by Andrea M. Garr-Barnes, MSW – Director, Center for Multicultural Affairs
Conversations about race, racism and white privilege are some of the most difficult conversations most folks will ever engage in. As an African American woman, I often find myself being seduced by the opportunity to discuss this topic. Merriam-Webster defines seduced – seducing as to persuade to disobedience or disloyalty. In many communities of color children are taught not to discuss issues related to race, racism and white privilege. For some folks outside of the community of color it is unimaginable to think one cannot feel the same level of despair that our brothers and sisters experience as a result of racial microaggressions. I must admit I struggle to understand the difficulty some have in owning that social justice issues affect different groups differently.
I weep for the scars embedded in the souls of my sisters and brothers that sexually identify differently than me. I can honestly say I have never experienced the wounding of being treated as “less than” because I choose to love someone who is the same gender as me. Until I have that experience I can only be a compassionate listener and an active voice. I can never walk in my brothers or sisters shoes. You see at any given moment I have the power to make the active decision to avoid the “isms” associated with being a member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community.
Race and social class are social constructs in which membership cannot be exported. In order to do so members of society must first redefine the paradigms. Before we can begin the task of redefining race and social class we must take the difficult steps to embrace differences. Embedded in this process is providing repeated opportunities for groups to deeply discuss issues of race, racism and white privilege. Each member of the group must be mindful that not everyone is at the same place of acceptance regarding the effects of race, racism and white privilege.
As members of the Student Affairs profession our ability to create a welcoming campus environment for under-represented students is intimately linked to our ability to create a welcoming environment for under-represented staff and faculty that act as institutional guardians for our students of color. Students are watching us. Students are being informed by our non verbal actions. Solutions to challenges related to race, racism and white privilege are a process. This process involves opportunities for teams of Student Affairs staff to develop inclusive and innovative strategies that may or may not work. We must allow room for perceived failure. There is much to learn from perceived failure. Change is slow and organic. Change is messy and uncomfortable. Therefore, it is important that we celebrate the small accomplishments.
The celebration of small wins will provide all students, faculty and staff with life experiences to draw from when faced with the “isms”. Bridgewater State University’s conversations about race, racism and white privilege are an opportunity to build upon the strong foundation we have already laid. It is time to get to the business of re-designing the home we want to rest on our foundation. As difficult as implementing change may be at times, the final outcome is well worth the struggle.
I challenge folks reading this article to entertain the thought of building consensus around diverse methods to create an inclusive campus. No one method out values the other. The value lies in our collective courage to create diverse pools of excellence for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, low income students, first generation college students, students of color and students that face physical and emotional challenges.