We are back to school after one of the most exhausting and challenging years for those of us in social justice and inclusion work. During some of the darkest moments we asked ourselves, “Is our work even worth it? Is anyone even listening?” As two women of color educators/activists/social entrepreneurs, we quickly snapped ourselves back into our reality. We, ourselves, have too much on the line, too much at stake, to not continue.
Yet, we have a lot to be aware of this school year such as: the rise of Alt-right student groups on college campuses; the intended repeals to Title IX, the protection of trans students, undocumented students, and Muslim students; and an affirmative action investigation potentially headed back to the courts. We do not know where all of this will lead. However, we will need to know how students will be affected and where they will need the most support. If the climate tells us anything, it’s that we are going to need counter-storytelling and coalition building now more than ever.
Why counter-storytelling in this urgent state? Let’s start with stories. Storytelling, like all art, is political; ”The personal is political.” The stories we create communicate our experiences and interactions with the sociopolitical and historical reality of the world. There are many stories in circulation today. Stories are an ambivalent tool like religion. They can be used for building a more equitable society as much as they can be used to create more injustice in the world. Critical Race Theory helps us understand the role and place of counterstories: stories that challenge the mainstream. With the vision of building a more equitable society, we need counterstories to be centered for surviving, healing, and building.
“I share my story because in this day and age when black youth are being gunned down on the street I have no choice but to speak up… I need my voice to be heard because we matter. Hopefully, from hearing my story others will rise up and tell theirs, too.”
We’ve put our thoughts together and put it briefly on the small steps on how storytelling can be used to support your community in centering inclusion.
- Host Small Dialogues for Affected Students.
After Charlottesville, we could not help but think and be concerned for the waves of students that would walk on to University of Virginia’s campus feeling unsafe. Providing closed spaces for the affected students is crucial for sustaining the long fight. Using methods like the circle process, which we use in our work to dig deeper in dialogue on the effects of oppression, can help affected students and beneficiary activists to center their well-being. Circles can also function as space for self-healing and recuperation for activist teams, separate from the action-oriented meetings.
- Soundboard for the Affected Community
Centering stories can create ripples beyond it. When our advocacy is paired with personal stories, our work has the potential to go even further. Sharing the realities of our experiences demand a place of understanding that is difficult to reach with statistics alone. Stories can be engaged to teach empathy, build communities, and catalyze social change. On your campuses, what soundboards exist to counter the mainstream in your community?
Roll Up Your Sleeves for the Groundwork
- Offer Ways to Help Marginalized Students to Organize
Existing coalitions on your campus can leverage their status and privilege to support groups that may not have a standing due to their size, funding, capacity, etc. If there is an underserved group of students, existing groups and/or clubs can support them by showing them the ropes of gaining official status on their campus in order to have access to the privileges that come with being an official group. An organized group could help students who face new challenges, such as those with DACA status, Muslim students and transgender students to advocate for their needs and have a support network and safe space. For example, the rise of Islamophobia led to the rise of new Muslim Student Association chapters, now at 600 nationwide. Building coalitions with help to amplify the voice of smaller groups.
- Compile Support Services for Students
Given the rise of new threats on college campuses, it is important to consider how these current issues will affect your students. Survey your current resources and services on your campus. Do the most marginalized students have the resources they need to go about their day? If not, what are the gaps and what are some steps you can take to make progress in the short term vs. long term. Key personnel such as DACA support administrators, Title IX coordinators, Counseling services, Financial Aid offices and so forth are required, if not standard, within campuses. Are there communication channels for these different offices to work together to share resources and come together quickly in case of emergency? Begin to compile specific resources and make them more accessible in times of great need. If the campus does not have a DACA coordinator, then how can your school partner with local organizations to help those students find the necessary resources? In South Bend, Indiana where our organization is based, La Casa de Amistad launched a campaign, “No Human Being is Illegal” to address this problem within the community. La Casa partners with local student groups to provide up to date resources on local lawyers and legislative news.
We shared four simple steps toward building a stronger community for affected students. “Back to School” is the first of our blog series. Please stay tuned for more to come.
Deandra & Taeyin.