Remixing & Re-vision

My mother passed on to me a recipe for sweet potato pie that her mother, my grandmother Lucille, had likely had passed on to her by her mother, my great-grandmother Civvie. I have memories of my mom baking batches of these pies for both Thanksgiving and Christmas and giving them away as gifts for co-workers, neighbors, and relatives. For a month, our freezer would be filled with these sweet potato pies. As I got older and showed an interest in how to make this delectable creation, my mom brought me into the kitchen, directing me to strain the crushed pineapple, crack eggs, mix in flour. She eventually tested my cooking sensibilities – nothing was ever measured – by having me taste the batter to determine if it was ready yet and if not, what was needed: more brown sugar? more karo syrup? more cinnamon? more flour if it was too soupy? more milk if it was too stiff?

Once I got on my own, I called my mom and asked her for the recipe. I carefully wrote down the ingredients, her guesstimates as to how much of each was needed, her directions on the order in which to add the ingredients in the batter, and finally the proper oven setting and length of baking time. The first time I set out to bake the family sweet potato pie, I hit a homerun. Well, almost. The crust got burnt on a couple (then she told me the foil trick). Nevertheless, they were tasty. I would make them again, but not annually because it was a heck of a lot of work and there weren’t enough people in my life worthy of that kind of energy output. LOL – I’m just being honest.

Those sweet potato pies were glorious. Honestly I’ve never tasted anyone else’s recipe that even comes close to being as good as the Lazarus Family recipe (nope, not even Patti’s!). I want to make them again and really had an unction to do so this past holiday season. But I didn’t bake them this year. Why? Because about 7 years ago, I discovered I was allergic to eggs, pineapple, and cow-based dairy – key ingredients in the recipe [just trust me on the pineapple]. When I first got the lab tests back that showed this, the first thing I mourned for was this sweet potato pie. Ever since, I’ve been thinking of a way to alter the recipe to make it something I could eat and not get sick from (I now understand why I never felt quite right after my annual pie gorging as a kid). I’ve done this with other dishes: I make my macaroni and cheese without eggs and although I use 2% milk, I’ve found homeopathic aids that mute the dairy allergy response (yes it’s really an allergic response, not just lactose intolerance). I have doctored box cake recipes with egg substitutes made with tapioca and potato flour mixed with water. I’ve just cut pineapples out of my life and in recipes calling for it, I’ve substituted with oranges or kiwi or mango or something else instead. I have even discovered that enjoying wine or liquor while eating an egg-based dessert prevents the allergic response that usually comes (doesn’t work for pineapple).

Despite that, I’ve not yet remixed that sweet potato recipe. You may be wondering what’s holding me back? [You may also be wondering where the heck I’m going with this, but just be patient and hang on, lol.] It’s taken me a while to figure it out, but I think I just did today. If you’ll indulge me a bit longer, I’ll explain and tie it to some of the current questions, challenges, and conversations on my Twitter feed.

Some might say that the sweet potato pie isn’t the problem. The recipe is fine as is. I just can’t eat it. So, I should just let it go. Good recipe, just not for me. Leave the recipe alone.

Some might point to the ingredients in a way. If the pie is made with sour milk or rotten eggs, then a whole lot of people would be getting sick, not just me. If that’s the case, then – again – the pie’s recipe isn’t the problem, it’s the quality of the ingredients. If we’re working with good ingredients, then we return to the first conclusion: I just need to leave the pie alone and go eat something else. Like an apple crisp. [Good but just not the same.]

The real issue is that it’s supposed to be *my* family recipe. I can’t eat and enjoy (without putting my wellness at risk) something that is supposed to be for ME. It’s part of my family legacy; it’s my inheritance. The thing that was passed on to me with love and pride and joy. But that inheritance makes me sick. Literally. And changing the recipe to adapt it to my needs means it’s not THE LAZARUS FAMILY recipe anymore. Changing it – using crushed oranges instead of pineapple, the tapioca and water mix instead of the eggs, a sweetened coconut milk instead of cow’s milk – is more than a remix. That’s a whole new pie recipe. I will have re-visioned the recipe as something very – even, entirely – different than it was. Who knows what it will taste like. It may be awful. That scares me too. I think I have good cooking sensibilities (comes honestly from both dad and mom), so that might all work together just fine, but what a risk.

Do I stay with a recipe that makes me sick for the sake of honoring my forebears? Do I put it aside and dare to find a way to come up with something different that incorporates some of what was good and what I learned from that old recipe, but no longer really bears the stamp of my mom, my grandmother, my great-grandmother? Will their cooking wisdom be commuted onto this new pie recipe regardless because I am *still* their legacy?

Similar questions as this confront us about institutions of far greater social consequence than my sweet potato pie. Recently, especially Black Christians, are being asked hard questions of the religion and the God we claim to follow and worship (see Son of Baldwin here on the passing of Eddie Long and Dr. Jonathan Higgins on Kim Burrell); of higher education (see my blog posts here, here, and here and Craig Steven Wilder’s book Ebony and Ivy); of the U.S. political enterprise built as it is on settler colonialism, slavery, rape, theft despite its high-minded treatises on equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (see my blog posts here and here).  All these pieces confront us with the choice of remixing, transformation as remix, revolution and turning away from the legacy we have claimed as an essential inheritance necessary to bind us to the past as a bridge to the future.

We could say the problem lies not in the institutions themselves but in the people who are made sick by them. They should just leave, these folks would say. Folks have been saying that hence our current (under Obama) and ongoing (under the next administration) deportation, criminal injustice, and Christian fundamentalist terrorist crisis.

We could say that the problem lies in the quality of the ingredients alone. Get rid of the misogyny and fundamentalism and the Christianity can be saved. Excise the capitalist profit motive and the democracy can be saved. The connection between K12 and colleges and universities is simply spoiled and with refreshment, our educational system can be saved. Again, it’s not the recipe that’s the problem. All we need is a remix.

What will we lose if we turn away from these social institutions that have been handed down to us but which absolutely make us sick in ways that have material effects on individuals, whole communities, our nation, and which have ripple effects on the world at large? What will we continue to lose if we don’t?

What will we gain?

Re-visioning the things that have been handed to us requires courage, but it requires creativity, imagination. Our artists – poets, writers, musicians and songwriters – have been showing us the way. Are we ready to let go?

Am I ready for a new sweet potato pie recipe? To try and fail to arrive at something that tastes as yummy and try again until I get something that doesn’t make me sick?

Are we ready – for a new religion? a new education? a new form of government? Are we ready to try at something that might fail in the rhetorical power of what we have had but that doesn’t require our overlooking the sickness of some to enjoy?

We have decisions to make.

Just because you’re magic: A love letter to minoritized faculty in your first year

This fall begins my 16th academic year as a faculty member in the field of higher education and student affairs. I do so having attained promotion to the rank of full professor and serving in significant leadership roles in both my department and my profession. I have “made it.” Yet, as I have become known to say, I am #fullbutnotsatisfied. Attaining status and professional accolades is meaningless to me unless I can help to bring others alongside and after me. I am intent on doing what I can to help other minoritized faculty not only persist but thrive in this profession.

Toward that end, I am mindful of making evident the hidden rules of the academy, helping early career faculty to avoid fault lines, and using gatekeeper roles to both multiply the voices at the table but also expand the table’s capacity. So, I was provoked to consider what words of encouragement and caution I could offer to new racially minoritized faculty, as well as those with minoritized identities of sexuality and gender (both in addition to and apart from racial marginality), when I was contacted about a week ago by a mentee, who is a cisman with marginalized identities of both race and sexuality in his first year in a faculty role. My mentee had texted me after his first week in the classroom to share that one of his students, a cishet White man, had reached out after the first class session with a request to schedule a time to talk further so that this student might expand his awareness and knowledge, believing my mentee to possess special insights given his social identities. Immediately, alarm bells went off in my mind, but I have learned to be slow to offer unsolicited advice that can come across as paternalistic and undermining of others’ capacities to recognize dangers and their agency to make their own decisions about whether to move ahead. I probed what my younger colleague was thinking about this request and how he planned to respond. He shared that he was fine with meeting with the student, realizing that given the regional context of the institution, the student would not likely encounter anyone else like him. After reading his text, I simply replied, “Okay, just remember you have the right to set boundaries.”

My mentee shared that no one had ever said that to him before. He had never considered that was an option. I realized that no one told me that in my first year either. In fact, I was nearly tenured before I learned that lesson through the combination of hard experiences and wisdom from racially minoritized senior colleagues. Why did it take so long? Partly, lack of proximity to senior minoritized faculty. Partly, not knowing what questions to even ask until I had already had several years of experiences that confirmed that yes, there is a pattern here, and no, the problem was not me. This post then is a “love letter” to other minoritized faculty (across multiple dimensions of marginality) in an attempt to harness some of what I have learned over the last 15 years and what I hope to reflect and perfect in year 16 and beyond.

*****

Dear Colleague,

First, congratulations and welcome to the faculty ranks! You have already accomplished a significant feat by earning your doctorate and attaining a faculty position. You are now a member of a very privileged group and the opportunities and burdens of that privilege should not be taken lightly. Nevertheless, that privilege may yet be undermined by the relative visibility of the minoritized identities you hold. If sometimes you feel as though you are living two different lives – perhaps received with awe and respect in one space but greeted with disdain and rebuke in another – it is true, you are. Some days it may seem as though there must be some veil that falls from your face when you leave campus to carry on the mundane business of your daily life. In one life you are smiled at and called Dr. So-and-So. In this other life, you are cut down by disgusted double-takes and driving-while-Black, catcalled “hey girl” walking down the street, or “fucking sissy” coming out of a local bar, or simply some foul slur any given moment. These are your two lives and sometimes that second life doesn’t respect you enough to get out of the way of your first life and remain hidden. Some days, that second life will show up in the midst of an academic triumph. It is a singular achievement, living two lives at once while not succumbing to the incoherence of it all.

Living this dual-life requires some cautions, some encouragement, and some blessings. I offer these humbly, knowing that they may miss the mark, come too late, or be too early to be understood. Use what you can, throw away what misses the mark, save for later that which doesn’t make sense now. Let me know what you do with this and what lessons you have learned, so that I can learn from you.

I hope that you will set boundaries around your dual lives. No, I urge you to set boundaries. Although your life may inform your teaching, you do not have to teach your life. Your body is not a textbook. Your heart is not a 16-week curriculum for others’ to attain their learning outcomes through the toil of your devastations.

There are likely other minoritized faculty on your campus, senior faculty, who share your particular marginalities. However, they don’t necessarily understand you or see the world the same as you. The world was different (and yet the same) when they became faculty. The academy was different (and the same). They were different (and the same). The survival strategies they adopted may not be meant for you. Their worldview may not mesh with yours. Their persistence may have required compromises you are unwilling to make. They may not know what to do with you. They may be toxic. Be patient with them recognizing that their toxicity is the inevitable result of learning to swim in a toxic pool. Learn what lessons you can about the institution you have joined. But, please, keep your distance from the toxic ones.

Yes, you will have to be better than and do more than the others. You may have heard this already as you were growing up. It’s a common mantra of parents to children in racially minoritized households. If you have minoritized identities of sexuality and/or gender and are White, this may be a new and unwelcome expectation. Yes, it is unfair. It is still truth. The best anecdote to ambiguous standards and biased systems is excellence. Be excellent. This is not a call to assimilation, but rather to doing the work, consistently, thoroughly, and at such a high level of quality that your haters must be silenced. This is also not a call to loudly proclaim how hard you’re working to everyone in your department. They don’t deserve to know that. They don’t deserve to see you sweat. This leads to the next point:

Everybody has not earned authenticity from you. Ancient wisdom cautions casting your pearls before pigs. Pigs eat everything and process it all as waste. Don’t allow others to make waste of your transparency, your authenticity, or your vulnerability. Wear Dunbar’s mask, but don’t forget that it is a mask. I implore you to find spaces and people with whom you can take off the mask so that it neither suffocates nor adheres to you.

Yes, you belong here. You. Belong. Here. Even in 2016, you may be “the first” or “the only” one of your kind of “diversity” in your department. You will survive. You can thrive. Do professional and civic service that has clearly defined tasks, a specified term of service, and which can keep you grounded in the communities that birthed you. You are needed to be a “possibility model” (L. Cox) for someone else. All the while, I hope that you will grow, learn, and expand the borders of your mind. You are as limitless as you will allow yourself to be. You cannot be contained by the boxes others will attempt to put you in due to their small imaginations. And, having found just the right sized box, it can be tempting to snuggle down and stay there. I hope that you will instead continue to take risks, to scare yourself, to throw yourself off new cliffs in your research, teaching, and service trusting that your wings will grow on the way down.

Finally, be clear about your values and where you come from. Find people and spaces outside the academy whom you can trust to check you in love. And yes, as Jesse Williams has asserted, you are magic. Find the people who will remind you of your gifts and encourage you to walk in them even when you are afraid. Yet, as Brother Jesse also said, you are real. Honor your body and your heart. Take care of it. Love on it. Allow it to be loved on. You will not last if you do not. We need you to stick around for a long time. We are better with you than without you, but you must value your health and wellness over all else. Don’t let this work define you. Live a full, expansive life. Live the life your ancestors could not have dreamed of. The fact is that neither side of that dual-life I referenced earlier is real. They are both constructions of oppression, the flip sides of fetish and repulsion. Don’t buy into either. Create a life that can transport you beyond.

In love; in hope; in solidarity,

D-L

Safety, Learning, & Community

There has been so much to write about over the last couple of weeks. From the clear fact that merely going to college does not imbue one with critical consciousness (see the difference between why Nate Parker and Colin Kaepernick are trending) to what kind of spaces college campuses should be, I could have written multiple posts. Alas, BGSU’s first day of fall semester was last Monday the 22nd and I was a little busy last week with my paid post. So, I decided to write today about safety, learning, and faculty responsibility to support student learning. I did it through Storify because so much great content I’ve seen on this has come through my Twitter feed. Let’s up sharing it this way works as I hope it will. Clicking on the link below should take you to the Storify:

 

What’s this have to do with higher ed?

Howdy. Hey. Hi. Wassup.

I know it’s been ages and a half since my last blog post. Several folks have been nudging me – okay, it’s been a bit more urgent than a nudge – to start writing for my blog again. Frankly, my absence from this blog site has not been because there haven’t been issues I wanted to write in long form about. There have indeed been lots of them. I do have to confess that I have fallen in like with Twitter. I have come to enjoy the necessity of boiling down my ideas to 140 characters and when I have more to say than that, I have learned how to “thread” my tweets so that I can go on a “tweet storm” that satisfies that in-the-moment urge to get something out of my head and into the world for feedback and commentary. This is in large part the reason why I have posted nearly 16,000 tweets in the last year or so (I know small potatoes by comparison with others, but I think that’s a lot for someone who is not a nationally known personality).

The blog, by contrast, has felt more distant. In other words, I feel like there is less direct engagement with me through my blog posts than there has been via Twitter through a rant or even a single tweet. Perhaps some of that has something to do with the “celebrity” culture that Dr. Z Nicolazzo posted about on hir blog earlier today (8/11/2016). Perhaps the blog feeds some (definitely not all) folks’ desire to “consume” or “experience” me than to actually engage with me person to person. And that’s more than a little off-putting to me. Despite my strong introvert preferences, I really enjoy talking about ideas with people and I have found that more possible through Twitter than through my blog. Again, neither space is totally either singular thing, but the patterns do diverge between those two platforms.

Another issue that’s kept me off my blog – and this is fully my own internalized constraint – has been the question that I used to title this blog post: What’s this have to do with higher ed? This is actually a question I get fairly often from anonymous reviewers and one that’s currently besetting a manuscript that I’ve been asked to submit a revision of for a journal. I have an uncanny – some might call it annoying – ability to connect the dots across widely varying content, issues, people, topics. It’s an artifact of my ADHD, a gift as I like to think of it. However, also due to my ADHD, I have a really difficult time explaining those connections that are so apparent to me to other people. Hence why my reviewers are often puzzled and have to ask me to more clearly address how my argument/findings/recommendations/the topic itself is related to the field of higher education. On the blog, I feel a greater responsibility to make those connections visible to readers, to think through my arguments, to show the picture. Mind you, these are all rightfully expected responsibilities of any author. It’s like the instruction from my math teachers in school: “Show your work.”

Nevertheless, that work is work and I haven’t had that kind of time on my hands lately, especially not over the last year or so. However, as I am choosing to take the advice of a dear and treasured friend and just “rest” this coming year, I think I am ready to tackle that challenge. I’d like to begin in this post by sharing generally how I see things connecting, the patterns I am most interested in drawing, and those patterns which already exist that I would like to point out.

The arc of my scholarship over the last 15 years has certainly focused most specifically on (Black) student identity (development), experiences, and outcomes concerning race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, faith, religion, and spirituality. However, my interest in those topics has always been connected to and meant to inform institutional transformation and what I see as the role of higher education in a (espoused) democratic society. In other words, I fervently believe that the issues on which I have focused [1)how (racially minoritized) students experience their higher education environments and 2) how those environments press upon their meaning making of who they are, their relationships to others, and what that means for how they should show up in the world] affect the broader society those students will shape and the society they experience with others. I believe that higher education best fulfills its role as a public good (not just a private gain) when it prepares people to be actively engaged, critically thinking, critically conscious (and there “critically” serves two different but related purposes) citizens in a democratic society.

U.S. Census data show that 56% of the population “25 years and older” as of 2011 had at least an associate’s degree or some college experience; this includes the 30% who have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.  Consequently, higher education environments – across sectors – have a significant (potential) influence on shaping knowledge competency, maturation, and values in the country. How people in those environments – including students, faculty, and staff – dis/engage each other around issues of identity, relationship, community, and systems of oppression and privilege shows up in how those same people dis/engage each other around those topics beyond the campus commons. Here are just three examples:

  1. How we in higher education do (not) talk about gender in colleges and universities – not just the elite, private ones – shows up in public discussions and debates about HB2 in North Carolina.
  2. How higher education does (not) talk about privilege and power as systemic realities that create and reproduce what Stainback et al. (2010) call “founding effects” and “organizational inertia” shows up in debates about policing and the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC; h/t Michelle Alexander).
  3. How higher education does (not) address its historical connections to colonization and slavery and the continuing present material effects of that relationship shows up in the need for students to petition, strike, and protest by any means necessary the celebration of the vestiges of those relationships on their campuses and in the cities and states in which they live and study.

As a result, prison abolition, gender and toxic masculinity as lived and experienced “out in the world”, and the display of the Confederate flag on the statehouse grounds all become fodder for higher education analysis and discussion.  How we discuss terrorism, mass shootings, gun violence, mental health, and political candidates invocation of such rhetoric are all higher education issues because they all speak back/forward to how colleges and universities are (not) preparing people to be actively engaged, critically thinking, critically conscious citizens in a democratic society. In partnership with K12 education, which is the extent of formal education for 44% of the country (as captured by the Census so that proportion is likely higher), we must consider what we are meant to do as educators and educational communities, what is our role, how can we positively affect change in the issues I noted above and many, many others.

So, over this next academic year, you’ll see more of that kind of discussion in my blog. I hope you’ll take this as an invitation to actively join me whether you’re working in student affairs or not.

D-L’s blog: 2015 in review

Wow, I only wrote 5 blog posts in 2015 but those posts generated a LOT of visits and discussions. During this year, I was swamped by writing for publication in external venues (journal articles and books chapters). I’ve learned that I am not a person who can divide my attention infinitely and expect to be productive. So, focusing on different kinds of publications this year meant that my blog got less attention. Despite that, I’m really proud of what I wrote here this year and very appreciative of all of you who read, shared, commented, or otherwise helped to promote my ideas. Check out my stats and see for yourself.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,600 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

So, Sometimes I Preach, Too

I fellowship with a religious community of Episcopalians in Toledo, Ohio – Trinity Episcopal Church. We are in the midst of an interim period after our previous rector resigned mid-summer to pursue a new calling of God on her life (may she and her wife be blessed). Now, as we first search for an interim rector (a priest who is specially called to help churches in leadership transitions), some of our lay members have been called upon to offer the sermon during our Sunday worship services. It befell me to do this on Sunday of this week. I’ve had a number of people ask me to share my words more widely. I do so with no small amount of hesitation as these are not “my” words really, but rather what I believe to be the outcome of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To any extent that these words bring life, the honor and glory goes to God alone. To any extent that these words bring pain and suffering, the accountability is mine alone to bear for clearly I have mishandled the message of God. Without further preamble and largely unedited except for adding hyperlinks to a couple of things that aren’t necessarily public knowledge, what follows is the message I shared with my faith community last Sunday. I hope it feeds your soul and provokes you to new action.

Sermon for September 13, 2015

Trinity Episcopal Church, Toledo

Good morning. I would like to begin by first reading into your hearing the Old Testament and Psalm appointed in Track 2 of the Revised Common Lectionary for today [September 13, 2015]. It was through these lessons along with James’ epistle and Mark’s gospel that the Spirit seemed to be speaking to me most clearly. I humbly offer these meditations to you today.

Isaiah 50: 4-9a

The Lord GOD has given me

the tongue of a teacher,

that I may know how to sustain

the weary with a word.

Morning by morning he wakens–

wakens my ear

to listen as those who are taught.

The Lord GOD has opened my ear,

and I was not rebellious,

I did not turn backward.

I gave my back to those who struck me,

and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;

I did not hide my face

from insult and spitting.

The Lord GOD helps me;

therefore I have not been disgraced;

therefore I have set my face like flint,

and I know that I shall not be put to shame;

he who vindicates me is near.

Who will contend with me?

Let us stand up together.

Who are my adversaries?

Let them confront me.

It is the Lord GOD who helps me;

who will declare me guilty?

Psalm 116: 1-8

1          I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, *
because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.

2          The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me; *
I came to grief and sorrow.

3          Then I called upon the Name of the LORD: *
“O LORD, I pray you, save my life.”

4          Gracious is the LORD and righteous; *
our God is full of compassion.

5          The LORD watches over the innocent; *
I was brought very low, and he helped me.

6          Turn again to your rest, O my soul, *
for the LORD has treated you well.

7          For you have rescued my life from death, *
my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.

8          I will walk in the presence of the LORD *
in the land of the living.

Let the Lord add a blessing to the reading of his word. Amen.

As I read and meditated on each of these lessons from Isaiah, Psalm 116, James, and Mark’s Gospel, I believe that I see the Church as the subject and object of each lesson. When I say “the Church” in this context I mean both God’s Church universal, all of us who claim to be followers of Christ both within and beyond the Anglican Communion. I should pause here quickly to explain myself: We – and I do include myself in this – like to make distinctions amongst ourselves for the sake of our own egos and self-righteousness, but neither God nor those who watch us attend to them. Yet, while I believe this message has relevance nationally and internationally, I am also speaking to this West Mission Area of the Diocese of Ohio, as well as to all of us gathered under the sound of my voice as Trinity Episcopal Church, Toledo.

Let’s hear from that text in Isaiah again, but this time put the Church into the passage (Isaiah 50):

The Lord GOD has given the Church

the tongue of a teacher,

that the Church may know how to sustain

the weary with a word.

Morning by morning GOD wakens–

wakens the Church’s ear

to listen as those who are taught.

The Lord GOD has opened the Church’s ear,

and the Church was not rebellious,

the Church did not turn backward.

The Church gave their back to those who struck the Church,

and their cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;

The Church did not hide their face

from insult and spitting.

The Lord GOD helps the Church;

therefore the Church have not been disgraced;

therefore the Church have set their face like flint,

and the Church know that they shall not be put to shame;

GOD who vindicates the Church is near.

Who will contend with the Church?

Let the Church stand up together.

Who are the Church’s adversaries?

Let them confront the Church.

It is the Lord GOD who helps the Church;

who will declare the Church guilty?

The Church has been given the tongue of a teacher, but we must remain attentive to listening and learning anew every day so that we know how to sustain the weary with a word. Who are they that are weary? God has never been most concerned about those who claim weariness from going to work every day, or having to sit in traffic and construction zones in their air-conditioned, leather-seated cars, or those who are tired already of political posturing and presidential campaigning.

No, the weary who need to be sustained with the words of the Church are those who are oppressed under the thumb of oppressive structures and systemic violence. These weary are Syrian refugees; they are sex workers; they are those who are unhoused; they are indigenous peoples across the globe; they are those impoverished by our greed, materialism, and capitalism; they are Black lives imprisoned and executed by overly aggressive policing. These who are weary are trans* people, who have endured the news twenty-three times this year of our kin being slaughtered in the streets:

  1. Papi Edwards
  2. Lamia Beard
  3. Ty Underwood
  4. Yasmin Vash Payne
  5. Taja Gabrielle DeJesus
  6. Penny Proud
  7. Bri Golec
  8. Kristina Grant Infiniti
  9. Sumaya Ysl
  10. Keyshia Blige
  11. Vanessa Santillan
  12. Mya Hall
  13. London Chanel
  14. Mercedes Williamson
  15. Ashton O’Hara
  16. Amber Monroe
  17. India Clarke
  18. C. Haggard
  19. Shade Schuler
  20. Kandis Capri
  21. Elisha Walker
  22. Tamara Dominguez
  23. Jasmine Collins

Made weary by their deaths and yet at times unable to mourn our dead because they have been misnamed and mispronouned, adding yet another violent erasure to the physical one that took them from us and another weariness to endure.

It is the voice of the weary who narrate Psalm 116. Here, I see the Church this time in the place of the Lord, because as St. Teresa of Avila wrote in the 16th century,

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Let’s hear Psalm 116 again with that understanding:

1          I love the CHURCH, because they have heard the voice of my supplication, *
because they have inclined their ear to me whenever I called upon them.

2          The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me; *
I came to grief and sorrow.

3          Then I called upon the Name of the CHURCH: *
“O CHURCH, I pray you, save my life.”

4          Gracious is the CHURCH and righteous; *
our CHURCH is full of compassion.

5          The CHURCH watches over the innocent; *
I was brought very low, and THE CHURCH helped me.

6          Turn again to your rest, O my soul, *
for the CHURCH has treated you well.

7          For THE CHURCH has rescued my life from death, *
my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.

8          I will walk in the presence of the CHURCH *
in the land of the living.

Would all those who are weary in this country, this city, be able to give this testimony? Can the Church say in truth that we have not turned our backs, that we have given our cheeks to those who slander the name of God? In essence, as Jesus asked his disciples in Mark’s gospel account, “Who do people say that [the Church] is?” Who do people say that Trinity is? [Feel free to insert the name of your congregation here.]

In answer, many of us may want to set ourselves apart from the likes of Kim Davis or Westboro Baptist Church.  Yet, to the world, if we call ourselves Christians, we and Kim Davis have more in common than we do different. To those who watch us, Trinity and Cedar Creek and Cornerstone and First Church and St. Paul’s are all cut from the same cloth. A cloth that either smothers or comforts, chokes or covers. But as James writes in the lesson from the epistle for today, we who are called to teach – and we have already learned from Isaiah that the Lord has given the Church the tongue of a teacher – are held to a higher standard. Indeed, we ought to be because we are God’s representatives on earth. If even but one part of the Church has rejected that morning call of Isaiah to wake and to listen and learn, then we are all guilty. We must not be so smug as to be content with our own progressivism, thinking ourselves safe from criticism. No, God calls us all to account for each other. The apostle writes, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. [People of God], this ought not to be so.” From the same church, people come to stay and people leave with bitterness in their mouths. People of Trinity, this ought not to be so. We must commit to the hard work of consistently clarifying who God is for a world in pain, standing in open opposition to those who, like the Pharisees and Sanhedrin of Jesus’ time, use the Name of God to inflict all sorts of misery and provoke to weariness the most weak and vulnerable among us.

To speak a word to sustain in the face of weariness is to deliberately and intentionally set oneself against what is easy, popular, or comfortable. As we walk this Via Media[1], let it not become a Via Wishy-Washy, let us not compromise delivering a truly sustaining word that is full of compassion, which rescues lives from death, dries tears and steadies feet to run. Let us not be ashamed of Christ’s call to give it all away for the sake of attempting to save our own lives.  Instead, let us rather set our faces as flint and dare to be criticized, to be ostracized, to lose members and income and buildings, while we allow the holy fire of the Spirit to compel us ever onward. To deny that this is necessary, vital, and yes even commanded by God is to be like Peter in today’s gospel lesson, holding on to our own security and comfort content to watch the world go to Hell in a handbasket.

To take our message to those who are weary, we must not just leave the building but also bring others with us into the building to receive help, strength, and encouragement to go on. To be spat upon and insulted, the Church, like Jesus our Savior, must be first willing to speak the Truth that inflicts discomfort on the comfortable and wounds those who are whole. Through our building and through our outstretched hands and uplifted voices, let us be CHRIST who is loved and walked alongside of. We must see ourselves as ONE with those who are oppressed and marginalized, not us and them, not church and unchurched, but all in need of the water of everlasting life. As the Church stands up to BE the Church, not just go to church, the Lord GOD will help us and vindicate us.

Let them who have ears to hear, hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.  Thanks be to GOD.

[1] This is an Anglican/Episcopal Church thing. You can read one perspective on it here.

Trans*forming A Mule

I

This is an essay about gender.

II

If we are to truly understand gender as socially constructed, we must first recognize that gender programming and performance (i.e., socialization) begins at birth and informs how we engage each other in our daily lives. Gender is more than the clothes we wear, the pitch of our voices, and much much more than our body morphology. Gender is informed by and intersected with race, sexuality, social class, and disability.

[Before I go any further, I should pause to acknowledge that the ideas of many others inform my thinking in this post. Some of those sources I will name as they come up, but most of which I won’t be able to, because they are so ingrained and entangled in my mind that I no longer can pull them apart to tell what came from who. Here is a list of those influences, in no particular order: bell hooks, Zora Neale Hurston, Audre Lorde, the compilation This Bridge Called My Back edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Sarah Smith Rainey, Michele Wallace, discussions with Z Nicolazzo, Allan G. Johnson…]

III

Foreground yourself.

In the word processing program that I use, I can insert a picture and choose among various options for how that image should appear relative to the text or other images around it. If I set it as “foreground” then I am putting it in front of other text/images such that if they overlap, then what is foregrounded appears on top of the rest.

I have been told lately, “foreground yourself.” Essentially, among the overlapping roles I hold, pulls on my time, and needs for self-care, I have been strongly advised to put myself in front of all the rest. To see my needs first and foremost, on top of everything else. I heard that advice and was mystified about how to enact it.

This is gender in action, gender as performative (thank you, Judith Butler).

IV

I need…

Need, needs, needy, needing, and neediness are gendered. To be seen as “needy” is definitely gendered (as feminine which equals bad in case you were wondering). Neediness is a state of lack, of want for something that you do not have. It is weakness as it’s portrayed in pop culture. Those “in need” are usually portrayed as women and children. It’s central to why our society refuses to accept a man as being in need of public assistance. Men are defined as “not in need” but also as the ones whose “needs” must be met (by women and children).

To assert that *I* need and have needs and am in need is being subversive.  I am violating the gender norms assigned to me because I do not fit within the category “man.”

V

“All you/I need to do is stay Black and die.” I’ve heard this my whole life.

All I need to do is stay Black and die.

[I’ll leave for another blog post, perhaps, a critical race-poststructural analysis of the directive to “stay Black” grounded partially in the ways in which one can become not-Black, perhaps similar to Monique Wittig’s concept of lesbians as not-women.]

This was a proclamation of resistance when an I was the subject – denying anyone else’s right to force me to take any action I did not want to take: No, I don’t *need* to keep my hair long and straight to be sexually attractive. No, I don’t *need* to focus more on getting married than I do on my education and career. No, I don’t *need* to accept somebody denying my worth and value and authenticity just because “everybody has issues.” I rebuffed many an external constraint on my self-determination by flinging back that response with all the certitude and attitude my grown-ass womanish Black self could muster, as in “Excuse me?? No, all I neeeeeed to do is stay Black and die!” Yes, cue the neck roll, eye roll, and teeth sucking along with the implied dare to keep on talking.

VI

All you need to do is stay Black and die.

[And here, I could do a different blog post about how Blackness is surveilled and policed such that people who are deemed Black, stay Black, and die as Black in ways appropriate for Blackness. And in that post, I would give a shout-out to Michel Foucault.]

This was an indictment of my selfishness when a you was the subject. The speaker denied my assertion of my desire to do something other than what was being demanded of me in that moment so that I could perform to satisfy someone else’s needs that were more important than my own.

What was being communicated was some version of the following: No, you don’t need time for yourself really. No, all you need to do is stay within the respectable bubble of Black-womanness (i.e., don’t be queer or trans* or womanist or too educated or not educated enough) that has been erected to make your Black-womanness palatable to White folks and stay small enough to be subservient to others’ interests and wear your mask and die with it on. Oh and while you’re at it, you can also disappear and be of no consequence and leave no mark so that no one ever knows your pain, your need, your want, your desire so that you don’t infringe on those who are really important. And the I that is the dominating Other is watching you to make sure that if you step out of line and forget your programming that you will be brought back in line (thank you, Michel Foucault).

VII

This is still an essay about gender.

VIII

So, I engage in lengthy episodes of anxiety-ridden angst about whether it is permissible for me this time to put my needs, my neediness, and my need up front. This is about gender and my gender socialization and how I have been socialized NOT to EVER foreground myself. As Zora Neale Hurston’s character Nannie asserted in Their Eyes Were Watching God, the Black woman is the mule of the world, made to bear others’ burdens and fulfill others’ needs, not to have any of her own.

[Nanny]: “Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as Ah been able tuh find out. Maybe it’s some place way off in de ocean where de black man is in power, but we don’t know nothin’ but what we see. So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.” (2.44) [Retrieved from http://www.shmoop.com/eyes-were-watching-god/race-quotes-2.html]

How many have gained their freedom, had their autonomy recognized, had their needs met by crossing over on the work of women of color (thank you Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa)? Like, everybody except women of color. Hello somebody…

IX

But I am not a Black woman, though I was raised to be one.

And so if I’m really going to show up as an AFAB (assigned female at birth), genderqueer, non-binary trans* and MOC (masculine of center), then doing so must mean doing more than wearing a badass suit and bow tie, unlearning the practiced (and unnatural) feminine pitch of my voice, and slinging a prosthetic phallis between my thighs in order to trans*form myself from the mule I was trained to be to become the person that I am. My gender identity and expression is not kink.

But it cannot mean picking up another’s load and then passing it off to a Black ciswoman to carry because I have deemed myself, as not a woman, to be higher than she.

This is the gender knot that must be unraveled (nod to Allan G. Johnson).

No, it must mean refusing to pick up someone else’s burden (to NOT be Simon the Cyrene for someone else’s crucifix), but to foreground myself, my needs, and my neediness as legitimate, valuable, necessary and NOT as a weakness to be squashed so that I can remain some kind of superhero (nod to Michele Wallace there, thank you). It must mean wresting the right to make my life matter for me and to me, to put myself first, to say that I need to do more than stay Black and die to be alive in this world.

This is about self-preservation being subversive and countercultural and militant and necessary (thank you, Audre Lorde).

X

This is an essay about gender. This is an essay about race. This is an essay about social class. This is an essay about trans*gression.

This is an essay about freedom.

Listening to Otis: The Necessity of Tenderness

[Written April 15, 2015]

A few days (or maybe several days) ago, my Twitter timeline included a post (deep apologies for no longer remembering who it was by) that referenced a quote from Dr. Cornel West: “…tenderness is what love feels like in private…” It moved me that day and must have inched its way down into my soul because it rose back up into my consciousness earlier this afternoon.

I meditated on that word, tenderness, until snatches of a song rose up in my soul as well…

It was the right time for me to listen to Otis Redding today. I played the song twice, let the chorus loop on repeat in my mind for quite some time. “Try a little tenderness…!”  The urgency of his voice makes it clear that this is a command, a demand even, not a wistful suggestion. I had been thinking about community and kinship when West’s quote rose up in my spirit today. In fact, community and kinship have been recurring themes that Z Nicolazzo and I have been exploring together of late. I wanted to dig deeper into this notion of how tenderness and kinship might be related, so I found the context for Cornel West’s quote in this essay, “A Love Supreme.” In talking about how we might fully engage the promise and possibilities of the Occupy Movement in 2011, Dr. West wrote the following:

We must recast old notions of empire, class, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and nature into new ways of thinking and being. Our movement is a precious, sublime, messy and funky form of incubation. Again like jazz, we must embody and enact a loving embrace of the art of our collaborative creations. We must embody a universal embrace of all those in the human family, and sentient beings, and consolidate an unstoppable fortitude in the face of systems of oppression and structures of domination. We will suffer, shudder and struggle together with smiles on our faces and a love supreme in our souls. Just as justice is what love looks like in public and tenderness is what love feels like in private, deep democratic revolution is what justice looks like in practice. (para. 3, emphasis added)

I have seen the first third of that last sentence a great deal, the second third only a couple of times, and I have never seen that last phrase quoted by others at all. I think it’s easy for those of us invested in social justice to focus on that first phrase. We are eager, thirsty, for justice. We want self-identified allies to show their love in tangible ways. Justice makes love tangible. Justice enacts human dignity. Justice brings transformation.

However, it’s that second phrase that has been rooting itself deep in my loins (as in the seat of physical strength and generative power) since I saw that tweet several days ago. Tenderness is what love feels like in private.

As a member of multiple marginalized communities, I notice that I expend a lot of energy external to those communities. Energy that is swallowed up in protesting, in education, in ranting, in recovery and healing. It is far easier I have noticed to use our community gathering time to vent and strategize and waste away in our exhaustion with struggle. After all, it is often other marginalized people who actually understand why we are so worn out and exhausted, angry and hurt. We can share without undue explanation, receive validation and support.

That validation and support is critical. However, moving beyond validation and support to building each other up through love’s tender embrace is also fundamental to healing and wholeness.  I appreciate that West’s essay here is inward-facing. He is addressing those within the movement, not those who are the objects of the movement’s resistance. We must carefully consider how we will be with and for each other in order to truly realize the radical vision of a “deep democratic revolution in practice.”

Tenderness is what love feels like in private.

Within communities of marginalized and oppressed people, we are well-acquainted with all the ways in which we are unlovable, ugly, and generally considered to be less than. Our mis-education, as Carter G. Woodson opined in 1935, has been thorough. As Reina Gossett shared in her interview with Rheem Brooks for Bluestockings Magazine, living out an abolitionist movement is not necessarily an action, but rather the persistent engagement in a “deep process of unlearning or learning again.” I strongly believe that this is why we need to consciously and doggedly practice tenderness among ourselves, in our private affinity spaces and community gatherings. Within the spaces we create with and for each other as marginalized and oppressed peoples, tenderness should be, must be the primary agenda.

When I think of tenderness, I am reminded of the careful, gentle touch of lovers, of a parent toward a child, of a child toward their aging parent. Tenderness is the soft touch, the sweet kiss that stirs the soul before it is felt upon the skin. Tenderness is the tone of voice that calls the name of its beloved and instantly brings calm. Tenderness is the hand held without a word needing to be spoken. Tenderness is holding close in the dark with just breath between bodies warm from shared energy. Tenderness. The gentle panting of a heaving chest that finally feels at home, loved, at peace. Tenderness has emotive power and is fierce in its quietness. It is no mistake that West chose the verb “feels” instead of “looks” when he talked about tenderness. Tenderness provokes an emotional response.

Tenderness is not for public consumption.

Contrary to what you might be envisioning now, I am not talking about sexual romance. I am talking about love as action, as imparted. How do we act out such a tenderness for and among ourselves within the private spaces of our marginalized communities?

I just said I wasn’t talking about sexual romance, but maybe I am talking about a different type of sexuality. Maybe it’s a sexuality that is not restricted to and which subsumes sexual romance. Perhaps, this is a communal sexuality focused on deep emotional intimacy and mutual valuing and investment. And despite our society’s religiously-informed body- and sex-shaming (condemnations of the flesh as inherently sinful), touch is also a part of showing tenderness to other people. I think touch is one of the first things that is withdrawn from bodies deemed undesirable. They are marked as untouchables. The experience of tenderness ought to be multisensory: seen, heard, felt – visual, aural, and tactile – and even smelled and tasted (I am remembering now the tenderness given and received in a loaf of home-baked bread). For crying out loud, touch each other with tenderness – because ours may be the only arms left to hold our socially unmentionable, publicly undesirable bodies.

Tenderness is what love feels like in private.

In as much as sexuality is multifaceted (emotional, romantic, and sexual), the communal sexuality that I am proposing is also multifaceted — it is epistemic, affective, and behavioral.

[My sexually conservative religious upbringing is screaming in my head, but I am going to press on.]

Thinking, feeling, and acting toward each other with tenderness within and across our multiple marginalities is fundamental to the unlearning and new learning that Gossett recommends. As Nicolazzo has written in an earlier blog post, we must practice a collective love (citing Lani Guinier). We cannot always simply love ourselves without being shown that love within and from our communities. In fact, I would argue that an intersectional ethic requires a commitment to a political (as opposed to a romantic/relational) polyamory*, in which marginalized people are able to practice this communal sexuality within and across multiple marginalities for the purposes of deep democratic revolution beginning from within.

So, listen to Otis. Let’s try a little tenderness.

*I am grateful to my doctoral student, Liane Ortis, whose dissertation study of polyamory in college environments is teaching me a great deal about polyamory and has reshaped my thinking.

An Up-Close View from the Middle at 30,000 Feet

They are already coming from my daughter. “They” being colleges and universities. Ever since the results of her PSAT scores came in last fall, my child’s email inbox has been filled with another imploring note from institutions far and near, of all stripes and pedigrees.  They are asking this soon-to-be-but-not-yet sixteen year old high school sophomore to consider their institution as the place where she should seek to spend the next 4 years of her life after high school. Many of these institutions also email me in hopes that I will use my parental influence to sway her decision (they do realize she’s a teenager, right?).

This is my only child. I get one experience with being on the parental end of the college search process. Since I was my mother’s only child, I also only had one view of this from the prospective student’s point of view as well. There was no older sibling to watch first. My mother, the next to last child and youngest girl, did not have the opportunity to complete college, attending only one semester at Hunter College before having to prematurely end her college education to stay home and help her widowed mother take care of her younger brother, who had both physical and psychiatric disabilities. My father, though possessing both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from North Carolina public universities, was not really part of my life at the time and I had no access to his knowledge about higher education. I had been helping to fill out our family’s FAFSA forms since I was in high school due to the opportunity extended to me to attend a private, independent all-girls Catholic high school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side (I was born and raised in Harlem, north of Central Park, in the same burrough of New York City). I was a first-gen college student; one of the “privileged poor” as Dr. Anthony Abraham Jack, a researcher featured in this NYT article on first-gen students at elite colleges, names those first-gen students who attend private schools and therefore have a chance to get somewhat used to the massive class differences evident at elite institutions.

Although I am told not to worry about where my child will go to college, I am concerned because I know that as a young adult perceived to be an African American woman, she will be judged in the context of this White cishetpatriarchal society as inferior, less than, a collection of deficits to be overcome – despite her class schedule being filled with honors classes and maintaining an over 4.0 GPA. So, for my child, and others like her, it does matter where she goes, what institution’s name is listed on her resume as the place where she received her bachelor’s education. To deny that this does matter for some students and their families considering college is to accept the myth of meritocracy and deny the reality of systemic bias that continues to confront graduates from minority-serving institutions, community colleges, and small, regional public colleges. Yes, the conclusions drawn by Pascarella and Terenzini (How College Affects Students, 2005) based on the weight of hundreds of research studies suggest that the biggest differences lie between students in different educational programs (e.g., honors colleges, living-learning communities, summer bridge programs, etc.) at the same institution instead of between students in comparable educational programs at different institutions.

And yet, hiring managers and graduate school admissions committees don’t think of that research when they make assumptions about the quality of education at Spelman versus that at Mount Holyoke, or a graduate whose undergraduate career began at Terra State Community College versus the one whose college years were all spent at The Ohio State University’s main campus in Columbus.

So, I want to help my daughter, who I’ll refer to as “M” to preserve her confidentiality, to make the best decision for her and encourage her not to “undermatch” (see the NYT article linked above) based on false perceptions of her competence and ability to succeed.

I was a first-gen college student, but my daughter is not. M is the child of 3 parents across two households who possess 3 bachelor’s degrees and 4 advanced graduate degrees among them. I am an associate professor with tenure in a doctoral-level research institution teaching, of all ironies, in a higher education and student affairs department. Going to college is not just where I go to work, it is my work. More than anyone, I should know all the ins-and-outs of college admissions, all the tips and tricks for getting M’s application noticed, have all the access to the test prep strategies and essay writing tutors that my educational station and social class privilege should afford, right? Right? Wrong.

Yes, I do know a lot more about navigating college than my mom did when I was in high school. I have attained no small amount of cultural and social capital due to my education and profession. However, I am still wide-eyed and overwhelmed in much the same ways as I was when I was on the threshold of 16 and beginning to consider where I would go to college. The problem with that is that no one expects me to feel that way. M – who has been on college campuses since she was literally in the womb – and I have an up-close view of college life from the middle, stuck in the DMZ between first-gen status and the privileges accruing to generations of college legacies. I can step out from that place and look at all this happening from 30,000 feet in the air, with the benefit of a command of the college access and choice scholarship. But this is my kid. My only child. My only chance to do this well. Yes, we have a village and thank goodness for it – the same village that appeared when I was 16 is the same village (not the same people but the same presence of support and capacity) that will help M to enter this familiar-unfamiliarity on her own terms.

As I become the parent of a matriculating college student, I’ll continue to share this unique up-close view of the middle from 30,000 feet up. I hope you’ll join me at #MsCollegeSearch.

Multicultural Affairs and White Folks Running Things: A Response to @jeradgreen494

***UPDATE — 4/25/2016: The ideas expressed in this blog post and some of the content written here, though expanded, has been published in a feature article in the March/April 2016 issue of About Campus (DOI: 10.1002/abc.21227) under the title “It Matters Who Leads Them: Connecting Leadership in Multicultural Affairs to Student Learning and Development.” The author’s note for that article that gave attribution to this blog post was removed during the production process. It was not and is not my intention to give any appearance of self-plagiarism or any form of authorial unethical practice, so I have added this note to the original blog post in an attempt in the forum where I do have total control to acknowledge that this blog post is the origin of the ideas and some of the verbiage even used in the now more formally published piece.***

On Thursday, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit by video conference with Dr. Marc Johnston’s Student Development Theory class at my master’s and doctoral alma mater, The Ohio State University. After my visit, I posted to Facebook about it, remarking that I had only answered two questions in the time I had with them because those questions hit nerves that tend to send me off on rants quite easily. The two questions involved who should be doing the work of social justice education (should privileged people work with privileged people and marginalized people work with marginalized people) and how to deal with resistance to such educational initiatives. In the comment thread that ensued, I gave really brief summaries of what I shared with this class of first-year student affairs master’s students. Here’s what I posted:

“So, this is a hot button issue for me. My basic contention is that it is actually a vestige of racial oppression to presume that POC are somehow inherently qualified to lead these sessions and that people whose social identities are different can’t learn from each other. It’s also racist to assume that all people of X ethnic group are going to automatically have instant rapport; we don’t make that assumption for White people, so why do we do it for POC? We need to look at skills and what self-work people have done – regardless of their social identities – as the primary criteria for whether they are the best person to put in front of a group. That being said, I also believe that sometimes, depending on where students (if that’s the audience) are in their own development, they may best hear someone who is similar to them. Regardless, we need to stop delivering diversity workshops in such a way as the presumed audience is White, heterosexual, cisgender, middle-class, Christian and able-bodied.

To the 2nd question about handling resistance, I said that we have no choice but to be prepared for resistance and that we must stop seeing resistance as automatically negative or as something we should try to reduce. Resistance is inevitable because it is part of the learning process. Everything new we have ever learned was first resisted. I challenged them to deny that they did not resist some of the things they were taught in their first semester in graduate school and told them that I would call them boldfaced liars if they did (that might have been a bit much, lol). We need to invest energy in acknowledging resistance, helping people to realize that they will likely resist something (maybe everything) they hear at first and that doesn’t make them bad people, and then prepare to effectively use the resistance to promote transformation and learning.”

Apparently, some folks appreciated my perspective; this comment itself got 42 “likes” on the thread. One thing I forgot to say to the class and write in my Facebook post later, was that I have come to deeply appreciate the power of having teams of facilitators leading social justice educational workshops. When 2 or more facilitators (depending on the size of the group) who have between them a mix of privileged and marginalized identities (we all have both) and balance those identities across them, it can lead to richer experiences for the participants and provide helpful support and checks for the facilitators. I have witnessed the effectiveness of this both as a participant in the Social Justice Training Institute, where I first saw this strategy used, and as a co-facilitator with Dr. Kathy Obear in a workshop we did with staff at the University of Baltimore in 2013.

A former student later posted to my thread requesting that I please engage the perspective shared in an article published in The Student Affairs Collective by Jared Green. You should take a moment to read it too.

I read the article later that evening, quickly jotted down a few notes in my journal before going to bed, and read the article again this morning, as well as the comments that followed it. Many people might think I am going to pen a searing disagreement with Jared Green, based on this line in my comments on Facebook: “We need to look at skills and what self-work people have done – regardless of their social identities – as the primary criteria for whether they are the best person to put in front of a group.” Nope, wrong. I don’t totally agree with Green either. The issue is far more nuanced than a (dare I say it) simplistic and dualistic, you’re right or you’re wrong (the approach used by most of the commenters to Green’s article). My response to Green is likely to make people on both sides of this debate, and perhaps Green himself, annoyed, disappointed, or frustrated with me. I’m more than okay with that, because it likely means that everybody left with something to think about and be challenged by and dealing with that resistance, dear reader, is essential to learning.

I love engaging master’s students in dialogues like this, especially those in their first year of graduate preparation who have often just completed their bachelor’s degree. These students are still early in experiencing the world around them and understanding the complexities of institutional systems and how those systems interact with individual actors to constrain or empower individual and community agency, development, and transformation. I love engaging them because they are raw and honest. In today’s parlance, they keep it 100. Learning begins with such authenticity. I don’t know where Green is in his master’s degree education, but what I admire about him and his article is that he is still keeping it 100. This is how he feels and I’ll be damned if I don’t affirm his right to express how he feels and why. It takes courage to share what I am sure Green knew would spark a lot of heated dialogue in such a public forum and attach his real name, his picture, and his Twitter handle online in this Yik-Yak, trolling age. So, a word of warning to would-be trolls: You come for Green and I’m coming for you. You can trust and believe me when I tell you, you are not ready for that.

I want to begin with the last line of Green’s essay. This line, to me, is the crux of Green’s argument and the reason he holds the opinion that he does. Green wrote, “I’m tired of applauding White people for cultural appropriation and being saviors of people of color or recognizing that race relations is more than just a people of color issue.”

Word.

I’m totally with Green on that. I’m tired of it too, young brother. If I see another White-person-as-savior movie, I might just flip out in the theater. [Or not, because unlike White people who actually flip out in theaters and kill random people, I wouldn’t get to walk out alive and be taken into police custody to stand trial for my terrorist actions.] I am Fannie Lou Hamer-tired of White people getting credit for doing basic human dignity and enlightenment. I am also FLH-tired of cis men getting credit for knowing how to do laundry, change a diaper, and cook dinner for their children at the same time, straight folks getting credit for supporting queer-owned businesses who are the best in their local area, cis folks getting credit for knowing gender-neutral pronouns, and temporarily able-bodied and neuro-typical people getting credit for not using the R-word. It’s a factor of privilege that it seeks to be acknowledged, to be credited, to be rewarded for being “liberal.” Jesse Williams has been oft-quoted as once saying that it is not his purpose in life to “tuck ignorance in at night.” I love that and agree. I will take another step and say that it’s not my purpose in life to pat benevolence on the back.

And as a couple of Green’s commenters agreed, Leigh Anne Tuohy does not need to be anybody’s director of multicultural affairs ever, anywhere. Nor should anyone who thinks like her. It takes a lot of self-work to get to where Leigh Anne Tuohy is and I believe she was doing the best she could in that moment. But as I’ve heard my dear friend and brother, the Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington say, just because it’s your best doesn’t make it good. It takes a lot MORE self-work to move past where Leigh Anne Tuohy is to be the kind of person that Green is looking for as a multicultural center director, someone who can perceive and effectively name and disrupt the kind of racial microaggressions that Tuohy perpetrated against those two young Black men in her restaurant and that Green recounts in his essay. In my personal experience, which like Green’s has been in predominantly White educational and social environments since I was in high school (that’s over 25 years), very few White people that I have encountered have done that level of self-work and are continuing to do it and aren’t looking to be patted on the back for it. Very few. Those that have, I would trust to be OMA directors if they were to apply for such a position. But for the rest, I’m with Green – this is not the job for you. I would hazard to guess from Green’s essay that he doesn’t know any White people in his life that have the depth of multicultural awareness, knowledge, and skills to be more than Leigh Anne Tuohy was in that encounter in her restaurant or Green’s White liberal associates who racially isolated him at a function where he was the only non-White identified person. Not a single commenter acknowledged that, though several recognized the problematic issues with Tuohy’s interaction. I find that very interesting. [Side question for those White liberals: Why are you even comfortable in a place where there is zero racial diversity? Your comfort with that is the first sign that you are not ready to lead multicultural change efforts on anybody’s college campus.]

Now, if you think you are such a White person, don’t be mad at Green or at me that our lives are not surrounded with people like you. Be mad at the majority of your White kinspeople who have let YOU down by not being examples of empowered, critically conscious White folks who have reconceptualized what it means for them to be White in ways that no longer rely on White racial superiority and dominance. Maybe you should get to work within your own community instead of chastising Green for failing to imagine a bevy of such White allies.

I think Green raises a provocative issue concerning the role of allies in social justice work. It is his contention that allies do not belong at the front of the brigade. I think there are instances where I would agree with that. There are other instances where I might see a place, even a necessity, for allies to lead change efforts. Multicultural student services offices do not present an obvious resolution for this issue.

I don’t know if Green’s graduate preparation program is using the book I edited in 2011, Multicultural Student Services on Campus: Building Bridges, Re-visioning Community, or my friend and colleague Lori Patton Davis’s edited text, Culture Centers in Higher Education: Perspectives on Identity, Theory, and Practice published in 2010. I think both texts could be very useful for Green and others who are debating who should or should not be directing such centers.

Most of the opposing comments to Green’s article either contend one of 2 points: One is that Green is painting White people with too broad a brush. To that see my previous point: What are you doing to develop more White people’s racial consciousness, without needing to be the director of OMA? [And for those who are tempted to snarkily counter that you could say the same to me – just don’t. For your own sake, just don’t. You. Are. Not. Ready.]

The other comments typically cite that Green fails to recognize – in their view – that OMA is no longer just about race, so the director doesn’t need to reflect a marginalized racial group anymore. First, yes, as depicted in the chapter that I and Brian Bridges wrote in my book referenced earlier, the set of responsibilities that multicultural student services (MSS) units have been charged with have expanded – mostly on larger, public campuses, to include programming and support services beyond race and ethnicity. The second section of my book includes chapters about the continuing centrality and relevance of race in MSS work (by Lori Patton, Jessica Ranero, and Kimberly Everett), and the addition of sexuality and gender (by Chris Purcell and Nick Negrete), religion and faith (by Jenny Small), and the need for an integrated and intersectional approach (by Mary Grace Almandrez and Felicia Lee). So, yes, MSS or OMA does more than just race work anymore.

However, I find problematic the accompanying contention that therefore the director can now be a White person. I find this problematic because what I hear in this very familiar argument is a refusal to grant racially minoritized people a full humanity beyond race, which is a belief that is racist at its core. It presumes that racially minoritized people are only composed of their racial identities, while White people get to be composed of multiple identities beyond race (usually to invoke marginalized religious, sexual, and/or gender identities), which can then be proxies for racial competence. Let me unpack that a bit.

I experience this on a regular basis, both from White people and from racially minoritized people who have internalized this oppressive construct. I wish I could borrow a page from my friend now Dr. Z Nicolazzo and coin a neologism, but I can’t pull that level of creativity out this morning. I would love a term that described what happens when racially minoritized people’s racial identities are used to substitute for and erase all other social identities they may carry, making them at once wholly and only their racial identity, while denying and erasing other salient identities thus rendering those other identities as presumed normative (maybe it just works to call it racism). For example, a Black person who is director of OMA is presumed to be heterosexual, cisgender, patriarchal, able-bodied and neuro-typical, and Christian and therefore only suited for an OMA unit whose primary mission remains race-centered, because you know those racially minoritized students are all heterosexual, cisgender, patriarchal, able-bodied and neuro-typical, and Christian, too. A White person though, could be lesbian or gay, maybe even trans*, perhaps a feminist, and/or a secular humanist – any of which get to proxy for “getting it” about race and racism too. So that White person can be the director of an OMA unit and serve everybody because now those other (White) students with non-racially marginalized identities can be served.

#ByeFelicia

Whether the MSS/OMA unit has a race-centered mission or not has nothing to do with whether a racial majority person can or should be director of said unit.

What is missing from both Green’s article and any of the comments I read is discussion of the purpose of MSS/OMA units. Bettina Shuford’s chapter in my text discusses the evolution and philosophical differences among MSS units. Here’s where I think Lori Patton Davis’s book comes in as essential to the discussion. Cultural centers (the topic of Lori’s text) and MSS/OMA units are not necessarily one in the same on a campus and therefore may have different purposes and different missions to carry out their work. Cultural centers may focus primarily on culturally-specific programming and cultural support and resources for the identity-based group(s) they are serving. MSS/OMA units on campuses that have ethnic student centers and/or LGBT resource centers, may be primarily focused on administering scholarship and other financial aid programs, academic support services, educational programming and ally-building among privileged campus populations, and working across campus on increasing access to and promoting greater equity and inclusion for the populations covered under the unit’s umbrella (whether restricted to race or not).

If we’re talking about an MSS/OMA unit whose purpose and mission is focused on the latter set of tasks I’ve named, I see no reason why the social identities (including the racial identity) of the potential leader are a significant determinant over and above what administrative competencies one possesses and what multicultural competencies one possesses to be effective in the role.

It seems from Green’s discussion, that cultural programming and cultural support services, especially cultural support services, may be uppermost in his mind. For these services, I can see why Green would prefer there to be a racially minoritized person in that role. We know from a litany of racial identity development models that there comes a point where there may be a high degree of resistance to approaching a racial majority person for support with dealing with racism. Resistance and suspicion of even White allies is part of the process of development. Students in that developmental place, may not well-receive a MSS/OMA director who is White. But other considerations must factor in first.

As a hiring officer makes a decision about hiring a new MSS/OMA director, that person must first know what the institutional climate is and how pervasive racism is on campus, how embattled racially minoritized students are due to microaggressions, and what the students are looking for in terms of leadership in this area. Now is not the time to be supposedly innovative and progressive and decide to saddle the campus with a White MSS/OMA leader just to fulfill some desire to “break stereotypes” or not practice “reverse racism.” Consideration of the factors I’ve just noted makes the social identities of a potential candidate quite relevant.

On campuses where one unit carries out all these functions (typical for small, private liberal arts colleges, like Kalamazoo College where I attended, and where I cut my teeth as a professional working in multicultural affairs at Kenyon College before going to graduate school), it’s much more difficult to say who should lead. As I’ve presented with a colleague before, such a person is often a “messiah” expected to be all things to all people. That’s a high expectation to live up to, regardless of one’s racial identity. On such campuses where the MSS/OMA unit is often just one person and there is already a paucity of racially minoritized people as faculty or staff on campus, I think one is hard-pressed to make an argument to hire a White person as the director and sole occupant of that office over a racially minoritized person who is equally qualified. Sometimes, institutions use that position to help to racially diversify their staffs (or maintain that diversity) when the position comes available or is created, as that office sometimes has higher turnover than the directors of other units in the divison.

But there’s another factor to consider in this discussion that is almost-never named. Where else will you see POC on campus, if not in MSS/OMA? Where else will you see a racially minoritized person in a leadership position on campus, with an assistant dean title or even associate dean title, if not as the director of the MSS/OMA unit? (Sometimes not even the MSS/OMA director gets a dean-level title even if every other unit director in the division does, but that’s another story.) It is a fact of institutional racism and systemic racism within student affairs as a profession that it’s almost impossible to find a racially minoritized person who is a unit director, let alone an assistant/associate dean, outside multicultural affairs. This is getting better, but it’s not where it needs to be. Racially minoritized people have been consigned (some even say ghettoized) to MSS/OMA units, at the same time as White people now are pressuring for the right (which is such a reflection of privilege to think that it’s your right to have any position anywhere, to demand for it – ugh, check your privilege please) to lead such units. It’s the student affairs version of professional gentrification. We’ll look around one day if we’re not careful and have all-White student affairs divisions and people will claim to not know how that happened but talk about how progressive it is and how social justice-oriented they are. I can’t think of anything more insidiously racist than for White people who already occupy 90% of student affairs positions on campus to lobby for the right to also occupy the other 10% as well, while not lobbying for more equitable racial representation of the other 90% of positions in the field.

I can’t even.

Do I know White people who are doing good work as directors of MSS/OMA units on their campuses? Yes, I do. I think about Jennifer McCreary Ford who is the director of the MSS unit at Texas A&M University. She is a White, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied and neuro-typical, and Christian, woman. We went through SJTI together and were in the same core group and there and since then, I have come to know her to be a strong advocate who is continuing to do her own self-work to dismantle internalized dominance and recognize patterns of oppression, and who has earned the trust and respect of her students and colleagues at A&M and has sense enough to know that she needs staff around her who reflect the diversity of the students her office serves.

These are the fundamental and necessary qualities for EVERY and ANY person who aspires to be the director of a MSS/OMA unit, I don’t care how they identify racially or anyway else.