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.

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?

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.

Fall Is Not Just for White Girls

I continue to be annoyed with the deluge of references to how much white girls allegedly love pumpkin spice and “all things fall.” Why?

Everyone experiences autumn (depending on your geographic location), last time I checked. Constantly making the assertion that there is some inextricable link between “fall things” (like pumpkin flavored food and beverages, cool-weather appropriate attire, apples, baking, appreciation of nature, etc) and whiteness is RACIST. Suggesting that these activities are exclusive to white people is exclusionary, stupid, and let me say it again, racist.

Furthermore, many of the alleged “basic white girl” activities frequently alluded to in these references involve the use of leisure time or purchasing of items that are not considered necessities (like a $4 latte). This adds the layer of race-related-classism implicit in this conversation. Why aren’t you talking about POCs loving PSLs, folks? Because you don’t think that POCs go to Starbucks, perhaps? Why’s that? Maybe examine the assumptions in that.

White people already own most of the stuff in this country. Stop acting like we own seasons, too. It’s not cute, or funny. It’s unexamined white privilege and supremacy.

Lest we think that this little trend is exclusively racist, let’s take a look at the sexism implicit in the “white girls love fall” idea. For starters, grown women are not girls. Let’s just put that on record. Buying canned pumpkin does not make me childlike. Being a woman should not make me childlike, either. No one ever refers to young male adults as “boys,” do they? Please stop perpetuating this “girls” thing.

Also implicit in this trend is the idea that somehow, being female renders one completely unable to act like an intelligent and rational human being when faced with something that calls to mind an emotional response. Does the smell of pumpkin spice and the crunch of fallen leaves remind me of fond memories of childhood holidays? Yes. When I smell pumpkin spice, am I suddenly a blabbering idiot who can only speak in OMG and LOL because my ovaries have flooded my brain with sappy “girl” hormones? No.

So please just stop. Fall is for everyone.

What We Should Learn From Suzy Weiss and her Ridiculous Rant

By now, anyone who has read/seen/heard about the op-ed piece that high school senior Suzy Weiss wrote in the Wall Street Journal has probably decided that she is entitled and maybe the reason she didn’t get into those Ivy League schools is that she’s kind of a jerk. The op-ed, which is an open letter to all of the schools she didn’t get into, is a rambling, offensive, racist, homophobic, white privileged, entitled rant from a hurt and angry young woman whose sister happens to have previously been an editor for the WSJ.

She says that Ivy League schools “lied to her”, saying that she should “just be [her]self”. Apparently, just being herself includes deriding her peers who have been raised in less advantaged circumstances, who have put in more time and effort than she in philanthropy, volunteerism, practicing fine arts, or who have minority racial or sexual identities. She says that her piece is “satire”, which leads me to believe that another reason she didn’t get into an Ivy League school is that she doesn’t know the meaning of satire, because the only folly or vice that she is exposing is her own self-centered naivete and white/straight/class privilege. Following this story has made me truly wonder why responsible adults in her life and those working at the WSJ did not intervene by telling her to pick her complaining, egotistical self up off of the floor, learn to accept failure and rejection, and by the way, to chill out with the racist and homophobic comments.

But now here is the ugly truth: I was not so different from Suzy Weiss, back in 2006. I was a smart, white girl, top of my class, great SAT scores (same as Suzy’s, coincidentally), and a good dose of artistic, extracurricular, and volunteer involvement. I may have actually had a more impressive resume than Suzy. I got rejected from Brown and Harvard in one day.  I cried really hard at my high school musical rehearsal. I ripped up the rejection letters. I cried in the guidance counselor’s office, where sentiments such as “I can’t believe Ashley didn’t get into Brown” were heard from well-meaning white women. I was pretty unimpressed when I found out who did get in. And I’m not proud of it, but I listed some of the same racist, privileged reasons that Suzy did in her tirade. These feelings were corroborated by my equally racist family and friends, and even some of my faculty.

It’s a pretty ugly story, and it reminds me constantly of how crucial it is to educate white students about social justice. I was a good kid, and Suzy Weiss probably is, too, although she looks like a real asshole right now. Suzy Weiss and I were in the same boat.  The difference between me and Suzy is that I don’t know anyone who works at a national news outlet, and I wasn’t encouraged to publicly broadcast my misguided anger to the nation. My frustrations were entertained for a while by the adults in my life, but then they helped me hold a mirror up to how lucky I was. I had two full tuition offers; seriously, what right did I have to be angry?

So the problem with the Suzy Weiss situation is not that she felt that way when she got rejected from her dream schools. Thousands and thousands of students feel that way. Thousands of students who cross the thresholds of many of our outstanding public and private but not quite Ivy League institutions every year feel exactly that way. Young, privileged, entitled white kids are raised to feel that way.  I felt that way, and now I’m an outspoken social justice educator who wrote a research paper in defense of race-based affirmative action.

The problem is that Suzy Weiss was allowed to take her feelings to a national stage and given license to disguise them as satire. The key here is that there is someone there when these kids fail and get rejected to help them lean into the discomfort of failure and learn from it, to examine how their privileged assumptions are not facts, but are myths of a racist, sexist, classist, heteronormative America. As educators, we can help these students reach their full potential by making them look at their own privilege, supporting them as they learn through failure and rejection, and helping them to learn about the world beyond their previous assumptions. Is it unconventional to ask you, college educators, to take a risk on privileged white kids like Suzy Weiss? Kind of. The Suzy Weisses of the Class of 2017 are going to do just fine in college, but we can help them do better in life. Educating white students about social justice, making them allies, showing them their privilege, teaching them humility and how to struggle–this is part of the big picture of how we use higher education to make our society better, how we bring up the next generation of adults who raise their children to think twice about their own experiences and the world around them.

About Me

I am a graduate student Higher Education and Assistant Community Coordinator for Residence Life at the University of Maine. I am interested in orientation and new student programs, residential education, first year student development, and diversity and social justice on college campuses, specifically related to social justice ally development, access to higher education, and transition and retention of traditionally underrepresented students.

I am also an active member of the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), as a Graduate Associate, Region I Conference intern, and member of the Maine Association for Student Affairs Professionals.  I enjoy sharing my love of the profession with aspiring undergraduates, increasing awareness of professional opportunities, and sharing knowledge with my peers.

I am a native Rhode Islander and adopted Mainer with a love for cooking, college hockey, and the outdoors. I am a proud Gamma Sigma Sigma alumna and a Black Bear at heart. My philosophy in life is to ask myself every day if I have helped someone.

This blog is the next step in my goal to use the online world to the best of my abilities in my work. I have gained incredibly from the online Student Affairs Communities on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, and I am excited to take the next step with an official website of my own.

So, should you choose to follow my adventures here, what will you find? I can promise lots of insights about change and transition, loosely detailed chronicles of my job searching, musings on social justice, privilege, and oppression, the trials and tribulations of residence life and working with first year students, and anything else higher ed that crosses my path. A bit of a grab bag, isn’t it? You can’t blame me, though, because I’m the new kid. I’m still figuring this all out!