Oh, Racism…you are so pervasive.

This week, I’ve been thinking that this situation at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign , with students tweeting racist and sexist comments about their Chancellor, was a real hot mess. But at least, I thought, it reminds us that racism and sexism are alive and well in this country. We can see this clearly when someone is targeted on the basis of her race and sex for a decision having nothing at all even remotely related to those characteristics.

And then I read UIUC alum Greg Dehorst’s response in the HuffPost, entitled: Monetizing Racism and What the University of Illinois Really Taught Me. Now, Greg is displeased with the nature of these comments that were made, which he called “extremely insensitive”. But Greg also wants to assure us that this is not what UIUC is all about. Sure there are a few bad seeds, but that’s not how it really is there. And, of course, the reason this all got blown so out of proportion is that Buzzfeed manufactured the popularity of the story on the internet (and is making money off of those clicks).

I really disagree with this response. No, Buzzfeed is not manufacturing make-believe racism and sexism. Buzzfeed NOTICED the racism and sexism that is pervasive in our society. I’m not sure how the author is conceptualizing the “monetizing”of racism, but I’m pretty sure that racism is already making money… for white people…because that’s how racism works. These students didn’t make “insensitive” comments. They made hateful and biased comments, attacking someone based on her targeted identities for no good reason at all. If someone started a #fuckgreg hashtag about the author, compared him to people widely regarded as tyrants, including Adolf Hitler and Kim Jong Un, or said that he could “shove the weather up {his} wide set vagina”, would he find it “insensitive”?

Wanting to justify this situation and explain away this racist and sexist behavior is completely indicative of the author’s own privilege. Yes, I believe that he  learned things, helped people, and did generally good stuff while at his alma mater. I did a crap load of really good stuff at UMaine. I love UMaine. But that doesn’t make it less a part of the racist, sexist, heteronormative dominant culture. And it doesn’t make me less white, straight, middle class, or educated.

Does “rebroadcasting” these racist comments feel good or happy or comfortable? No. Does it make us all want to sing kumbaya together and talk it out about how we can overcome these societal ills? Not really. But saying that racism and sexism shouldn’t be dragged out into the public eye and showcased for what they are and how they exist is telling marginalized people that their pain doesn’t matter and telling privileged and bigoted voices that they will not be held accountable or made to feel bad about intentionally demeaning others. These tweets are acts of intentional, active racism and sexism.

No one deserves to feel comfortable about dehumanizing and demoralizing others. That’s exactly what privilege is. And when we suggest that instead of calling out that oppressive behavior, we should gently ease it into the joy and love of diverse relationships, we are missing the point. We are giving more privilege to the oppressors than they already have. We are putting the burden on the marginalized groups to play nice, teach their oppressors, and not be angry about being called #bitch or #cunt (or everything else). Here’s a newsflash (speaking from my woman identity): If someone calls me those words, I AM NOT HOLDING YOUR HAND AND TELLING YOU IT’S OKAY. IT’S NOT OKAY. Privilege, privilege, privilege!

I am not suggesting that we intentionally cause physical harm to people who post things like that, but I think that a good dose of emotional and cognitive dissonance is necessary. And when you submit your racist and sexist comments into the public sphere on the internet, you become part of the public sphere. So you’re about to get back what you dish out.  Oppression doesn’t deserve to have its hand held on the first day of school. Oppression can get thrown into the cold, hard, world and cry it out. No kumbaya and s’mores for racism and sexism here.

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20 Things to Learn in Your 20s

20 things to learn in your 20s (1)

I have recently noticed the sheer number of lists on the internet explaining the keys to success (or failure) for 20-somethings. So, for our RA training this week, I decided to present my take on this fad. Of course, I did so through the lenses of college student development theory.

The fact that there are so many of these lists floating around and that we are quite attracted to them is no coincidence. Our 20s, and college in particular, is a time of huge growth and development. Psychosocial identity development, cognitive development, moral development, adjusting to changing environments, establishing vocational aspirations…all of these areas are part of the foundations of student development theory. And these are the areas that 20-somethings seek to explore and address in creating these aspirational (or cautionary) lists. We are all trying to figure out who we are, what we care about, who we love, and what we want to do with our lives. It’s incredibly exciting and incredibly terrifying. It’s growing up.

And so, as an educator of 20-somethings and a 20-something myself, I offer up the following list. It is by no means exhaustive. It is hardly specific (intentionally). But it is rooted in the idea that learning and development happens in the spaces where we become uncomfortable, question ourselves, and are appropriately challenged and supported by our environments.

20 Things to Learn in Your 20s

  1. Set financial goals and save money. Yes, student debt is crappy. Bills are crappy. Some of us make more money than others. But managing your finances and trying to think of money in the long-term is an important investment in your future.
  2. Develop friendships with people who support your goals and values (and who you like!) Friends are not Pokemon. You don’t have to catch them all. Pick ones that really have your back, that build you up and make you feel a sense of worth and belonging. You want these people to lean on when times get tough.
  3. Practice a positive attitude. Sometimes things get difficult. Although no one should suffer in silence, choosing your attitude goes a very long way.
  4. Get uncomfortable. You will never learn anything if you are happy and cozy all the time. It’s called cognitive dissonance. It’s good.
  5. You don’t know lots of things. You will sometimes (perhaps often) be wrong. Even when you have a college degree. Even when you have a graduate degree. Even when you sit in the corner office. It’s better to recognize that than to pretend that you know it all (and be lying to yourself).
  6. Seek out the things that you want and make you happy. Please do not choose a career that you hate and then proceed to spend most of your adult life logging 40, 50, or 60 hours a week in a job that’s the equivalent of a barren wasteland devoid of joy and meaning. If you happen to not yet have a family, job, house, dog, etc to pay for, this is a good time to figure out what actually does make you happy and fulfilled without the full pressure of financially supporting others.
  7. Take risks. Please refer to #4. No risk, no reward. In fact, sometimes you take risks and there is still no reward. But what is worth doing even if you fail?
  8. Make mistakes. You will f up. In fact, you probably f up every day. So are you going to beat yourself up about this or are you going to accept it as part of life?
  9. Prioritize your wellness. Newsflash: You’re not getting any younger. Also, you don’t get to trade in your body when you turn 30. So if you spend this decade filling it with Redbull, beer, and chicken wings, never taking it out for exercise, and never giving it rest, that’s what you’re working with for the rest of forever. Stand your ground on aspects of your wellness that are important to you. Is it your mental health? Exercise? Sleep? All of the above? Make those non-negotiables. Achievement or proving yourself is not worth it if you are running yourself into the ground and wrecking your body.
  10. Care about others and express that care. Let down the walls. Say “I love you”. It makes people feel good. It makes you feel good.
  11. Travel and explore other cultures. There is a hell of a lot out there that you don’t even know exists and have no idea about. And you can learn so much and gain so much from exploring.
  12. Keep learning after college. College was great, but I’m certain that we don’t teach you everything in life while you’re here. Hopefully you have more questions than answers when you leave.
  13. Some people just need to be removed from your life. Toxic relationships need to go. Or be minimized. If someone makes you feel like shit on a regular basis and is bringing you down, cut the cord. Your self-worth and value cannot be tied to someone’s harmful and negative behavior.
  14. Love and accept yourself. You are enough. You are a wonderful and imperfect human being. Until you love yourself, you really can’t love others.
  15. Figure out what you believe in and value (it might be different than what your family believes). Also, your beliefs and values might change over time. Speak your truth.
  16. Don’t sweat the small stuff (s**t happens) Getting worked up over small things that can be overcome is simply not worth it. Learning how to deal with and manage these things will go a long way for your peace of mind and stress levels. Sometimes you are running late. Sometimes you forget to send someone a birthday card. Sometimes you accidentally scratch up the whole side of your brand new car and it’s totally your fault (for example). Life goes on. It could be so much worse.
  17. There are a lot of things and people you just can’t control. You may really want to change a person or organization and despite your best efforts, it simply doesn’t happen. Not everything in life is within your scope of control. It’s important to positively effect the things that are, but not everything is.
  18. Don’t be afraid to fall in love. Don’t be afraid to fall out of love. As Kenny Rogers said, “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em”
  19. You are not the center of the universe. But you are part of it. It’s not all about you. It’s really, really not. However, your decisions, actions, and attitudes affect others. In fact, they probably have effects that you are not even aware of. So think about others.
  20. You will change. Your life will change. Embrace it. Things are constantly changing. You can either fight it or ride the wave.

Imperfection.

Why hello, blogosphere…It’s been a while. I’ve been quite the absentee for a while now. Perhaps I’ve been overwhelmed by other commitments. Perhaps my writing is subject to the fleeting nature of the seasons. Perhaps I lost inspiration. At any rate, I think I’m back on the writing wagon. A fitting introduction for this post, which concerns my “One Word” for 2014: Imperfection. 

Why fitting? Because Perfectionist Ashley would have looked at a 9 month hiatus from the pursuit of blogging as a failure that should be swept under the internet rug. Cancel that domain. Delete the account. Hope no one ever asks me again about blogging. However, I’m on a little crusade to battle perfectionism in my life, which I started to explore in this NASPA WISA Blog Post a few months ago. In honor of this, I have chosen “Imperfection” as the word that I hope to use to define the next year. 

For those who aren’t familiar with the One Word concept, it’s sort of like a New Year’s Resolution, but instead of choosing a goal, you choose a single word to embody and explore for the year. My previous words have been Change and Momentum. I can’t help but feel that Imperfection has a decidedly different character than the previous words. My One Word always has something to do with what I can become in the coming year, and Imperfection might seem like a cop-out to some. Am I trying to give myself a pass to screw up over the next year? How unprofessional/childish/capricious/blah blah blah…

But wait. I am giving myself a pass to screw up. Well, I’m trying to, at least. I’m trying to exercise self-compassion in the moments of screwing up. I’ve already started to practice this philosophy and I’m feeling pretty good about it so far. Because let’s be honest: I’ve been screwing up royally for my whole life at various times. And I can say that telling myself “Hey, it’s okay, you’re still an awesome person and people love you” as opposed to “OH MY GOD you really messed that one up, there’s no recovering from that, everyone will be so disappointed in you!” makes a pretty big difference. 

I hope to write about my journey into Imperfection here. But if I get busy and forget, then oh well. I’m still a pretty cool person. 

And for good measure, here’s a very nice picture of imperfection. This was on New Year’s Eve and I hope that my year is something like this. I was having an awesome time and didn’t even care that I look borderline rabid in this selfie with my best friend. May all of 2014 have this level of delighted abandon!

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