Journey to PhD

Oppression is Endemic to UGA…and Higher Education

Hey y’all! This week’s post is a little unusual compared to my normal entries (although school work has definitely kept me from updating my blog recently….but more on that later). Below, you’ll find an assignment for my Equity, Diversity & Inclusion course (the same one that I created the digital socialization project for a few weeks ago). This time, I had to find 5 examples of institutional and/or cultural oppression on campus, take a picture of each and then write an entry about it. Take a look below at that I found and how I would address one of the identified issues.

The University of Georgia is seeping in oppression. Thanks to Dr. Derrick Bell, we know and understand that racism and oppression are endemic to society (meaning that society, as it currently stands, does not exist without various forms of oppression) (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012). Given UGA’s history of racism and oppression (i.e. slave labor being used to build the very infrastructure of the university), the history of oppression runs rampant throughout the buildings, campus climate, course offerings, faculty hirings (yes, I said it) and literally every other facet of the school. Consider in tandem the state of Georgia’s extremely racist history and you have a complete recipe for racism, oppression, systemic injustice, microaggressions and every other form of marginalization on campus, within society and throughout higher education.

Photo #1: The College of Education at UGA (Aderhold Hall)img_7125

My first photo is of the College of Education building at UGA, known as Aderhold Hall. It is no secret (to those of us working in higher education) that many foundational structures on public university campuses are named after racists and slave owners; UGA is no different. In fact, Aderhold Hall is named after a segregationist. After the Brown v. Board of Education decision, many southern schools responded in protest to having students of Color (specifically Black students) attending their schools; we all know that historically White institutions (HWIs) were inherently created to serve White folks (Gusa, 2010). Since we know that oppression manifests itself as feelings of entitlement and undue ownership in White students, this response of White fragility (DiAngelo, 2011) is NOT surprising. Anyway, Aderhold became the President of UGA in 1950 and played a vital role in maintaining UGA’s history of segregation by having other faculty members support his endeavors to maintain the Whiteness of UGA.

Now, the University’s College of Education, which houses many students of Color in various academic programs, is named after someone who had a historical record of wanting to keep us (i.e. students of Color) OUT of the school in the first place. Every time that I enter Aderhold Hall, I feel the presence of racism and oppression. In fact, I have experienced some of the WORST microaggressions of my life in that building. Aderhold Hall is not only a prominent reminder of UGA’s racist history, but it is also a symbol of the (arguably) passive violence that students of Color face across many southern institutions in this country. To add insult to injury, the education field is already oppressive at its core; forcing students of Color to enter the College of Education that is named after a known racist is deplorable.

Photo #2: Symbol for Disability Awarenessimg_7137

My second image was taken at the 2016 University System of Georgia Diversity and Inclusion Summit (where I met THE Dr. Marc Lamont Hill!). I took a picture of this sign to represent the misunderstanding of ability privilege at the USG Summit. When we first entered the reception hall, this sign and several others, denoting various types of oppressions (against women, POC, religious groups and others), were placed around the room. As attendees, we were asked to sign each poster board with some sort of message relating to each area of oppression. When I finally reached this particular poster, ALL of the words/phrases/quotes that were posted were related to physical ability; none of the comments referred to any invisible ability differences, such as sight, hearing or learning disabilities. It became evident to me that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of oppression experienced by folks with less visible (dis)abilities within higher education that must be addressed (Bardnard-Brak, Lechtenberger & Lan, 2010).

Now, I have to admit that I have been learning more about invisible disabilities due to another assignment for this class; I am keeping a privilege journal about hearing ability and I am truly learning a lot about a privilege that I often take for granted. Thus, my contribution to this particular poster included the words “not all disabilities are visible.” I hope that the conference committee members actually take the time to read the various entries; I have already noted this issue in my conference feedback. Given that this conference is designed specifically for faculty and staff at universities within the Georgia institutional system, we definitely need to have a more global understanding of various ability privileges and oppressions in higher education.

Photo #3: Student Leader Panel at USG Summitimg_7136

The 3rd photo in my journal was taken during a panel at the USG conference. This particular panel featured SGA student leaders at various state institutions in Georgia. The purpose of this panel was to hear various perspectives regarding campus activism at each of the represented institutions. Each panelist took turns responding to questions from the moderator about things such as what student activism looks like on their campus, how faculty have responded to student concerns and what change looks like at their institutions. While I appreciated the program’s attempt to explore experiences of student activism, something was extremely problematic about the last question that was asked of the panelists. The final question (before it was opened up to the audience) was related to how students respond to not feeling “immediately” heard. Each panelist responded with some version of “small victories matter” or “students must understand that change takes time” or “change doesn’t happen overnight”. Each of these responses infuriated me because incremental change (McCoy & Rodricks, 2015) is dangerous when we are talking about folks who live in constant fear of their lives (i.e. POC and other members of minoritized groups. Thankfully, one of the audience members spoke up and indicated that change does not have to happen over time. When the demand is made and folks refuse to be pacified, change does not have to be incremental. This is a fallacy that institutions tell students of Color and other members of marginalized groups when we protest or demand change; it is not true and we, in higher education, must rebel against it. 

Photo #4: Town Hall Booklet from USG Summitimg_7163

The 4th entry is a booklet from the final panel at the 2016 USG Summit. This panel was about how to conduct town halls, which can be essential to any social justice work. However, this particular town hall went terribly, terribly wrong. The panel featured 4 police officers, 2 White men and 2 Black men, who were there to “discuss” police brutality. The panelists began by sharing why they became police officers and identified some of the horrific things that they see on a daily basis. One of the officers, a 24-year-old Black man, began his monologue by stating, and I quote, “okay, let me see your license and registration”….in front of the entire audience (which overwhelmingly consisted of POC). Hearing this statement horrified me. There is NOTHING at all funny about police brutality. That one phrase is incredibly triggering for POC and I still cannot believe that a BLACK police officer said it. AND THEN HE LAUGHED! As if this was some heinous joke! I was seriously mortified. (This officer also insisted that he was NOT a Black male police officer, but rather that he was just a man who happened to be a police officer…whatever that means).

The panel continued with 1 White police chief disclosing how he “didn’t grow up around Black people” and “cops die every day” and “the media doesn’t tell you about the indictments of officers” (which is LESS than 3% of all cases, but I digress). Trying to excuse racial bias in policing with individual EXCUSES is totally unacceptable; police brutality is a SYSTEMIC issue. This entire panel was terrible. It was infuriating and reflective of the fundamental discord between the criminal justice system and POC.  I left this panel feeling invalidated and annoyed. Furthermore, if the police officers on our university campuses carry these same biases and flawed beliefs, our students of Color are (still) in big trouble (just as we are within mainstream society) (Schmidt, 2014).

Photo #5: NASPA e-mailfullsizeoutput_ba4

Lastly, I am sharing a screenshot from an email that I received from NASPA (student affairs organization). This email details several opportunities for professional development for the organization’s members. The one that I am sharing is reflective of institutional oppression regarding class. This professional development category is related to mental health awareness and its impact on the success (or struggles) of students and their financial aid. However, the strategies themselves cost almost $100. Who has an extra $100 for additional training? Not everyone. It is already costly to be part of these organizations that are supposedly designed to make us better practitioners and advocates; adding additional financial requirements is not socially just. Furthermore, mental health awareness is already lacking in higher education. As a counselor, I know all too well how students respond to not having access (e.g. financial, geographical) to mental health services. Charging practitioners money to better understand a field that is already seeped in classism….is classist in itself. This totally defeats the purpose and further marginalizes those who experience and try to eradicate mental illness.

What Can I Do NOW?

If I were to address one of the five issues that I mentioned, I think it would be the access to mental health awareness for practitioners and student affairs professionals. As a student in the counselor education program, I would create an intervention to counterbalance the classist assumption that individuals can afford additional training in the field. I could create a “mental health awareness” workshop called “We Are All in this Together: What SA Professionals Need to Know about College Students’ Mental Illness”, in an effort to provide free information for student affairs professionals regarding mental health awareness on campus. While this proposed intervention would alleviate the systemic issue of affordability and access for a small group of people, I am aware that there may be some larger barriers to my free workshop. First, simply finding space to hold the workshop could be an issue on campus. Secondly, finding SA professionals who are even interested in learning more about mental health awareness regarding college students could also be challenging; my brief time spent in student affairs classes has shown me the disconnect between my training as a counselor and the training that SA professionals receive. Third, there could also be some “push back” within the department about hosting a workshop for something that many believe “is not the job of student affairs.”

In order to “work around” these barriers to my intervention, I would start with explaining to SA pros the benefits of attending such a workshop and maybe offer an incentive such as departmental recognition for attendance. I would also approach a well-established student affairs professor in order to see if they would support me in locating space within the department to hold the workshop. This intervention is important because there is a lack of understanding between counselors (and counselor educators), student affairs professionals and higher education in general regarding the systemic implications of mental illness for students. Hopefully, through conversations and understanding, we could come to an agreement about providing the best holistic services for students. The work of both fields encompasses student needs and well-being, therefore there needs to be more of a collaborative effort among each group in an effort to provide better access and more efficient services to students.

References

Barnard-Brak, L., Lechtenberger, D., & Lan, W.Y. (2010). Accommodation strategies of college students with disabilities. The Qualitative Report, 15(2), 411J429.

 

Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2012). Critical race theory: An introduction, 2nd edition. New York, NY: New York University Press.

DiAngelo, R. (2011). White fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3(3), 54-70.

Gusa, D. L. (2010, Winter). White institutional presence: The impact of Whiteness on campus climate. Harvard Educational Review, 80(4), 464J489.

McCoy, D. L., & Rodricks, D. L. (2015). Critical race theory in higher education: 20 years of theoretical and research innovations. ASHE Higher Education Report, 41 (3), 1-14; 41-46. doi: 10.1002/aehe.20021.

Schmidt, P. (2014, December 28). Tasked to protect all on campus, but accused of racial bias. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/29/us/taskedJtoJprotectJallJonJcampusJbutJ accusedJofJracialJbias.html?_r=0

If you made it to the end of this blog…THANK YOU FOR READING! I’ll be back to my “regular” postings shortly 🙂

All the best,

#BBG

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