I really debated posting this one. I’m not sure if I’m the best voice to bring this topic up, but I have seen so many SA pros take controversial stances (aka James Frier’s post on the #SAchat community among others) that I feel I can’t sit this one out.
I want to start by saying that I am aware that the topic I am about to dive into is highly sensitive and is something that continues to evolve as we learn more information. I do not want anyone to think that these remarks are coming from an insensitive place, as that is not my intention at all. It is my hope that we use the topic below as a starting point to better inform our ongoing work and development as a profession charged with educating students (and ourselves).
On Monday, I saw my Twitter feed start to talk about tweet-ups and a couple of them encouraged attendees to wear hoodies in support of Trayvon Martin. For those unfamiliar with this case, I would suggest reading up on it, as I don’t want to try to encapsulate the case here, for fear of missing an important detail and then having my main point be missed.
While I think that the visual image of solidarity through wearing hoodies is a fine expression regarding a tragic situation involving the unnecessary loss of a young life, I also have to stop and think “What other ways can our profession address underlying issues in our society related to race, class, violence, and a myriad of other social issues that continue to plague our society and world?” I think that the wearing of hoodies can be a powerful initial showing of solidarity and can be a powerful demonstration that this is an issue that we recognize as a potential defining moment in how we talk about race, class, gender, violence, and other problems. My hope is that this is only a first step, and that we use this moment to increase awareness, and then transform that awareness into other actions and educational opportunities.
Disclaimer – I am not an expert in social justice work or theory. I am privileged as a white, middle class man who lives in a low-crime area. With that said, I feel that if our sole focus becomes presenting “images” of solidarity, such as wearing hoodies in this case, then we are failing to properly do our work as educators. The concept behind social justice (in my self-acknowledged narrow understanding) is rooted in the ability to educate our students about societal inequalities and spur students, as well as ourselves, to action. While I admit that for many of our students, the image of solidarity through an action such as wearing a hoodie is probably at the level of development where our students are at the present time in their own personal development. However, if ever there was a time to challenge them (challenge and support!?), I would argue the time is now! We should be working to address injustices that prevent equal and full participation in a society where each of us has the ability to make our own choices in a safe environment.
I am currently not at ACPA. Perhaps these conversations are happening, and fellow student affairs professionals are engaged in these conversations about privilege, injustice, and our role in educating students. If they are, please be sure to use the backchannel and social media to share what you are discussing! It is my hope that we use this opportunity to create workshops, webinars, and “unconference” sessions on these topics, as with all of the attention that this case has garnered thus far, now is a great time for us to share our ideas and approaches to educating students on these important topics. Bringing ideas back to our campuses and working with our own diversity/multicultural/social justice offices will hopefully lead to a better understanding of issues that challenge our society.
I would welcome ideas on how we as a community can be moved to action as a group of people who are clearly committed to creating positive change in our world through our work with students.