Students are not the problem. We are: Anti-racism questions for your institution.

Before my Twitter account got hacked yesterday, I had posted this:

“It’s not our students. It’s us. WE are the ones who desperately need critical reflection, intersectional race inquiry, and transformational social justice awakening. Us.”

For decades I have watched colleges and universities trip over themselves to offer more diversity course initiatives, inclusive efforts, new programs for marginalized students. We even use words now like “equity” and “sense of belonging” and “intersectionality.” All of these efforts are needed. But there is a fundamental flawed assumption not being addressed. We operate from the assumption that diversity, equity, and inclusion are only for students.

What would it take for us (faculty and academic administrators, and all staff) to finally turn the mirror on ourselves? What would have to happen for us to commit to digging in and doing the hard work to DISMANTLE the very systems that lifted us into the positions we now hold? And before you get too upset, I do not mean up-end the entire higher ed system, although perhaps that should be given more thought. I do mean it’s well past time for us to be courageous in dismantling systemic racism and white supremacy in the academy. What good does it do to offer students “diversity” courses without faculty equipped to understand their own privilege and intersectional social locations AND how that impacts the classroom? 

Below I offer some questions we could be asking right now to call for radical disruption of business as usual. If 2020 has not been yet another wake up call, I fear we will never take action.

The opposite of oppression is love. 
 

In the curriculum discussions, department meetings, committee meetings on program review or strategic planning, leadership team plans for more virtual courses in 2021, faculty council/senate meetings, dean and chair discussions of possible faculty development related to racism, what questions can we ask to challenge our traditional modes of thinking and standard operating procedures? How will we center love in our vision of the future?

  • what will be defunded to ensure that anti-racism initiatives will be fully funded across campus?
  • how will those evaluating faculty receive effective training on the invisible labor and hard work that goes into diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice approaches in faculty teaching, research, and service?
  • how will leadership be held accountable for moving anti-racism along within their own departments, schools, units?
  • will leaders who remain complacent or actively resist dismantling white supremacy be removed from leadership positions?
  • who will do this work? will the heavy lifting fall on fall on Black, Indigenous, Asian, AMENA, Latinx, and the broader group People of Color? will Women of Color be expected to save us?
  • how will underrepresented, underserved, marginalized, and traditionally invisible students be brought to the center of the decision making as experts about their own lived experiences? what will we do when they demand that we change?
  • if we brought in a random protestor who stands up for BLM to review our ideas for change, would they endorse our plans? would that protestor recognize our deep commitment to anti-racist action to dismantle white supremacy and rebuild systems based on love?
  • how will upper administration react when Faculty of Color and white accomplices critique their decisions and push for moe anti-racist action at the institutional level?
  • how will those of us in power stop being so sure we understand when we clearly do not? How will we operate from a position of humility? (thank you @cyndikernahan for this one)
  • how will we welcome, encourage, and be grateful for dissent and acts of purposeful questioning the ideas of those in power?
  • will we stay open to pivoting when we receive feedback that we are still way off the mark?

I encourage and welcome you to use this list of questions as you embark on social justice transformation and anti-racist action within your own higher education spheres of influence as well as other organizations.

Learn more about the White Anti-Racism and Action course I created for white allies.
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