Supporting student activism

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We know we promised you Part III of our Feminist Formations series this week, but something came up that we really wanted to highlight: a fund that was created by Carleton alums of color to support the activism and organizing of current Carleton students. [We will post Part III next week!] We think they offer a terrific example of how alums can provide emotional and economic support to current students; we’re impressed by how they gathered together to make their gesture possible.

We have these alums’ permission to share with all of you the message they sent to our current students–we loved this concrete gesture of solidarity and support!

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Dear students:

These past few months have been extremely challenging as we see members of many minority and immigrant communities targeted due to fear, hate, and ignorance. A group of alumni have come together because we want you to know that we are here to support your efforts and the efforts of other students of color/international students. We want you to succeed and thrive at Carleton College.

Being a student is challenging. We know that many of you already juggle a full course load, spend hours on assignments outside of class, and engage in various co-curricular activities. Staying focused becomes difficult in times of frustration, anger, confusion, and despair.  But we also know that there is renewed energy building around opportunities for student activism and engagement.

Part of Carleton College’s mission statement reads, “Carleton develops qualities of mind and character that prepare its graduates to become citizens and leaders, capable of finding inventive solutions to local, national, and global challenges.” As you go forth in doing what is right, voicing your opinions and frustrations, and breaking down systems of interpersonal and structural oppression, we want you to know that we support you. Your actions matter. If you feel silenced or unheard, we want you to know that we see, hear, and value you. And we want to support your efforts to make a difference on campus and beyond.

To do that, we want to offer resources for students of color, international students, and the student organizations representing you. We have donated $900 dollars in gift cards to the OIIL office to fund student organizing. You can apply to use a gift card toward food or supplies needed to bring together other students in order to connect and mobilize around the causes that are most important to you.

Maybe you want to organize a group to be trained as grassroots organizers. Maybe you want to help canvas in the Northfield community. Maybe you want to bring an alum to campus to help you create a plan for action. Whatever makes sense for you, we want to help you get started. To request student activism funding, fill out this (short) form: https://goo.gl/forms/cXrcMoh1kB5ttooe2.

We have also set up a google spreadsheet where you can let us know more about your passions and how we can help. We want to connect students to alumni who have expertise in areas of importance to your student community. Whether your interest is in criminal justice reform, immigration policy, raising the minimum wage, sexual assault legislation or something else, there are likely alums of color and international alums we can connect you to.

We hope that these small steps can help create new conversations between students and alumni, and help students on campus stand together and work together as a community.

In solidarity,

Amina G. ’06, Bes K. ’12, Brittney ’13, Catie G. ’10, Hiyanthi P. ’15, Isabel R. ’12, Jini R. ’09, Katie J. ’04, Marlene C. ’06, Melissa M. ’04, Nimo K. ’11, and Song L. ’05

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If you’re a Carleton alum and you want to help this stellar group of alumni out, let us know and we’ll put you in contact  with them. If you’re a current student, we hope you’ll take advantage of this offer of emotional, intellectual, and financial support.

P.S. We are working on surveying some women of color alums about their experiences at Carleton–stay tuned for a future blog post on what we learned from them!

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Resiliency and allyship

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At Carleton’s MLK event this year, one of the student speakers asked the audience if they were engaging in self-care, making sure that they were getting enough sleep and eating well, etc.

That speech got us talking about how that this notion of self-care can be extended to thinking about how we build the resiliency and emotional strength to react in productive ways when we are being “called out” for something we said or did, particularly around issues of identities.

We wanted to share first a couple of examples of how we have reacted in the past–sometimes well, sometimes not–when we were challenged about something we said or did.

Recently, Anita was talking with a friend who is biracial about the Whitewashing phenomenon in Hollywood (and hey, check out our post on this topic if you haven’t already!) and, at the end, she jokingly said, “Yeah, you’ve got to get your people to get their act together.” Her friend said, “What do you mean ‘my people’?”

Anita: “Well, I mean, you have a White parent, you grew up with mostly White family members.”

Friend: “But they’re not ‘my’ people. I don’t get seen as White.”

At this point, Anita should have just stopped talking. Instead, she tried to defend her statement: “I know but they’re your people in a way they’re not mine because you grew up with them.”

Friend: “But so what? That doesn’t make them my people because you and I are more ‘people’ together because we’re both not seen as White.”

And so on. Eventually, Anita admitted that perhaps she was wrong and the friend graciously moved on, and even joked about White folks being “their people” a few days later.

One lesson that we took from this: Anita’s need to defend her not-so-well-thought-out joke become more important in this moment than respecting her friend’s right to name their own experience, community, and identity. Her comment reinforced essentialized notions of racial identity, which can serve to reify and naturalize racial categories. As two of our favorite theorists Omi & Winant note, “‘Essentializing’ race is always possible–treating it as a fundamental, transhistorical marker of difference can reduce race to a sort of uniform people are made to wear, thus reproducing–however consciously or unconsciously–the stereotyping that characterizes racism itself” (p. 261).

Adriana’s experience occurred at a retreat a few years ago where everyone was talking about their racial, cultural, and gendered identities. It’s probably important to know that there were several black women, a few Latinas, a few Asian American women, and several white people. Adriana found herself–naturally, in her eyes–bonding with the other Latinas and feeling close with the other women of color. She wanted to, and did, affirm their experiences openly.

On the third day of the retreat, after the group had gone through a few highly-emotional scenarios, including a discussion of colorism and prejudice, one of the women of color confronted Adriana during a full group discussion, demanding to know why she could identify as a woman of color while presenting as someone so white. She was angry, and in pain. Adriana didn’t know how to handle it at first; her instincts were to shut down, or to leave, or to be angry in return. Whose instincts would be any different? But instead, using a couple of the skills learned in the workshop, she stayed and listened. And then she asked the woman to ask her a question, which she would answer. And then she did.

It’s not that important to know exactly what the woman asked. But it matters that, even though it had been a while since Adriana had been confronted about her whiteness directly, she had a long history and practice of thinking about what her whiteness meant for how she was perceived and how she could and would build trust within communities of color; she knew she couldn’t expect any individual or group to accept her just because she said she belonged. And she was willing to be vulnerable and share with the room her story of who she had learned she was so that they might be willing to trust her.

That moment was hard, but Adriana’s willingness to take a deep breath and listen through the understandable anger opened up the possibility of building connection by being honest and acknowledging her white-passing privilege. This move then made space for the woman to hear Adriana’s truth.

While it seems difficult in the moment to step away from one’s own feelings and logic, it is possible to do so as Adriana’s example beautifully illustrates. And we’d argue that it is not only possible but also necessary to do because we need to be aware of how we might be contributing to discourses and practices that perpetuate inequality or oppression.

We’re not saying it’s easy nor are we saying that it’s not necessary to process one’s own emotions in such situations. Clearly, it’s difficult to let go of wanting to defend oneself, the impulse to say “hey, no, this is what I really meant to say,” because, well, we’re human. We are suggesting, however, that perhaps that emotional processing should not happen with the person who has been brave enough to say something to you or ask a question about how your actions, words or ways of navigating the world are complicit in reproducing discourses, practices, structures or systems that are racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist or classist.

Thinking about how to build and practice resiliency in these situations led us to a few overarching suggestions. First, we think it’s important to recognize your privileges, so that you are better able to listen to and validate people’s experiences when they don’t have those same privileges.  Second, we both endorse the deep breath method. When you’re challenged by someone else’s emotional truth that counters your own, you’ve just received a kind of shock that might shatter your perceptions about yourself and what you take for granted. So take a deep breath, and let your whole system adjust to this new reality. Finally, like any other skill–and we both see resiliency as a skill–it gets easier with practice.

Resources

Sally Huang-Nissen, 1999, Dialogue groups: A practical guide to facilitate diversity conversation (Los Altos, CA: Corner Elm Publications). Chapter 2.

Michael Omi & Howard Winant, 2015, Racial formation in the United States, 3rd ed. (New York: Routledge).

Katherine Roubos, 2016, “Cultivating Resilience: Antidotes to White Fragility in Racial Justice Education.”

Saroful, 2017, “How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101,” Crossknit.

Jamie Utt, 2016, “Learn about common ally mistakes,Everyday Feminism.

The Another Round podsquad gathered ideas from their listeners about how to be better allies and, of course, listening is listed as one key move. While they were focused on racial allyship, we think their ideas apply more broadly.

 

Dancing our stress away!

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One of the ways that we deal with the stresses of life, including the stresses of being brown women in academia and the upcoming elections, is by dancing! [SIDE NOTE: GO VOTE!!!] Sometimes by ourselves and, whenever possible, with others. This post is a list of songs that bring us joy and power when most needed. Shoutout to a couple of the inspirations for this post: the Black Joy Project and Dr. Cristina Yang’s dancing out her stress on Grey’s Anatomy. [Side note: We miss you, Cristina! Come back from Switzerland!]

Songs of power and joy [in no particular order]

Soy Yo” by Bomba Estéreo. What’s not to love about this song/video?! LOVE Brown Girl sass and self-confidence.

Nasty” by Janet Jackson. Self-explanatory, we think!

Umbrella” by Rihanna. Because in the past, Anita has totally given Adriana her umbrella, ella, ella, eh! [Yes, inside joke, so deal.]

Hungama Ho Gaya” from the movie “Queen.” Because no dance soundtrack is complete without a cheesy Bollywood song.

Tightrope” by Janelle Monae. We love how she takes on what it means to be a person of color in a white world, but we also just swoon over Monae’s style and swagger.

“Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa. Though Anita was just a wee lass (ahem) when this song first came out, she has grown to love it as much as Adriana!

My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It)” by En Vogue.  Four gorgeous women of color with beautiful harmonies? Yes!

All of Lemonade–yaaaas, Queen Bey. ‘Cause she slays and we do too! What’s your favorite song of the album?

Go Your Own Way” by Cece Segarra for all the times when the truth needs to come out.

WTF” by Missy Elliott. We adore Missy’s boldness, lyrical creativity, and her choreographic consistency.

We can’t resist adding two of Shakira’s songs: “Hips Don’t Lie” combines pop with politics, Spanish and English; “Loba” is just over-the-top, glorious femme fun.

Somos Sur” by Ana Tijoux featuring Shadia Mansour. Tijoux has some amazing songs that critique colonization, racism, and patriarchy and they’re totally danceable!

Let ‘em say” by Lizzo and Caroline Smith. We love the video shot in Anita’s current hometown, Minneapolis, and the wonderful energy of the two singers!

Traveling” by Utada Hikaru. Anita’s favorite J-Pop singer from the years she spent in Japan!

This is admittedly a very partial list and we’d love to learn what women of color you (yes, you!) are listening and dancing to. Tell us in the comments. Who did we miss? Who do you like dancing to when this racist, sexist, homophobic….world is getting you down?  (OMG, writing that we realize we didn’t link to Selena, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin…)

Re-framing “self”-care

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We think a lot about the notion of “self-care,” because we want our lives to be sustainable and because everyone else is thinking and worrying about how to do it too. Yet in all of our love of massages, therapy, and the right amount of dark chocolate and white wine (or red or rosé, whatever floats our boats ‘cause we’re all about ‘diversity’), we wondered whether “self-care” placed too much responsibility for collective well-being on the shoulders of individuals. In that vein, we recently read two pieces that we think do a nice job of analyzing the notion of “self-care” as being part of an individualistic neoliberal framework. The first piece argues that, in order to have lives less focused on work, we shouldn’t focus our individual effort to achieve the ever elusive work-life balance but, rather, we need to engage in a collective effort to change the culture of our workplaces, through unions. As Peter Fleming concludes,

The trouble with much work-life balance advice is that it’s been captured by the self-help movement. It all centres on the individual. If you want to rekindle your wellbeing and discover your inner potential, then take control of your choices, find a job that better fits your temperament, erect firm boundaries between work and leisure and learn to say no…The trick is to see the ritual of overwork as a societal pressure, not an individual fault. And much of this pressure stems from the disempowerment of the workforce that has occurred over the last 20 years…We need to come together as a group to voice these concerns if progressive policy and legislation are to be forged. Otherwise little will change. Want a healthier work-life balance? Join a union.

While we appreciated this author’s focus on collective organizing and pushing back against impossible demands and expectations, the second piece we want to highlight focuses more specifically about the experiences of women of color in academia. Karen Hanna offers suggestions for “survival” and what we really appreciated about her suggestions was her focus on building healing community spaces with other women of color. We’ve certainly relied on individual women of color friends as well as communities of women of color to support us through everyday and extraordinary experiences of marginalization during our graduate school days and throughout our years of being faculty members.  We also appreciated her call for fighting for funding for healing spaces and for identifying allies in our institutions “who have access to funds and understand the needs of women and queer people of color.”

We hope that you find the two articles as inspiring as we did. Here’s to collective organizing, dreaming, and healing!