Of advocacy, risk, loss and holiday anxiety

I’m damn lucky.
I’m financially stable, secure in my facts, able to convey opinions and comfortable in the loss that comes with advocacy.

But as the holidays approach, I realize this places me in a seat of privilege that our students do not have but so desperately need.

For the last four months, college students across the country have done a deep dive into serious issues of violence, sexual assault, drugs and alcohol, race, police brutality and the right to basic civil liberties. As administrators, we have encouraged the dialogue and ability to have this conversation. We have championed opinions and told students they have ideas worth sharing.

Suddenly, students face a very real decision – share these stories and risk so much loss.
-What will your student say when their aunt claims “I don’t see anyone protesting black on black crimes. Besides, it should be #AllLivesMatter, not #BlackLivesMatter.”
-What will your student say when their dad claims “Well, of course she got raped. She shouldn’t have been so drunk or wearing a short skirt.”
-What will your student say when their grandfather claims “No one in my family is a faggot.”
-What will your student say when their brother claims “Of course the US is justified in the use of torture. Don’t you remember 9/11?”
-What will your student say when their best friend from high school claims “You’ve changed. You were more fun before you left for you college.”

Being true and authentic to one’s self has many real life consequences.
-Students face the very real situation of losing support from their family or friends.
-Students face the very real situation of being cut off financially from their family.
-Students face the very real situation of being disowned from their family.
-Students face the very real situation of becoming homeless during any break – winter/holiday break, spring break, summer, Thanksgiving.

I’m damn lucky. I can get a hotel room, rent a car and go back to my home in Boston. For my students, the conversation is more difficult.

Advocacy is hard. There is real risk and real loss associated with advocacy.

When a student tells you that they’re anxious about going home for the holidays, think about why. They may be facing significant loss.

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Of advocacy, risk, loss and holiday anxiety

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

When you can’t afford to be silent any longer

I’m just going to leave this here for a minute for you to read –

Letter to the editor: Student Life has had enough of hateful graffiti

It didn’t take long after it posted when the first comment came:
“why would someone whose primary pastime is hateful graffiti care what Student Life has to say about their hateful graffiti?”

I can’t speak for anyone else who has their name on the letter, but I can say I don’t care what the perpetrator thinks. This is about showing our Emerson family, our community that we care. I want anyone who feels hurt or victimized to know that we love them unconditionally. We have to express to our community that we as administrators feel it, too… and we recognize people are silently hurting from vandalism.

I’ve wanted to tweet this for weeks: “Listen assholes, the next one of you who scribbles racist & hateful graffiti on our campus will answer to me.”

But I didn’t. Something held me back.
In a uncharacteristic Jason moment, I didn’t stick my neck out there. I was hesitant to say this. I was afraid of the reaction of other administrators and other professionals I’ve connected with all over the US. Was I overstepping my bounds? Would a more measured and gentle response get more traction?

Yesterday was enough.

I’m proud of our office for saying something with passion and caring. I’m proud of us for sticking our necks out in a vulnerable and honest way. I’m proud of us for standing up for love and respect.

Today I’m proud to encourage discussion and look forward to the conversations that follow… conversations that happen face to face and those that happen in digital space. Because at the end of the day, love is louder. Let’s trump hate with love.

When you can’t afford to be silent any longer