With inclusivity, it’s the little things

Sometimes it’s the littlest gestures that mean the most.

I’m proud to work at one of the most LGBT-friendly colleges in the country. Because of this, colleagues frequently ask what we do to be so inclusive. It’s the little things.

Today, during an Orientation workshop, I was reminded of one of the little things we do so well. In meeting students at Orientation, we use the following dialogue:

“Hi, my name is Jason. I’m one of the Orientation advisors and I use he, him, his gender pronouns.”

We don’t do it once. We do it all of the time.

We don’t do it with just new students. We do it with all students.

This isn’t an introduction but a continued dialogue.

Let your students share their chosen name and prefered gender pronouns. Don’t make it a big deal. Just make it a normalized behavior.

Sure, it might feel funny to you to say something that might be obvious if you’re a cis-gendered individual… but for those who identify as trans, gender queer or non-gender normative, it gives them an opportunity to proclaim who they are in a safe and non-threatening way.

Besides, knowing someone’s prefered gender pronoun is far more helpful to know than what their favorite ice cream is or their favorite Disney movie or their spirit animal.

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With inclusivity, it’s the little things

On the topic of privilege

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about issues of privilege, feminism and social justice. 

Here’s some backstory – Over the last six months, my twitter feed has slowly transformed. I’ve unfollowed a lot of people and followed new interests… as I’ve done that, my feed has become less higher education/student affairs focused and more focused on issues surrounding feminism and social justice.

You see, I was that guy. As a white male, I sit on a lot of privilege. I recognize this. I’m a progressive minded person. I’ve been to “diversity” retreats and workshops (I can always sneak in undetected by using the gay card). I’m well-read. I would have used the word “ally” in the past.

But after spending the last few months, I’ve changed my perspective a bit. Here are some new takeaways –

On issues of being an ally –
Announcing to the world you’re an ally is exceedingly self-serving. Stop patting yourself on the back. I’m glad you think you’re a male feminist. Stop bragging about how great you are and do something meaningful. Actions take a lot more effort than a Facebook comment or by simply stating “I have a black friend!” What are you doing?

On issues of space – 
I see white people inserting themselves into hash-tagged conversations started by people of color concerning race/social justice. STOP IT. Tweeters are trying to carve out a space for themselves. As a white person, we have a giant space available for us. Make some room for others to talk without your interruptions and watch from afar. Your input isn’t as relevant as you think it is. Who knows. You might learn something.

On issues of anger –
Yes, a lot of social justice/feminist bloggers & tweeters can come off as angry. Why wouldn’t they be? Doesn’t everyone have the right to be angry? No one questions your anger or frustration. When you come from a marginalized community (as many people of color do), you are frequently told to be submissive and go with the flow. Anger is a manifestation of years of being told to be submissive. Give everyone space to be angry and frustrated. And again, listen to the anger. You might learn some context.

On issues of education –
You know what to do to become better educated surrounding people of color. Stop asking. Read a book written by a Zora Neale Hurston or Banana Yoshimoto. Familiarize yourself with the filmography of Pedro Almodovar or dabble in your first Bollywood film. Stop listening to Taylor Swift or Katy Perry and give some Afro-Cuban music a try.

On issues of gender –
Being gay doesn’t make you an expert on feminism. Liking Ani DiFranco does not make you qualified to give perspective on feminism. Are you a woman? That’s a qualifying factor. Otherwise, you are pro-feminism.

I have more. But I’ll spare them for now. Because damn it, I’m white and I have opinions.

On the topic of privilege