A competition to see who has it worse? Who would want to train for such a thing? Surprisingly, many people engage in what is called the “Oppression Olympics” and I urge you to watch this thought-provoking 2 minute long video about it. Go ahead; I’ll be here when you get back.
Last week I was in Denver at Creating Change, the nation’s largest LGBT conference. While there, I listened to the unfortunate frustrations of my peers — other directors of GLBT resource centers in higher education — who contend regularly with people playing the above-referenced games. My peers confided that colleagues, administrators, and students question their commitment to GLBT equity and inclusion when my colleagues express solidarity with non-GLBT disenfranchised populations. These directors have heard accusations such as, “You’re diluting GLBT advocacy when you direct your resources to ending [fill in the blank with oppressed group] oppression!” and “Why do you help them when they don’t help us?”
There’s no question where BSU stands on issues of social justice, diversity, and community building. To see the importance and priority we give to diversity, we need only point to our mission, strategic plan, learning goals, and successes like closing the achievement gap. But more than that we have a spirit, a heart, in our community that connects and sustains us as we strive toward greater social justice.
At the conference, colleagues looked to me to see how we “do it at Bridgewater.” I proudly talked about collaborations between my students and the students of Men Integrated in Brotherhood — men who are confident enough in their masculinity and sexuality to not feel threatened to stand with those who hold gender and sexual identities different from their own. I spoke about how I worked with Sydne Marrow of the Center of Multicultural Affairs to develop P.E.A.C.E. — a promising new program for student leaders designed to foster cross-cultural competence and empathy. And I talked about the support of our institutional leaders. We would not be nearly as successful as we are at building coalition among diverse student populations without the commitment of folks like (in alphabetical order) Fred Clark, Sabrina Gentlewarrior, Sydne Marrow, Dana Mohler-Faria, Richardson Pierre-Louis, Jason Pina….I could go on; and I haven’t even mentioned the countless faculty members and students who live and breathe social justice.
This mutual joining together around social justice makes up the soul of who we are at BSU. Rather than competing to “turn the tables” of oppression, we heed Audre Lorde’s advice and we work together– differences and all– to dismantle the master’s house using the tools of shared power, knowledge, and commitment to peace.
Lee Forest is the director of the GLBTA Pride Center