Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Access and Safer Spaces

Last summer, the college interviewed  for a (postponed, pending improved budgets) position in our office of Multicultural Affairs. The open sessions with the candidates--and some timely but unrelated listserv discussions about hostilities abroad--gave me a lot of food for thought,.

Access without support is not opportunity.   
         Tinto 2008 

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.
   Atticus Finch to his daughter Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird

Those people who bear the brunt of oppression should not be required to also take responsibility for eliminating it.  At the same time, it is self-evident that people in the subordinate group can take the lead in setting the world right.  For one thing, if people in the dominant group had access to and were able to hold a perspective that allowed them to change systems and patterns of domination, they would have done so already.
    In: Love 2010.  Developing a Liberatory Consciousness.  In:  Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, edited by Maurianne Adams; Warren J Blumenfeld; Carmelita Rosie Castañeda; Heather W Hackman; Madeline L Peters,Ximena Zúñiga.  Routledge.

Promoting an environment of class/gender/race/etc neutrality hasn't been productive.  Just opening the door a tiny bit and forcing interested parties to push their way to the table isn't exactly a welcoming invitation.  It's also contrary to millennia of conditioning that its downright rude to treat authority figures that way (and unladylike.)  I'd much rather see inclusion, with the expectation of multiple of ways of knowing, and appreciation for all types of contributions.  Neutral has been melting pot analogy--and there are so many of the majority view that they drown or push away the wonderful flavors, and creative additions, that everyone else brings to the table.  Can we bring back the salad bowl?  

This isn't a new idea:
It sucks how the entire burden of making the classroom a safe space can fall on the shoulders of queer students. I would think that a classroom that feels like a safe space would be a more comfortable environment for everybody. I don’t know whether my TAs and professors are scared of dealing with this stuff or if they just have the privilege of not thinking about it.
   In:  Interrupting Heternormativity, The Graduate School of Syracuse University 2004

And even our own internal climate report (Heffernan 1992), noted that
 "... while the women students recognized a personal responsibility to establish the boundaries of acceptable behavior, they found this chore to be unfairly distracting from their studies."


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