I was interviewing a student for the program that I work for and I was not expecting to pause and have a conversation about this student’s experience. We talk about building rapport, getting to know a student, and allowing them to open up on their terms.
Having just met, asking the following question was on their terms. How do you cope? the student asked. I thought “How do I cope with being Black in America, with being Black in a predominantly white office, with Being a Black Woman…”
Before I thought in depth about their question I said, “I rant to my friends.” I may have ranted to Snapchat a couple times too. Providing more clarity I told the student that I am at a point where I try to speak up when I experience microaggressions, I reach out to those who are close to me who understand my experiences, and I do not get comfortable. Although, this is my first year in this position I try not to hold back.”Sometimes you experience something and think, am I trippin’? am I being too sensitive? and that is one of the issues with microaggressions.” I told the student that what they deal with unfortunately does not change if they were in my position or in a position higher than mine. I said, “I am not saying this to discourage you and I want to keep it 100.”
I struggled as I told them to create their experience and if they decide to transfer then I support that decision as well. I struggled because “you are not going to destroy the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy by creating your own version of it” (bell hooks). So what do you do?
Those who are privileged do not understand the preparation it takes to take a step outside of wherever you live (maybe even inside your “home”) and face society. Especially given our current political climate. Before I move passed this do you understand that people are afraid to step out of their homes? that people’s families are being torn a part? and that people are getting killed and the criminal is serving zero time? Yes, the police. They, the privileged, do not understand that it takes strength to figure out how to face each day without using a colorful choice of words to refrain from being labeled.
I cannot speak from a lense outside of PWI’s but they are notorious as you know (or may not know because you are the epitome of privilege) for not supporting their students with underrepresented identities. Yes, there are specific offices (are you following me here) that do great work across the United States to support underrepresented populations and Universities as a whole (still following me?) need to do better. “Add and stir” is a method multiple Universities keep investing in without changing the hegemonic systems that create inequity.
I ask if you are following me because often there is not University buy in. I am talking about buy in beyond mentioning it in the mission and pointing everyone’s brother, sister, aunties girlfriends’ cousin to that one office. You know, the one called “Office of Diversity Affairs” or “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” Catch my drift?
As faculty and staff (including all the “higher ups”) have a responsibility to the campus climate. No, I cannot sit in an office working with underrepresented students and not seek out opportunities to learn more about them, what identities they hold, and their experiences on and off campus.
This effort starts with the person you look at in the mirror and do not get comfortable.
“Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, reveling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community” (bell hooks).