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?’ Inclusion asks, ‘Has everyone’s ideas been heard?’ Justice responds, ‘Whose ideas won’t be taken as seriously because they aren’t in the majority?’” - Dafina-Lazarus Stewart, Language of Appeasement

 

The above quote is an excerpt from one of my favorite Inside Higher Ed articles. Dafina-Lazarus Stewart issued a wake up call. They got folx thinking about the language their institutions and organizations are using, and created a yardstick by which to measure their level of effort to support marginalized identities. 

 

Among this call to action and a few other catalysts, the MACUHO Diversity Committee began discussing a name change. We admitted that “diversity” is an outdated term and didn’t accurately reflect our charge as a committee. We reflected on our mission statement, thought about our deliverables as a committee, and began brainstorming. We sought advice on the process of changing the committee name, and floated the idea to MACUHO leadership. We dedicated a committee call to create mini-task force for the project in order to pave the way (La-Riese and I give major snaps to Brian, Nailah, and Daksha!) We became prepared with a few ideas and whole lot of benchmarking. 

 

Benchmarking:

  • NASPA: Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice Division (Identity-based Knowledge Communities)
  • ACPA: Coordinator of Coalitions (oversees Coalitions & Networks) 
  • ACUHO-I: Director of Equity & Inclusion
  • NEACUHO & WACUHO: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee
  • GLACUHO: Inclusion & Equity Committee
  • SWACUHO: Diversity & Social Justice Committee

 

These steps all led to the MACUHO Summer Summit, where the committee pitched the idea formally to the Executive Board and Leadership Council after one last productive meeting with our committee. With the suggestions from our membership and leadership at the Summit, here is the current list of newly proposed names for the Diversity Committee:

 

Ideas:

  • Social Transformation & Advocacy Committee (STAC)
  • Identity, Dialogue, Equity, and Advocacy Committee (IDEA)
  • Social Justice Committee
  • Equity & Justice Committee
  • Advocacy Committee

 

We are intentionally sharing these ideas with our membership for two reasons. One, we want to be transparent about our process. Two, we want to collect your feedback on these ideas and solicit any additional suggestions. We know MACUHO is stronger with more involvement, and therefore welcome any input. Over the month of July, please reach out to La-Riese Eldridge (lme3290@gmail.com) or Amanda Slichter (amandaslichter11@gmail.com) to give us your thoughts on the pending name change! Around August, the committee will finalize its decision and submit a formal request to change the MACUHO constitutional by-laws in reference to the title of the Diversity Committee.

Our hope is that whatever name is finalized for this committee, it is futuristic enough to be relevant and appropriate for more than a few years. That being said, we recognize that language is constantly evolving and changing, and in ten years we will likely be having similar conversations. And that’s okay.

Stay tuned, and we look forward to your feedback as we embark on this timely process of change!

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The Social of Social Justice

Posted By by Alex Leon Reynolds, Jr. | Wilkes University | he, him, his, Saturday, May 4, 2019

 

The Social of Social Justice

by Alex Leon Reynolds, Jr. | Wilkes University | he, him, his

 

Acknowledge where you are. These words have helped to shape my attention and learning with diversity, inclusion, and social justice work. With these words, I do not intend to become stagnant in what I have done thus far, but it helps me remain present in where my knowledge lies, and where to go from there.

 

I occupy a host of identities that others and myself would consider to be marginalized, but also privileged. I consider myself to be Black, male, cisgender, able-bodied, Christian, and gay (did not think that I was going to disclose that last identity). Conflict did arise out of all the identities when they have clashed with each other and have competing priorities. Wrestling with the conflict, I had focused on being sure not to allow it to affect how I see others and their truths. With my lived experiences, it has been a focus for me to recognize others and their lived experiences. Delving deeper into learning more of my own identities, it has not been a simple journey. It has been one of unlearning and relearning, where I feel that even now I am still gaining knowledge of what each identity means, and how it shapes my view of the world. As I have begun to share my learnings with others, I have seen where my gaps are.

 

Attending the Social Justice Symposium earlier this week helped shape my thoughts as to what I want to share with you all. The Symposium was a great experience where I was able to reflect on my own progress, and see how others advocate and incorporate social justice into their work. It was a breath of fresh air being able to be in community with individuals with a goal to better their social justice toolbox. Overall, from the Symposium, it was encouraging not having to put on a façade of being unauthentic of where my skill set is, but just to come as I am prepared to learn. Attendees were accepting and full of understanding. 

 

Coming back to my home institution, I am more critical on how to better my work and focus. Realizing that previous efforts have been not as fruitful as I would have liked, seeing the growth that has taken place is something that I have taken more notice. Seeing the successes that have been done by others is also notable. My supervisors have both made remarkable progress in the work of diversity and inclusion at our institution, enough to receive acknowledgement from the campus community. Their work impacts my work for the better, as I have a starting place.

 

What do you take away from this? I want to be sure that you recognize that the journey of social justice does not automatically mean you are going to be the most “woke person” in the room. You may be awake in some areas of learning, but you also may be asleep in some areas. You have to be willing to learn, respect, understand, and accept the lives of those who are not at the table with you, and how you will work to bring them to the table. It also takes others to help you come to the table yourself. Utilizing the experiences and knowledge that others share with you is critical. Their truth is paramount, as it gives you a look into their lens of the world. Be prepared to learn, grow, and help others grow. Acknowledge where you are, but also recognize where you will go from there, and you have others to help you.

 

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A Personal Look into a Systemic Issue: Experiencing Homelessness

Posted By by Misty Denham-Barrett | Rutgers University | She, Her, Hers, Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A Personal Look into a Systemic Issue: Experiencing Homelessness

by Misty Denham-Barrett | Rutgers University | She, Her, Hers

 

I recently served as a staff partner for an Alternative Break trip offered by the University I work at. I went with 45 first-year students, 6 student site leaders, and 2 other staff members to Washington, D.C. My experience that week was nothing short of profound. The mission of our trip was to engage in serving learning and community service aimed at serving the DC community members experiencing homelessness and/or food insecurity. Despite being one of the wealthiest cities and home to many forms of “power”, DC has the highest rate of homelessness in the US. 

 

During our week in DC, we spent time with various groups doing amazing work in the community from an organization called “A Wider Circle” which assists families and individuals transitioning out of homelessness as well as an organization called “Casa Ruby,” DC’s only shelter for LGBTQ+ community members. We spent time at other organizations within DC as well but these two were probably the most impactful for me personally and I’m beyond thankful for what I learned from this experience. 

 

This trip was particularly difficult for me because I have experienced homelessness first hand. As a child, my family was homeless for various amounts of time on and off as we tried to get back on our feet. I’ve stayed in shelters, slept on park benches, and lived out of a car. This was all before the age of 12. This is a part of my life I don’t often talk about or share. There are people in my life who I trust wholeheartedly who don’t know this part of my story. I think I keep this part of me away because of shame. There isn’t much that I feel shame about because I’m proud of who I am, but homelessness is different. I’ve been out with people and seen how they look at someone who is experiencing homelessness. I’ve heard the things people say about the “bum on the street.” What would they say if they knew that was me and my family once? 

 

So why I am writing about this now…. why should you care? Homelessness is not something that many people like to talk about, yet it’s something that many people face, especially in the United States. The most recent national estimate for those experiencing homelessness in the US in 2017 was 553,742. Likely the number is much higher depending on how one defines “homelessness.” 

 

Ending homelessness and poverty has less to do with you giving that person on the side of the highway or the person couched outside your favorite Starbucks a snack pack or $20. While it will likely help their immediate situation, it doesn’t solve the problem. Homelessness and poverty are direct results of oppressive systems throughout the infrastructure of this country. While volunteering in DC, we met an elderly woman who is a fulltime English teacher, yet the housing in DC is so expensive that she is living at a shelter. Her job as a teacher doesn’t pay enough for her to afford to put a roof over her own head. Housing inequity and gentrification are pushing people out of their homes. The lack of affordable housing is a HUGE issue across the United States, preventing many folks experiencing homelessness from having a stable place to live. The rising cost of housing is just ONE of many systems in this country that do not serve our communities well. You can look into inequity in education, environmental racism, the inflated cost of food, and I could go on and on. 

 

So now what? All I ask of you is to be an active citizen in your communities. Go to community meetings. Vote in your local elections. Talk to your City Council members. Donate your furniture you would normally throw out just because you wanted something new to a place like “A Wider Circle.” Whether you have kids or not, look into how your taxes are spent on the schools in your district. Take an interest in your communities. These might seem like things that don’t matter, but I promise you that they do. 

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Experiencing the Intersections of Brown and Queer

Posted By Brian Medina | ze, hir, hirs, Thursday, March 14, 2019

Experiencing the Intersections of Brown and Queer

Brian Medina (ze/hir/hirs)

 

For many reading this, you are either personally or academically familiar with the concept of intersectionality. What many do not realize is that this term, coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, existed long before most of us may have heard or understood this now common concept.

 

Effectively, we are a mix of multiple overlapping identities, each distinct yet connected and often having profound ramifications toward our daily lives. When First Wave (liberal) feminism took shape in the late-1700s, writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft represented the wealthy white women of her day, speaking out about how she wants to work and go to school alongside men rather than stay at home and take care of children exclusively. While admirable, it negates the reality that for centuries in America, women of color had been working, yet not getting paid for work or having a choice in their labor – yes, I’m referring to slavery. Critics of liberal feminism often turn to the lack of representation embedded within. Even as recently as a couple of months ago, the Women’s March on Washington encountered internal division among its leaders who represent different identities (Israeli Jews vs Palestinian Muslims, Queer Women, Trans Women, and more).

 

In honor of Women’s History Month, do we highlight more than just the white, well-known women in our history books? Do we exalt women of color, trans women, queer women, and women from many other countries and cultures the same way that we praise the white women who have ‘made it’ in our society? I would challenge you to work with your staff to exemplify a more intersectional approach, not just to Women’s History Month, but to the many other commemorations throughout the year.

 

I was fortunate in my undergraduate education to have taken a class on Feminist Thought. While we started with Mary Wollstonecraft, we absolutely delved into more radical feminists (Shulamith Firestone!) and then on to bell hooks, my favorite of all. bell hooks wrote Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, a pivotal work in 1984 and just as relevant today. Her text readily outlines the links between race, class, and gender in provocative terms yet relatable to the everyday feminist. 

 

When going about your day, how often do you stop to think about how your multiple identities play out with your interactions, decisions, and relationships? Does the fact that you are a professional of color with a white man as your boss or their boss make a difference? Have you attempted to support your students of different religious traditions, only to be told that ‘we cannot recognize everyone’s faith,’ despite the fact that Winter Break always allows for Christians to celebrate Christmas? When exploring initiatives like Gender Inclusive Housing, are you presumed to be the expert because you identify within the LGBTQIA community? When making tough decisions about staffing, accountability, or saying no, are you criticized because ‘women are supposed to be nice?’ Or even worse, are you stereotyped as the ‘angry black woman’ or ‘spicy Latina,’ just because you have a question or a concern? 

 

The reality is that the many isms of our world readily impact our work, even within Student Life. If you thought that somehow Higher Education was ‘better than that,’ then unfortunately, I have to burst your bubble. We are a reflection of the best AND the worst among us. I’m not trying to bring you down into despair, but I do ask that you reach out to those with identities other than yourself and ask about their lived experience, should they be willing to share. Before that, make sure that you do your own homework a bit – while your friends may not say it, they’re getting tired of being the black or gay or Muslim token to explain the world to everyone, so the more you read and understand ahead of time, the better.

 

I’ve already referenced Crenshaw’s and hooks’ work, but here are a few more resources for you to get started before asking your colleague to explain it all to you:

 

Smithsonian Video: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/what-intersectionality-video-breaks-down-basics-180964665/

NY Times Article: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/30/us/the-effect-of-intersectionality-in-the-workplace.html

Washington Post Article by Crenshaw: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/09/24/why-intersectionality-cant-wait/?utm_term=.115e841715b3

Intersectionality Reading List: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/cy/node/7576

 

Okay. So back to my being queer and brown… my situation is messy, as many of our lives are. I am bi-racial (Mexican and white), but can pass as white. I am queer and genderqueer, but can readily pass as a straight man, especially since I have a married partner who identifies as female. In many ways, I have the privilege to share this story with you because of my visible identities. On the other hand, I have been readily discriminated against for not being able to fit into a clean box, and for causing problems or asking questions about our presumptions around identity, something many white, straight men in power aren’t interested in exploring. It calls into question the very fabric of their reality and of why they received their power to begin with. 

 

While I can sympathize with those well-meaning white guys who are making an effort to help with the struggle, they will never understand the fear I have felt when purposefully targeted and harassed due to my race or gender or sexuality. Being told that I do not ‘fit’ into a workplace can be as much about my identities as it is about my teamwork or leadership. Being asked why I wore my hair in braids, often wrapped in a do-rag, may be just a question to some, but it can also be rooted in the ignorance about how important hair and hairstyles are for many cultures. Over the summer, I tend to get a tan much quicker than my white staff members. When coming back from a beach trip this past summer, I was repeatedly cajoled for ‘being dark’ and faux-jealousy about ‘why can’t I be that brown?’ Yes, my own staff said this to me… and it was not ok.

 

There are countless examples within the workplace and beyond where intersecting identities shines the spotlight and glare upon you unnecessarily. Perhaps a few of you are willing to post or share with a friend. Maybe you can read literature or attend webinars and workshops to better understand from experts in your midst. Many of us are willing to share, on our own terms, so long as you are listening respectfully and empowering our voices along the way.

 

While I make no pretense that it will be easy, we have to push and fight the struggle in our workplaces and lives to make a more socially just world. It certainly isn’t going to be given to us by our government, businesses, or higher education structures; it will require enormous solidarity and effort, but worth the sacrifice in the end.

 

Tags:  brown  feminism  intersectionality  queer  women's history month 

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The Value of a Person’s Story

Posted By Joanne Powser, she/her/hers, Wilkes University, Friday, February 22, 2019
The Value of a Person’s Story
Joanne Powser, she/her/hers, Wilkes University

Writing this blog was the most difficult thing that I’ve done in a really long time. My first draft was structured like an academic paper and felt like an academic article instead of a blog. After reading it and getting some feedback, I realized the last time I had written something for anyone to read, other than an email, was in grad school which was almost over a year ago. For me, I thrive off structure, and a blog has absolutely none. When I agreed to write this blog, I knew I would struggle but I thought I would at least have a few good ideas to write about because diversity is something I think about every single day. However, I was extremely wrong.

Luckily, I watched a movie titled Disobedience that sparked my interest for this blog’s topic. The movie’s overarching story is about a woman whose father passes away and her father happened to be the rabbi of the synagogue within the community. She returns home after being away for some time and struggles between staying for closure with her father’s death or leaving to get away from the hateful community. And I say hateful because people won’t even acknowledge the fact that she is the rabbi’s daughter because of her attraction for her childhood friend and because she left town. When they were younger, the main character and her childhood female best friend were attracted to one another and her father, the rabbi, walked in on them kissing. In the Orthodox Jewish community, this act is a sin. 

My reason in sharing the short summary of this movie is because watching it, I thought about all the people who have to hide who they truly are to fit in with their family. They either do this to ensure they don’t lose them, or they bravely show who they truly are and risk losing everything, including their loved ones. This movie allows you to see both sides of the choice that many people have to make.

In writing this, please know that I am no expert in any of these identities or experiences, but I recognize the privilege I have in being a heterosexual Christian and I will never understand anyone’s experience or hardship. For me, there is such inherent importance in taking the time to get to know a person’s story, if they’re willing to share with you. Movies allow you to gain that sense of exploration and allow insight into things we would never think about in our day-to-day lives. 

In Student Affairs, you have no idea what a student is going through, but as long as you let them know that you are there for them and you will accept them regardless of what they share, you will potentially have the chance to impact them in a very positive and supportive way. With our work, it can often be difficult to stop what we are doing to randomly chat with a student, but taking that 10 to 15 minutes could make such a difference in that student’s day, or even their life. Hearing others’ stories can also be an opportunity for you to grow and learn something new. The best knowledge comes from listening to other’s experiences.

The advice I will leave you with is: Take time out of your day to hear someone’s story and work to support them. This was too strong of a reminder to me to be left unsaid. 

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