For my students:
Though you may have not seen this to organize or support an effort, I wanted to make you aware of this national call to action, to stand in solidarity with the students of the University of Missouri. But in the end, you need to make your own decisions.
My story: The way that I entered into education was as someone who wanted to make a difference after going to Penn State, where in the spring my sophomore year, there were death threats against Black leaders and football players. Why? It doesn’t matter, because the reality was heinous. As I remember it, because the football team wasn’t winning enough and, separate, Black students (and other marginalized groups) were generally calling for more cultural competence as a whole. Penn State, for me, was an othering experience. Erasure, taunts, aggression (micro- and just plain violent). I tell friends that I don’t remember much of my experience there, which makes sense. I was in a state of hyper-focus on survival. When in fight or flight mode most of the time, the brain won’t allow you to hold onto much beyond the essential. There were spaces of refuge and resistance, though: The Black Caucus, the Robeson Center, my Af-Am classes, poetry, Essence of Joy. In four years at Penn State, I had only 4 Black professors: three men, one woman. I only met two or three additional professors in the circles I walked in. The main campus had 40,000 students. I don’t know what that means for faculty. If the 16:1 ratio of students to students to faculty holds true, that would mean about 2534 faculty.
This led to demonstrations, which had several people in jail; there were protests that united all of the different marginalized groups on campus. There was a 10-day student-live-in protest of the student center, of which I was a part. There were many other protests. There was such fear at one that my mother drove from Philadelphia to Penn State to walk alongside me, as an alumna and as a mother who feared that, while she could not stop me from walking, that she might have to literally put her body on the line for herself or another student.
What pushes a mother to fear for her child? To fear for other people’s children?
Change only happened when Penn State made its way to CNN: An Africana Research Center, diversity requirements, more Black faculty … After all of the efforts that leaders had pushed and they were (and are) mighty.
That summer I continued to fear as did my friends. Penn State wasn’t safe.
This was only a few months before September 11. Family loss. Terror onto terror.
I write all this to say that what these students are doing is important,
that it may push them to themselves want to be educators to make change,
that what these students are doing should never have had to be done (because students should be safe and nurtured),
that in these times of division around race, ethnicity, language, immigration status, sexuality, religion, ability that we as teachers must foster the hard and humanizing conversations,
that we are also called upon to support students and our colleagues who are impacted by erasure, microaggressions, racism, marginalization and oppression of any kind.
My actions today are: adding my voice to many others to the provost at Saint Mary’s that seeks more resources for hiring for diversity (she just did a workshop for search committees, which I heard was well-received and important); telling the provost that cultural competency workshops are a beginning but need to be safe spaces and shared my experience as victim and witness of microaggressions, even in an academic space (our stories are important); asking for more cultural competency supports on campus for all stakeholders (a new chief officer of diversity for the Campus Committee on Inclusive Excellence was just named yesterday); sending this call to action to you; being and being whole to the best of my ability; and writing a poem that someday may exist in a just world.