An increase in emotions have been seen in the past few weeks since the election. Many are in search for a much needed blueprint on how to navigate a political and social culture founded on ignorance, hate, and fear.
The question that we have for higher education professionals (and our K-12 counterparts) is what are you doing as a result of the political climate to provide support AND educational programs for students, faculty, and staff?
The answer to this question may cover a large range of responses depending on multiple factors such as institutional support, political climate on campus, regional location, religious affiliation, private or public status, and/or professional capacity to hold these conversations. Recognizing that some institutions may have an expectation to host an event, program, or forum but are not sure how to approach the conversation, we listed five action steps any higher education professional can implement to start a conversation, encourage action, and provide support.
Higher education professionals are not immune to ignorance. This seems like an easy concept to understand. Yet, time and time again we see “well-intentioned” professionals saying things that are entrenched with bias, hate, and violence. Checking our identities and experiences is not something we do once at a “diversity” training. It is something we must do constantly throughout our life and our roles as educators. Our willingness (or lack thereof) to recognize our own location in these conversations can have a drastic impact on how we provide support to others.
Engage with Colleagues.
It is important to recognize that we cannot do this work if we ourselves do not have the capacity to engage in these conversations. This means that before we can expect to effectively engage with students we must first take the step to engage with our colleagues about the political climate and impact of this past election. How do we do this? There are two ways that this engagement can occur. First, you can utilize the upcoming staff meeting y’all have to engage in a conversation about the impact of this election. During this time, you can discuss the fears that your colleagues and students are experiencing. In addition, discuss the steps your institution is doing to maintain (or create) an environment where hate and violence are not tolerated. Moreover, as professionals, if we expect our students to discuss their identities and the privileges that come with those identities then we must be comfortable doing the same thing amongst our colleagues.
Provide educational programs to inform, educate, and redirect.
There are tons of misinformation circulating the web right now. We have seen an increase in awareness around these misinformed or misleading websites and posts. In addition, it is important to recognize that not everyone has the same access or understanding of our political system. This may cause fears to emerge or uninformed acts to occur. As educators (who have access to numerous other educators) it is important to provide programs that inform, educate, and redirect.
Create forums of support for students, faculty, and staff with marginalized identities.
In addition to education programs (not instead), we need to provide forums where students, faculty, and staff can seek support. These forums should be provided by institutions as a means to encourage dialogue, support, and openness. While providing these forums, we encourage professionals to recognize their place (if any) in these conversations. Providing spaces on campus for muslim students, Black and Brown students, LGBTQ students, and undocumented students (to name a few) to express their need for support as well as find avenues to organize is important. These conversations can be facilitated by students who have those individual identities (or a combination of them) or faculty/staff who hold marginalized identities. It will be important to hold the capacity to facilitate these conversations and create an environment where the goals are understood by all in attendance.
Neutrality is never an acceptable stance. Paulo Freire once said, “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” It is our job as higher education professionals to challenge the environments and structures we create at our institutions. It is also a responsibility for us to challenge the policies and laws that we introduce and implement as a country. Providing spaces where professionals and students can collectively work together to enact change is needed at every institution. This can occur in a number of ways and will look differently for all campuses. Some examples can include: creating resolutions through the student government association, writing petitions to collectively call for improvements to the overall climate, developing a social justice strategic plan for your institution, and/or hosting awareness campaigns.