Saturday, December 1, 2007

Reworking Diversity: Take two.

During The Badger Herald's "Exploring the Issues: Race" week, I wrote an article detailing my experiences as a House Fellow at Sellery Hall and the way in which we were taught to deal with "diversity." While there were a certain number of comments that were both critical and encouraging, two stuck out. First:

First off as someone who has been through the house fellow training (all 2 weeks of it)I can tell you that there is not a "rigorous boot camp of diversity training" In fact I think the diversity training was inadequate in that there is not enough of it. Unless you have been a house fellow yourself I doubt that you would know what exactly training entails thus what you report is merely hearsay.

Perhaps I didn't make it clear, but I was at training. I understand that some of the training is not repeated or is altered, but let's not make assumption that I don't know what I'm talking about. Believe me, if there is some ambivalence, I'll let you know. now, calling it a "rigorous boot camp" might have been a little overstated. It would have better to treat it as an extended interrogation. At least, for a white student, it was. I can see how the minorities involved might have felt it was really cheap considering the compressed nature of such discussion and how it seems like a surface discussion rather than frank dialogue. In this case, good - let's extend it over the whole year, but not compartmentalize different groups or discussion. It needs to be an ongoing evaluation of how those tensions operate on campus and in housing - not a three-day free for all where House Fellows are taught to brace themselves.

The people you talk to in small discussions, groups, presentations they are not all experts, they were not elected to be there, they are merely individuals with personal experience, perhaps training that like yourself would like to create dialog and work to challenge discrimination and prejudice on our campus. And as a white male I doubt that you can fully understand the pressures and inevitable shortcomings of having to represent ones entire race or sexual identity.
You're right, I can't fully understand that pressure. Whether that pressure is put upon minorities by housing or is simply internalized I also can't evaluate. So in this case, I'll mark that as a valid point.

I also think that you are perhaps unaware of how often we have speakers and community leaders come in so perhaps what that is telling me is that we need to do more advertising because the programing, the speakers, they are there.
On Nov 2 we had Student Diplomats of South Korea come to speak, we had Dr. Mae Jemison come to speak, Thomas A. DuBois came to talk about his new book, "The World Beyond Our Borders presents", Civil Rights Legend, Joanne Bland came to speak on Nov 12, we had Cinefest, American Heritage month events, and last week was Transgender awareness week where we also had speakers and trailblazers working to make a difference. Those are just a few of the recent programs, speakers, and community leaders, that you claimed weren't available.

Well, good. I didn't have that experience in Sellery. We tried to get speakers to come discuss these sorts of issues with Sellery Hall, but ended up with Housing employees who made up presentations on such broad topics as "Culture of Fear." Go figure.

Lastly in regards to your assertion that "it hasn't worked" yes, there are still sexual, racial, ethnic slurs written on doors, there are still people who are ignorant, who ask ignorant questions. Sorry for not ending racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, ect. Do you really expect that we can in one or even four years undo more than 18 years of socialization, learned stereotypes, biases, and racist and homophobic attitudes passed down by family and community leaders throughout someone entire life thus far? You set the bar awfully high.
No we are not perfect, we will not end racism or homophobia. Not all of our programs will reach everyone but we are doing what is within our capacity as people, citizens, and students to help to fight these prejudices and if not change minds at least open them.
If I was arguing that Housing should eliminate the -ism's, I'd argue for my own redundancy, as well. I know that's impossible. However, if we are discussing what is within our capacity, the way we try to change our community depends on our approach. In my opinion, treating people as individuals rather than members of factions is a good plan. As it stands, housing guilts white house fellows into realizing what "they" have done to minorities through the passive burden of "white privilege." They tried this on us during training and it was probably one of the most insulting things I have ever sat through. I will agree that being a white male affords me an easier status in society than some minority groups, but to try and shame me for it is only going to push me further from the goals of housing. You have to bring the white majority into the discussion - placing blame may be the worst way to do it.

I appreciate that you wanted to take a hard look at diversity issues on campus and that you yourself have tried to create dialog, that is important. obviously you do care and have good intentions however I feel that you are also misinformed about the role and capacity of UW housing diversity programs and if you have suggestions, comments, programing ideas please let us know.
However, there seems to be a change in the works. The second comment I got via email was from the new director of Diversity programs for housing, Magpie Martinez:

too have had feelings at times of being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things that can and do happen on this campus and in the halls on a daily basis.  I am very unnerved by your comments about not being able to open your mouth and speak your mind.  I am very disheartened that you felt shut down and asked to carry forward a political ideology that you didn’t’ believe in.

I am on a mission this year to END THAT.  I agree that there needs to be diversity of thought and that only through these conversations (1:1 with real people) will things change.  I don’t ever want to hear HF’s tell me that they put on a program that they didn’t believe in.  I want our efforts to be real, and to effect change. 

I met with Ms. Martinez yesterday, and the chat was very encouraging:

-She has talked with campus partners at the Office of Equity and Diversity, who have emphasized their frustration with the Housing diversity initiatives and the way in which they have stifled the opinion of house fellows. Housing employees seem reluctant to embrace change.
-She told me that this isn't the first time she's heard claims like this. She related one story of a house fellow who sat down with her and said that he was afraid of how his political leanings would prevent him from doing his job. "He sat down and told me he was a Republican. I was waiting for some sort of groundbreaking news, but that was it."
-Thankfully, certain programs won't be repeated, such as the awful Halloween program where we lectured students on what costumes they probably shouldn't wear. We got into a huge fight over that one with our residents - could have been a dialogue, instead it was a disaster.
-While she is trying to implement a new approach that treats students as individuals rather than members of separate minority groups, it's likely to meet from some resistance from the rest of Housing. We'll see how well that works.

As it stands, I think Housing could benefit from more specific discussions on issues of racial tension in America or on campus - have roundtable discussions or debates on immigration, Plan 2008, Muslims in America. Housing has to stop leading groups to social justice conclusions when those administrators can't even create a working definition of social justice among them. If we're going to encourage diversity, we need to explain it first.

So, what do you think? What are student's experiences with diversity initiatives on this campus and how should it work?

1 comment:

Suchita Shah said...

From my experience, it seems like a significant portion of diversity initiatives/ dialogues/ trainings/ conversations on campus (from whatever entity, whether it is Housing or ODOS or the ethnic studies requirement or even MCSC) miss the goal of the education and explanation because people participating are too busy learning that they need to be PC that they don't learn why PC exists in the first place.

I agree with you in that the meaning of "social justice" is not really known. If you ask a random person on the street what social justice means to him/her, the answer will probably be something along the lines of "Oh, we can't discriminate against people."

We understand that we SHOULDN'T do it because we've been TAUGHT NOT to do it but we don't understand WHY it is wrong to do it or that we ARE doing it or even HOW we are doing it. We don't even know what "IT" is.

How should it work? The only first step that will make a difference is that people need to genuinely care about it. Is making that happen impossible?