Moving Forward.

America is a broken and divided nation. Trump is a symptom of these conditions.

Today I feel a great deal of fear and anger. I recognize that this is a result of the fear and anger of a great many Americans who feel dissatisfied because our economy and government have caused much anxiety over the past several years. How do we, as humans, often discharge our feelings of discomfort, uncertainty, and anxiety? By blaming others. By latching onto an oppressive system that lets you believe that there’s an easy solution to the deep complexities of contemporary life: “return” to simplicity; wall out the uncertain; retreat to the comfort of privilege; assign blame and relieve yourself of your fears.

So today, I will not blame. I will do my best to understand this environment and conditions, commit to my values, commit to a vision of an America where all people are full and equal participants in society, and commit to moving forward.

The current state of our society highlights the oppressive systems that are, and have been, thriving. It is all connected; all forms of oppression are connected. I believe that the political climate of this country will bring us dark times in the next few years. I am deeply, painfully concerned for the people I love, care about, and respect. It seems almost impossible to wake up, realize that everything you stand for, your values, your relationships, or your very existence, is under attack, and then to have to figure out a plan to fight back. But the political, social, and economic climate of our nation is not solely determined by one elected individual or elected body. We are not alone. We will not accept this as our fate, the fate of our nation, and the future for our children. We will not accept hatred and divisiveness as American values.

To my friends, family, students, and colleagues who feel lost, afraid, attacked, and dehumanized: I love, honor, and respect you. I encourage you to seek spaces of healing. And when you are ready, I invite you into dialogue and action. I am doing everything I can do to fan my own flame of hope and perseverance, and to not falter in the face of this environment. I am an active participant in shaping the future of this nation. We are all active participants in shaping each other’s lives and futures.

We must move forward in solidarity. We must discover new ways of being and connecting as communities to find paths of healing, resistance, and progress. The struggle continues.

Risk Without Reward

This morning, as I was walking across campus, my mind was racing with the events of the past few days. The murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, now counted among the continued, senseless murders of black and brown people; the swirling anger and vitriol that encompasses our national landscape–the blaming and finger pointing; the senseless killing in the line of action of Dallas police officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, and DART officer Brent Thompson; the violence that has occurred in Tennessee, south Georgia, and St. Louis. There is so much. There is too much. It is so clear that in a system of privilege and oppression, eventually, everyone starts to lose. 

But the thing is, at the same time that I can and should feel legitimate anger, fear, and sadness, the reality is, I still feel pretty damn safe. Because I am a highly educated, middle class white woman who lives in a predominantly white town, around a predominantly white university. My partner is white. My family members are white. So although there are plenty of things that I feel pretty awful about, the reality is that I still feel very secure for myself and the ones I love most.

The big issue that I’m dealing with this week is along the lines of “What do I say?” and “What should I do?” and, frankly “What about when I say/do the wrong thing and hurt/offend/piss off/oppress someone?” Never once in my life has it ever crossed my mind that I am going to be shot and killed by police while living my every day life. I don’t wake up in the morning or go to bed worried about what might happen if I get pulled over for speeding, or what might happen if my partner neglects to change a taillight and gets pulled over on the way to work at 4:30am, or if my sister might be walking down the street in Boston and might look a little “suspicious,” or if my Dad decides to have a bonfire in the backyard and the neighbors think it’s a problem. I never think about the result of my loved ones interacting with law enforcement being their sudden and tragic death. But people of color in America? They do have to worry about this. And the reason for this incredibly jarring disparity is white privilege.

And yet, against this stark reality check, I still struggle with questions about what to do and how to react to racism, oppression, and racial violence.  A lifetime of white privilege has made me feel that I’m almost always right, and if not, I gave it a darn good try and I should probably get a gold star for my efforts anyway, so it’s hard to admit that the root of the aforementioned struggle is the fear that I am going to potentially be utterly and completely wrong, shitty, and possibly racist in my thoughts and reactions. My friends, colleagues, and students of color are worried about getting killed and I’m worried about getting called out. The unjust absurdity of this is not lost on me, but that doesn’t change the fact that I need to deal with this to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. This week is hardly the first time that I’ve reckoned with this, and if I know anything about the pervasiveness of white privilege and white supremacy, I doubt it will be the last.

Fears of being “wrong,” of being rebuked, of being accidentally racist, of not recognizing white supremacist attitudes and behaviors, of not having something good to contribute to the conversation…these can often deter white folks from entering into conversation and action as we start to understand and realize the impact of racism. Privilege tends to protect us from those fears, instilling in us that we have a “right”to be in charge, to be expert, and to be given a high-five for our contributions. (Side note: white privilege also often intersects with various forms of identity oppression, so I have plenty of fears of being heard and respected as a woman, but that’s a different blog for a different day).

It’s uncomfortable to start to realize things, to start to wake up to the fact that you thought you had life figured out but oh my goodness, you had no idea. To think that you’ve got the rationale and the logic and the explanation, but there are people looking back at you like you are just absolutely not even in the ballpark of objective reality. To be called out for any number of things. It feels like shit. But I’m a firm believer that sometimes we need to get up close and personal with shit because our world is so horribly messed up. The systems in place are so unjust, violent, and pervasive. And if you’re privileged, most of the time you get to float around and above it all, relatively unscathed. In some ways, experiencing that horrible feeling is an invitation into understanding, and if you are starting to experience that, I invite you to lean into it. Lean into it with some degree of self-care, forgiveness, and support and connection with other anti-racist white folks. I invite you to consider asking yourself how you can show up and take risks, be uncomfortable, be wrong, make mistakes, apologize authentically, seek understanding, and don’t expect any reward to come your way. Consider how you can do that in the pursuit of an equal and just society in which all individuals and groups are able to freely and equally participate without fear of being shot in broad daylight at a traffic stop.

 

 

 

Our Common Purpose is Inclusion. Change the Location of NASPA 2016.

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The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience, but in times of challenge and controversy. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 2016 NASPA conference has been planned to be held in Indianapolis, IN in March of next year.

Today, the Governor of Indiana signed a bill into law known as the  that would allow businesses to challenge local laws that forbid discriminating against customers based on sexual orientation in court. It codifies the ability of businesses to defend discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

And we are going to go there. For our conference. Where we will be going to businesses. Businesses that feel that they now have a justifiable legal basis on which to openly discriminate against someone based on religious objections to their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. In a state that has openly institutionalized discrimination and oppression.

We are an association that professes our commitment to inclusion. We have a GLBT Knowledge Community. We have gender neutral bathrooms at our conferences. And now we have a huge national conference in a state which has just become much more hostile toward people who carry marginalized sexual orientation and gender identities.

Moving the conference with just less than a year to go would require a lot of time, energy, frustration, and financial loss. It would be a phenomenal pain. It would be very problematic. Not nearly as problematic as the discrimination and institutionalized oppression that we will implicitly support by bringing our business to Indiana. Not nearly as painful as the impact of oppression in the everyday lives of people with marginalized sexual orientations and gender identities.

And now, we as the members of the association, must call on NASPA Leadership to change the location of the 2016 conference. We call on them to be true to our guiding principle of Inclusion and choose the often inconvenient path of Integrity.

Fellow members, please join me in encouraging our association to take action on this matter and to stand in solidarity with all those who have been and will be negatively affected by this oppressive and unethical legislation. We have an obligation to demand this of those who lead us. NASPA, as an educational association, has an obligation to demand better from the governing systems of our country.

You can make your voice heard in this petition to NASPA President Kevin Kruger, NASPA Board Chair-Elect Frank Lamas, and NASPA 2016 Conference Chair Frank E. Ross. 

#50DollarsNot50Shades: Boycott 50 Shades of Grey

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Today, I decided that I was going to write a feminist literary critique of the insidious 50 Shades of Grey. As a feminist and someone who spent four years being trained in literary criticism, this seemed like an ostensibly easy task. I would read said piece of “literature” and apply various lenses to it. I told myself that we all must suffer for our crafts. I told myself that you must truly know your enemy. I was committed to getting on the level of this book.

I got through a handful of chapters, having fully realized that it was written in the style of a 12 year old’s diary, which is not a literary style I have dabbled in much since about 2001, and at that point I had firmly received my confirmation that the character of Christian Grey is a violent, controlling stalker. Because, you know, he shows up at the workplace of a young woman who he has only met once in a business setting, and that’s not something that is terrifying and completely unacceptable or anything. And he makes her sign a contract that strips her of her free will. Normal stuff. Totally healthy. 

So at this point in the game, I feel perfectly justified in transitioning my literary critique to a social critique because I have better things to do with my life than subject myself to actually reading this book. You’ll have to forgive that I have interpreted some plot points from secondary sources. 

Dear Women;

Please don’t go see 50 Shades of Grey. Really. Please just don’t.

I get why people (10 million people) are obsessed with the books. Well, I mean, I think that the writing is complete rubbish, so I’m still really struggling with that part, but I understand that women are sexually oppressed, and being able to buy soft core porn at Barnes & Noble has really changed things. I’m not telling you to boycott 50 Shades because I’m a prude who doesn’t want you to get your jollies. I’m very sex-positive. I think that the world would be much better off if we didn’t act like sex was some big old secret and if we could actually have open, positive, productive conversations with partners and others about the topic.

But I think it’s insane to act like 50 Shades is a vehicle for sexual empowerment and enlightenment. These books are about an extremely abusive relationship. A relationship in which one person endeavors to do everything he can to control all aspects of the other person’s life. In which he guilts and shames the other person into believing that she has to save or fix him. A relationship in which a man stalks a woman. In which he controls her appearance, socialization, and other relationships. In which he isolates her from friends and family. In which consent is swapped for coercion. In which he pressures her into getting an abortion. This is what we call abuse. This is what we call sexual violence. This is what we call rape. 

50 Shades has filled an apparent void of sexual empowerment for millions of women. This void is a result of the continuous shaming and devaluation of women’s bodies and experiences in our society. It is harmful and pervasive. What is even more harmful and pervasive is to continue to spread abuse-positive, violence-positive, and rape-positive messages related to sexual and romantic relationships. These messages are part of the very reasons that women are sexually oppressed in the first place.

If any person I cared about were ever in a relationship like the one depicted between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, I would do everything I could to get her to one of the many thousands of organizations that support, empower, and protect women and children who are victims and survivors of violent, controlling, damaging domestic relationships every day.

Before you go see this film, realize the incredible influence that the media plays on our lives. Realize that watching this movie and reading these books causes us to internalize messages that abusive and controlling romantic relationships are desirable, exotic, and exciting. Realize the message that this sends to our children: that the only way women can achieve sexual satisfaction is to completely demean ourselves at the hands of men and sacrifice our own free will for their pleasure and control.

And perhaps, instead of spending your money on that movie ticket, you will think twice and donate those funds to one of the numerous agencies that work tirelessly to truly empower women and free them from the deadly constraints of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

Love (real love, not the kind of love in which you control someone else),

Ashley

If you would like to donate, you can find a shelter or agency near you. Here are some suggestions that serve the communities I call home: 

Spruce Run Womancare Alliance (Maine)

Center for Family Justice (Connecticut)

RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence (Rhode Island)

Brooklyn, NY. 12.20.14

Today, a violent man shot his girlfriend in an act of domestic violence, murdered two police officers, and took his own life.

Today, and every day, racism and all forms of institutionalized oppression pervasively and negatively impact the lives of people across our nation, manifested in countless ways. Excessive use of police force and police brutality exist, too frequently against black and brown people.

Both of these things are true. Both of these things are awful. One does not make the other any less true or awful. Murderous violence is not the aim or mission of the important and necessary movements for social change and police reform in our country. The angry rhetoric of an obviously deeply disturbed person with a history of violence does not stand for the movement. Saying “they took one of ours, I’ll take two of theirs” does not represent the calls for social justice in our nation. An isolated incident, awful as it may be, does not in any way negate the realness of racism.

There is an endless cycle of violence in our country. This violence is both the effect and the fuel of institutionalized oppression. Systems of oppression hurt everyone. There is no justification for cold blooded killing. Polarizing rhetoric and actions will not solve our problems, and most of us who seek progress for our society are deeply aware of that. It is possible, and necessary, to simultaneously deeply mourn the death of two law enforcement officers while calling for accountability and reform for all law enforcement in our country to best serve the needs of and allow for the fundamental human rights of all people.

Two officers died tonight. A violent man used the movement as an excuse for his violence, hid behind the bravery of words and actions that so many thousands of people have given life to over the past few months, tarnishing the call for a better, less violent society with his individual, reprehensible actions. Reactions that suggest that this incident negates the realness of what is going on in this country right now not only tarnish the true nature of this social movement, but also do a grave disservice to the memory of these officers, who died protecting their community. Should we not all endeavor to seek out, through critical dialogue, reform, and continuous calls for action, the truest realization of justice and protection in our communities?

Merry Christmas on Campus: A Real, Live Case Study

The University of Maine is apparently trying to ruin Christmas. 

I woke up this morning to an onslaught of Facebook vitriol from my fellow Black Bears following some questionable and sensationalized reporting from WABI news that the university was forbidding holiday decorations and had, in fact, taken all of the holiday decorations down after an email was sent to staff instructing them to remove them. So this is obviously the biggest issue facing UMaine alumni right now (not state-sanctioned torture and human rights violations, or police brutality, or the pervasiveness of institutional racism, or anything else at all…) But I digress; let’s proceed with our analysis.

WABI informed us that the email went out and then all of the Christmas trees that Alpha Tau Omega fraternity had put up for their yearly philanthropic fundraiser were suddenly gone. That all of the decorations on campus disappeared.  The way they, and many subsequent sharers, painted it, you would think that President Susan Hunter herself had sent out a message to the university forbidding any holiday decorations anywhere, personally knocked over each happy little Christmas tree in the Memorial Union, ripped up all of your Christmas cards, and set fire to every cookie in the dining hall in a fit of Grinch-like rage, surrounded by the swirling fumes of burning sugar and broken dreams. I don’t think that WABI did a very thorough job of actually investigating this matter before airing it, but I don’t know that journalistic ethics or decent reporting in general are really the forte of this particular local news outlet.

Of course, what actually happened is that the Assistant Vice President for Auxiliary Services, Dan Stirrup, sent an email to his staff (the folks who work in Dining Services, Housing, the Bookstore, etc), reminding them that winter decorations are okay, but holiday-specific decorations are not okay. His email read thusly:

Just wanted to remind everyone that Auxiliary Services is not to decorate any public areas with Christmas or any other religious themed decorations. Winter holiday decorations are fine but we need to not display any decoration that could be perceived as religious.

This includes xmas trees, wreaths, xmas presents, candy canes, etc.

What is allowed are winter themes, plain trees without presents underneath, decorative lights, but not on trees, snow flakes, etc.

If you are unsure, best to not use or ask me for clarification.

Regarding the removal of the ATO Christmas trees, their philanthropy event had concluded and so they took the trees down. Kudos to UMaine student organizations for collecting a bunch of food items for a local shelter. Way to go.

So here’s my thoughts on this email and the actual implications of it.

Within this email is a very, very broad interpretation of what “religious” means. I do think that this is one place in which Stirrup misstepped a bit. Legal interpretations of the establishment clause of the First Amendment (the part that tells us that the government can’t establish a religion) for public (aka government) institutions such as public universities generally consider secular items such as trees, wreaths, gifts, candy, etc to not be religious symbols. Putting up a nativity scene next to the card swipe station at York Dining Commons? That’s gonna be a religious display. Better not do that. But in a strictly legal sense, in terms of what a public university is allowed to do, putting up a wreath is legally protected. Just don’t put a giant cross in the middle of the wreath (catch my drift, here?)

Of course, there’s a big difference between what a university can do and what a university should do. So let’s dissect some of the cultural and climate-related implications of holiday decorations.

One of the common arguments that I have seen in response to this situation is that instead of taking down Christmas decorations, we should just put up decorations for everyone’s religions! Celebrate diversity! Now, I love me some celebration of diversity, but not when it’s done in a privileged, Christian-centric way with the implicit goal of allowing the dominant group to feel good about keeping their dominant holiday decor up. What do I mean by this? Well, for starters, it doesn’t really make sense to celebrate the significant holidays of all world religions at the end of December. Hanukkah is in December, but the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Passover are generally considered to be more significant and meaningful. The important Muslim holiday of Eid, which is at the conclusion of Ramadan, was at the end of July this year. The Hindu festival of Diwali is in October. The most important Buddhist festival, Vesak, is in May. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate holidays. So putting up a bunch of other religious artifacts next to your Christmas display doesn’t really meet the goal of promoting religious diversity and inter-faith exploration. It promotes you feeling politically correct about putting up your Christmas display. Political correctness is not the same thing as true understanding and dialogue. Other religions should not be treated as a cute accessory to the dominant religion. So if you are a proponent of the “celebrate diversity” stance, let’s please do it in a non-appropriative, humble, and authentic way. And if you’re not willing to fight the fight for inter-faith dialogue all year long, please examine your motivations.

Although I think that Stirrup misinterprets, in his email, the legal definition of what are actually religious artifacts, I believe that it is important to consider the impact of the secular symbols of Christmas on implicitly and explicitly supporting the assumption of a Christian-normative climate on campus. We know what a Christmas tree looks like. It’s different from a non-Christmas tree. We recognize a Christmas wreath when we see it. When we see wrapped presents under that Christmas tree, we know that they are Christmas presents. They aren’t birthday presents, or baby shower gifts, they are Christmas presents. During December, the symbols of Christmas are ubiquitous. The secular decor that indicates the dominance of the most important Christian holiday is everywhere, continuously asserting the supremacy of mainstream Christian belief in an endless cacophony of jingle bells, holiday hymns, and boughs of holly.

Let me take a moment to personally state that I really like Christmas, a lot. I look forward all year to this outpouring of holiday cheer that reminds me of wonderful childhood memories, supports the belief system of my entire family, and gives me a reason to put up a bunch of decorations. And that, my friends, is called privilege. So although the directive to use holiday decorations that are winter-themed instead of secular-Christmas-themed, and to not wish patrons a “Merry Christmas” is not legally required of a public university, I think that it is an inclusive stance that minimizes the microaggressions that non-Christians experience in their place of learning, work, and living. When you are a member of the dominant religious group (ie. Christian-identified) and someone wishes you a “Merry Christmas” at the bookstore or you spend your dinnertime sitting next to a display of Christmas baubles and gifts at the dining commons, you are entirely comfortable and pleased as punch because your belief system is being explicitly upheld by the symbols around you. When you are a member of the non-dominant religious group (ie. non-Christian-identified) and someone wishes you a “Merry Christmas”, you may not feel so kindly or welcomed (when was the last time they started wishing people a “shabbat shalom” at the bookstore?)

For Christians, is it so important to us to see the symbols of our religion and experience represented everywhere that we are willing to lose our shit over a more neutral stance that is not exclusive of people who have other beliefs? No one is coming into your living room to rip your tree out of its stand. No one is coming into your residence hall room to steal your Christmas pillow off of your twin bed. You are not going to lose one ounce of your ability to freely practice and enjoy the crap out of Christmas when the dining hall decorates with snowflakes instead of Christmas wreaths. So please recognize your outrage for what it is: privilege.

So keep on keeping on with the snowflakes, UMaine. Because if there’s any true shared experience in Maine at the end of December, it’s those snowflakes.

On Chivalry (or as I like to call it, Sexist Microaggressions)

For the most part, I do not encounter active, conscious sexism on a regular basis. Most people will acquiesce that social equality is a pretty good idea. It’s rare for me to encounter folks (especially in my age group) who voice or act on obvious and explicit sexist attitudes.

But I still experience sexism all the damn time. Which means it’s the nasty, hidden, pervasive kind. The kind that perpetrators (and victims) usually don’t recognize, name, or give credence to. Now, I’m grateful that I don’t have people explicitly telling me that I’m intellectually inferior because of my womanness. The problem is that they unwittingly act out those attitudes, and when I point it out, I usually get treated like I’m irrational and hysterical. Note: Some people do actually REALLY get it and I tend to cling to those people like little life savers in the high seas of sexism.

I often have the experience of explaining that I am a feminist and  that social equity is very important to me. Men (particularly men who have some type of potential romantic interest in me), will frequently respond by affirming their approval of gender equity and then, IN THE SAME BREATH, will say something patently sexist.

It goes like this:

Me: “I’m a feminist and social justice advocate. Social equity is really important to me and social justice education is one of my passions.”

Man: “Yeah, that’s cool. Equality is great. I totally believe in that. As long as you’re okay with me holding doors for you/me paying for your dinner/taking a guy’s name when you get married/you shave your armpits/ you are not always talking about feminist stuff.”

What I hear: “I don’t know what feminism is. I’m going to tell you that it’s okay so I don’t look like an asshole, but I still expect you to submit to small acts of condescension and injustice in your daily life so I don’t have to be made uncomfortable with reckoning with you as my true social, economic, and intellectual equal and so I can feel like I’m a good guy.”

Many of these acts that annoy the living hell out of me are commonly referred to as “chivalry.” Some of you may be familiar with the concept because some men frequently like to proclaim that it is not dead. In my opinion, chivalry equates to microaggressions: small acts of condescension, steeped in implicit and explicit assumptions that women are delicate, incapable, and need to be tended to.

I consistently experience significant backlash when calling attention to the fact that I find these actions to be sexist. The common response is that men are “just trying to be nice.” I am all about acts of kindness, generosity, and goodwill. However, it is naive and, more importantly, privileged, to ignore the fact that insistence upon door holding, chair pulling-out, bill-paying, name-changing, asking for hands in marriage, and guiding women toward the inside of the sidewalk are all steeped in a socio-cultural history that is based in the idea that women are biologically, intellectually, socially, and economically inferior to men. A history in which women were treated as property. A history in which you asked to marry a woman because you were basically buying her. A history in which women couldn’t pay for things because we were not permitted to work outside of the home, hold bank accounts, or own property. A history in which women were seen as being physically and biologically inferior, in which our brains and bodies were believed to be less than those of men. A history in which my sisters chained themselves to the front gates of the White House and went on hunger strikes for the right to have their voices heard in the democratic process of this nation.

I am an independent, educated woman. Make no mistake that my success has been earned on the backs of women who came before me and fought for equality. My own grandmother was pulled out of school at age 13 to work in a thread factory, financially supporting a family in which the boys were encouraged to continue their education and earn college degrees. So you’ll have to excuse me when I insist on paying for my own panini on a first date. Because I do not take for granted for a single day that I am financially independent. You’ll have to excuse me when I exercise my rights as a citizen to openly talk about politics and social issues that are important and impact me, because it is not lost on me for a moment that I have the right to vote and still see far too few women in elected positions of leadership. And you’ll have to excuse me if I think I can open a door for myself or sit my dainty behind in a chair without having a fainting spell.

Men of the world, if you want to be nice, genuine, or kind, stop relying on outdated social conventions rooted in assumptions of women’s inferiority. If you want to be kind, talk to me, listen to what I have to say, take an interest in my interests, defend my opinions instead of my honor, and do your part to ensure that I and other women have access, opportunities, and equal treatment in our society.  When you hold a door, actively interrogate why you are holding that door and who you are holding it for. I’m not saying to start slamming doors in women’s faces, but kindness means taking an extra moment to go out of your way for everyone and anyone, in a way that does not suggest that you are exerting power or control over someone, that you are the keeper of the door. Men have decided for far too long which doors women get to have opened for us. We can open them ourselves.