Critical Social Justice: Creating Brave Spaces
February 16th-20th, 2015
Hosted by UMBC Women's Center
with Student Life's Mosaic Center
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This guest post on privilege and critical self-reflection comes from Women’s Center staff member Daniel Willey.
When I was asked if I would be interested in joining the Women’s Center staff, my first reaction was, “HELL YES.” The Women’s Center had very quickly become my favorite place on campus, and I was excited to jump on the opportunity to be a part of something that had been such a positive addition to my life. Last spring was a great time for me. I got more involved. I joined the Queer Leadership Council and the LGBT Campus Climate Workgroup. I was elected Outreach Coordinator for Freedom Alliance and Director of Public Affairs for GWST COMM. Recommendations, internship opportunities, and leadership roles were flying at me and it was great to feel like my skills were desirable.
But the more I thought about it, the more suspicious I became. How much of this have I actually earned? Aren’t there other people who are much more qualified than me for these jobs? How must my classmates feel about a freshman showing up and taking over? Am I taking over? How does privilege play into this? Do I even belong in these spaces? I have been thinking about these questions for months and I want to take this opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a male-identified staff member at a women’s center and the complicated combination of male identity and queer identity.
I think a lot of trans guys and people of trans male identities forget that even though some of us may have once identified as women or are sometimes read as women, we still have male privilege. Despite our queerness and the bureaucratic level problems we face with documentation or health care, there is still a place for us on the glass escalator. Now, this is not true for all of us– trans men of color, gender nonconforming trans men, or those who do not easily or readily “pass” (when one fits the standards of what a man or woman looks like well enough to not have their gender questioned) have a much more difficult time with this. For the sake of this post, when I say “trans men” I specifically mean trans men like me: white, medically transitioning, “passing” men.
My biggest struggle has been figuring out a way to see how my privilege has given me advantages in my life while also remembering that I actually did earn some of it. It’s a balance between knowing when to be proud of myself because I’ve earned something and knowing when I’ve been given something. I’m still trying to figure out how to contribute and participate in feminist and women’s movements without riding the glass escalator to the forefront. I’m learning to listen more than I speak and to support the efforts of others to liberate themselves rather than leading their liberation.
As for the Women’s Center, I think I will always be questioning and changing how I fit into my role here, just as women’s centers have changed since their first appearances in the 1970s. Women’s centers are still women-focused spaces but have branched out to include women of color and LGBTQIA women and people. Many women’s centers (including ours) have even started looking at toxic forms of hegemonic masculinity and how it affects women and men alike.
I belong here for now. My roles and responsibilities will change as the needs of my communities and the communities I support change, and I am still learning. I welcome feedback and criticism from community members– after all, you are why I’m here.
This guest post by Madison Miller was originally posted on the Women’s Center at UMBC blog.
In addition to working at the Women’s Center as a student staff member, I also serve as a Resident Assistant in a first-year residential hall on campus. Recently, my paraprofessional staff and I have been exploring the topic of privilege by participating in meaningful discussions about the different forms that it can take on in our society. These conversations and shared experiences of my fellow staff members have encouraged me to dive into a deeper, more personal investigation of privilege and how it relates to my identity and my unique life experiences.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the concept of privilege, a dictionary definition classifies it as a unique benefit or immunity available only to a particular community or group of people. Yet what the dictionary definition fails to mention is that privilege is neither earned nor deserved by any specific group that reaps its benefits. In reality, privilege is innate; it is a birthright that is automatically given to those who hold membership in a certain group or community. Privilege takes on several forms in society relating to identities such as gender, ability, class, race, and sexuality. It should be mentioned that one may simultaneously experience a certain level of privilege in one area of their identity while also experiencing a lack of privilege in another area. Privilege, or the lack thereof, isn’t also always necessarily visible to the eye of a passerby. Yet these privileges are often at the root of social inequalities that exist in our society today They may also cloud and bias our viewpoints of who don’t share the same privileges as ourselves, causing us to make unwarranted assumptions and conclusions about others. Therefore, it is important that we have conversations with each other in order to better recognize and effectively deal with our own unique privileges. In my experience, it seems that when a privilege is pointed out to it’s owner, that person often has a tendency to become defensive about the fact that they are not responsible for their privilege. While there is some truth to be found in this statement, I believe that privilege is not necessarily something of which to be ashamed, but something of which we should be aware. In order to remedy the social inequalities caused by our privileges, we must first understand how these privileges negatively affect and immobilize others. Perhaps our privileges aren’t necessarily the problem: maybe it’s us. After all, we do not choose our privileges, but we do choose how we live with them.
What are my privileges? One of the privileges that I am most connected to is my educational privilege. Although I take out student loans and receive aid from my university, I have access to higher education and I am a college student (at an honors university, nonetheless) that is financially able to support myself through my undergraduate education. Because my reality is not possible for everyone, I consider myself to be truly fortunate in this situation. But in my eyes, simply being grateful is not enough. I want to use my privileges to help better others. As a psychology and elementary education double major, I have recently been thinking a lot about working in a high needs school after my graduation from UMBC. I am a strong believer in the idea that everyone, regardless of geographic location, socioeconomic status, disability, or race, is deserving of a quality education that enables success and potential. Although I am aware that this will be a great challenge, I am hopeful for the changes I wish to make in the world, even if only in the life of one child.
One of my favorite sayings comes from the movie Spiderman and it says, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” It is no secret that our privileges put us in a place of power. What may not be so obvious, however, is that this power should call upon us to think critically about ourselves and our ability to support and help advance those who experience a lack of privilege. It isn’t an easy task by any means, but it is a necessary challenge that we must undertake should we ever hope to remedy the social inequalities that paralyze so many members of our society.
Think about it: What privileges do you have? How are you “owning” them for the better?
To learn more about privilege, check out these helpful resources:
Pedagogy of Privilege Ted Talk A helpful TED Talk that discusses how to begin conversations with others about privilege.
Privilege Walk Activity An activity that highlights examples of various privileges.
A Comic on White Privilege A Buzzfeed comic that explains what it means to have white privilege.
The Reproduction of Privilege An NY Times Article that discusses the privileges associated with post-secondary education.
For more on power and privilege, be sure to check out the upcoming CSJ event Critical White Male Allies: C’Mon In! The Water’s Fine! on Wednesday from 5-6pm in Commons 318. Jeff Cullen, Director of Student Judicial Programs, will lead an interactive workshop on critical allyship. With a frank discussion of some of the ways he has made mistakes and learned from them as a white male ally, he will create a space for participants to have an honest dialogue about the challenges and strategies to effective and self-reflexive allyship.
As part of Critical Social Justice week, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology is organizing a workshop “Inspiring Social Justice to Address Emerging Health Crises in Vulnerable Populations” to be held on Monday, March 3rd from 12-2pm in Sherman A-220.
The first panel, “The Health Toll of Human Rights Violations Against Female Political Prisoners, Transsexuals, and Sex Trafficking Victims” presented by Andrea Kalfoglou, PhD, Jana Rehak, PhD, and Ilsa Lottes, PhD, will examine violence, trauma, and human rights from social justice perspectives. Dr Kalfoglou will examine pressing issues facing transgender, transsexual, and other female victims of multiple forms of violence. Dr Rehak will address the pain and social suffering of female Czechoslovakian political prisoners between 1948 and 1989 who were subjected to continuous interrogations shaped by physical and psychological torture. The inflicted pain and concepts of cruelty were constructed by culturally shaped ideas. Dr Lottes will provide a framework for understanding human rights and their relationship to social justice. Further, she will illustrate how policy and programs can integrate human rights principles to reduce violations of human rights for vulnerable populations, such as sexual minorities and those with limited access to resources and information.
The second panel, Lessons from Immigration Policy and Historical Events that Shaped Today’s Inequities in the Diabetes Epidemic Among African-Americans, Latinos, and American Indians, featuring Pamela Geernaert, PhD, Sarah Chard, PhD, and Angelica P. Herrera, DrPH, will address inequities in health among marginalized communities. Panelists will begin with an overview of emerging trends and epidemiology of Type II diabetes in the context of the social determinants of health from public health, sociological, and anthropological perspectives, as it affects the nation’s older population of African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians. Dr Geernaert will provide an insightful account of historical events and current federal policies, coupled with cultural genocide, that continue to propagate diabetes health disparities among American Indian elders on and off reservations. Dr Chard will discuss findings from a current National Institute on Aging ethnographic study centered on the impact of discrimination and mistrust on older African Americans’ diabetes care lived experiences. Lastly, Dr Herrera will discuss how immigration policy and cultural incongruence with the U.S. health care system, as well as the migration experience and poverty have fueled the upsurge of diabetes in America’s fastest growing and largest minority population. Discussants will share promising initiatives and invite audience members to raise awareness and propose transcending and creative solutions in the context of a politically volatile and fragile economy where the wealth gap has only widened in recent years.
All members of the UMBC community are invited to attend this insightful and timely event to learn more about these pressing concerns in health and social justice. Refreshments provided.
A guest post from ThuyVy Duong, who works with SUCCESS (Students United for Campus-Community Engagement for Post-Secondary Success), a partnership of UMBC and the Maryland Department of Disabilities. SUCCESS is the first 4-year college experience for young adults with intellectual disabilities in Maryland.
My name is ThuyVy Duong and I pledge to not use the R-word.
Every Monday and Wednesday, I teach a service learning class for the freshmen SUCCESS students. There’s Bryan, whose cooking skills would certainly earn him Gordon Ramsey’s approval. Behind him sits Cedrick, lover of photography and an avid Ravens fan. Next to him is Evan, whose artwork never ceases to amaze me. DeDe sits in the corner and has her headphones in, no doubt jamming to 3LW. Up front is Mary, who won a gold medal at the Special Olympics. She’s talking to Jessie, who always volunteers to assist me in class activities. Last but not least is Dan; he’s a very quiet student but today, I find him talking and laughing with one of the peers. Needless to say, I love my students.
As part of the curriculum this semester, we needed to choose a topic in which we were going to develop our service learning project around. I suggested a couple of ideas (“Helping the homeless!” “Toy drive!” “Soup kitchen!”) but all of them were met with either blank stares and silence or head shakes of disapproval. I was starting to panic as my list of ideas got shorter and shorter. “Alright, guys,” I said, nervously. “How about we do something related to the R-word campaign?” I breathed a sigh of relief as they all unanimously said, “YES.”
So, what is the R-word campaign?
The R-word campaign asks people to stop saying the R-word as a starting point towards creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people. The R-word, retard, is slang for the term mental retardation. Mental retardation was what doctors, psychologists, and other professionals used to describe people with significant intellectual disabilities. Today, however, the R-word has been widely used in society to degrade and insult people with intellectual disabilities. Not only that but it is also used as a synonym for “dumb” or “stupid.” Such usage only reinforces painful stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities being less valued members of humanity.
Think about it. How many times have you heard someone say “That is so retarded” or “Don’t be such a retard”? How many times has that someone been you? When used in this way, the R-word can apply to anyone or anything. It may not be specific to someone with a disability but regardless, it is still hurtful. Why does it hurt? The R-word hurts because it is exclusive, offensive and derogatory.
The R-word campaign is supported by Special Olympics, Best Buddies, and over 200 other organizations from around the world. Currently, there are 418,304 online pledges from people who have agreed to stop using the R-word. In terms of legislation, President Obama signed Rosa’s Law into federal law in October 2010, removing the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal health, education and labor policy and replacing them with “individual with an intellectual disability” and “intellectual disability.” The law is a significant milestone in establishing inclusion and respect for all people with intellectual disabilities.
At this point, I hope you’re thinking about what you can do to support this campaign. If you’re drawing a blank, here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Pledge to stop using the R-word at r-word.org
- Approach others who use the R-word and have a conversation with them about why the R-word is hurtful in everyday speech
- Help spread the word about the campaign in your school, community, workplace, or social network
- Get involved with Special Olympics, Best Buddies, SUCCESS or other organizations that are united in this cause
Every year, the campaign has an annual day of awareness. This year’s date is March 5, coinciding perfectly with Critical Social Justice Week. As such, SUCCESS and Best Buddies will have a bake sale on Monday (3/3) and Tuesday (3/4) from 11am-1pm on Main Street as part of the Critical Social Justice Fair. Come meet the SUCCESS students and pledge to ‘spread the word to end the word.’
I am terrible with endings so I am going to conclude this post with a quote from Tim Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics. I think it is a poignant reminder of why the R-word campaign is so important. If anything, I hope I have motivated you to support this campaign. See you at the bake sale next week!
“Everyone has a gift and the world would be better off if we recognized it.”