A paper for my Multicultural Competency in Student Affairs class:
First of all, I want to clarify that I cannot stand the term, “plan.” It seems soulless when the context is multicultural action or social justice. A plan is something that does not reach my heart. For the purpose of this paper, I am going to use “journey” as the descriptor for what this document is all about. I think I’ve been on a multicultural competency journey since I started my graduate program. In the span of 2 years I have gained significant social justice “muscles.” I’ve written about white privilege, sexism, heterosexism, homophobia, and ableism. I attended a multicultural institute. I have decided that I am going to be an anti-racist, feminist, ally. When I started my graduate program I talked about the importance of diversity but I was not aware of my white privilege. I was not aware that I was actively contributing to sexism. I did not realize that oppressions are interconnected. I was an ally for LGBT folks but I did not realize how much racism and sexism seeped from my psyche.
My journey into social justice is still in its infancy. It is my desire to use this paper as a letter to myself. It will serve as a reminder to me that I still have a lot of learning and self-awareness work to do. Hopefully I will read this paper 5 to 10 years from now and see progress. This paper will serve as my social justice time capsule. One of my professors said that living with purpose makes someone matter. Multicultural action and social justice are two things that matter in my life. I wrote a paper about how oppression harms the oppressor and I really feel that this place that I am now in allows me to work towards subverting the dominant paradigm and the system of institutionalized oppression that we all live in.
What multicultural issues do I want to learn more about?
Suzanne Pharr’s excellent work on the common elements of oppressions has helped me to understand the linkages of various oppressions. The oppression of one marginalized group via the marginalization of another group will not end oppression. I’ve heard this labeled as “the Oppression Olympics.” I really feel that this interconnectedness of oppressions is something that I need to research further. I also need to dialogue with others about how to articulate the fact that I truly believe that oppressions are all related. I have read a lot, but I need to experience more in my daily life. Thankfully, I have a great group of social justice educator friends who humor my thirst for conversation.
In addition to conversations, I am planning on reading more books by people of color, by folks who are transgender, by folks with disabilities, and by folks who write from the perspective of multiple oppressions. For example: radical women of color.
My knowledge of history needs to be re-made. I was taught that Columbus discovered America. How do Native Americans exist in that kind of educational system? I hope to use my white privilege to work towards re-educating my white sisters and brothers. I know very little. I have taken a few classes, read a few books, and had a few conversations, but I still have a lot of work to do. Another “issue” that I need to address is my own heritage. What do I know about Germany, Ireland, or the Cherokee Nation? Almost nothing. The truth of the matter is that I am white and my culture is unknown to me. I have to learn about my own history.
My social life
When I was growing up, all of my friends were white. I did not have any friends of color. None of the members of my family had friends of color that I knew of. Everyone that I associated with on a social level for the first two-thirds of my life were white, heterosexual, and low to middle class. Presently, I have friends of color, friends who are gay, and my partner is a woman of color. Does this mean anything? I think it means that I have come a long way in my understanding of what it means to appreciate and celebrate differences. My current friends are as diverse as my thinking. I have learned a lot from them. They have been so patient with me. Sometimes I feel like all I do is ask questions. Most of the time though, I feel like my social life is wonderful. I support my friends and they support me.
As I continue my multicultural journey I have come to realize that I need to speak up sometimes. One venue where I feel that I need to voice my opinion in is the professional conference. When I hear a white person say something about “normal students” and then refer to students of color as “non-traditional,” I need to speak up. I think I will plan on presenting at the next NASPA conference. I think it would be appropriate if I presented a session on ally work from a student affairs context. Perhaps a half-day session so that material could be delved into. It has been too often the case, in my experience, that social justice sessions barely scratch a surface and rarely involve depth.
How will I approach institutionalized discrimination?
I think I will work hard to educate those who are in my sphere of influence that the institution is oppressive and works towards an educational subversion. White privilege is a powerful tool when it is used as a crowbar against oppression.
Blogs and Action
I have found that blogs, both reading them as well as posting on one, have proven to be a great way to connect with a diverse group of people. It takes a lot of energy to post on my blog as well as to take the time to read what other people are writing, but I think I have built virtual relationships that are fairly strong. They have been forged by our collective stance against oppression. Who knows if our blogs will always exist, but at the very least, they have given us ways to connect and to share with one another.
I realize that this journey letter, this plan, this smattering of thoughts is but a small part of my everyday existence. Multicultural competency is something that is an ongoing process in my life. I feel that I have so much to learn and to discover about myself but also about people all over the world. It’s frightening that someone can make it this far in life and still have no idea about who they are. The reality is that I am a long ways away from being a multiculturally competent student affairs practitioner. Most of the theories that I have been taught come from a supposedly generalizable, white-male specific foundation. I need to read about theories from people of color about people of color. I need to read about theories from LGBT folks about LGBT folks. My head is spinning with what I need to learn. (Eric — when you read this next, you need to have read some more, talked some more, etc.)