Learning To Fly - Post 23
"Oh Harry, don't you see? If she could have done one thing to make absolutely sure that every single person in this school will read your interview, it was banning it!"
- Hermione Granger, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Yeah, I know I just posted on Thursday but I've been grading papers all day (for the Career Development course that I've volunteered to teach this semester...what was I thinking???) and I really need a break. So I filled out this survey that our department does for staff at the end of the year and that got me thinking...
One of the questions was about diversity and that made me think of some incidents that I've dealt with this past year. In the Fall semester, someone wrote the "N-word" really big and in permanent marker on the stairwell of one of my hallways. It was between the 2nd and 3rd floor on the South side of the buildling. And working at a very White institution, I knew that I didn't have any students of color in either one of those corridors. So I didn't think it was directed at anyone in particular; not that this makes it any less of a big deal, but it was something I wanted to consider when I decided how to approach the situation.
To be honest, I was pretty shocked and didn't really know what to do. I knew that at my undergrad, a relatively diverse and very liberal institutions, student activist would have taken a stand and would have made sure that this behavior was addressed publicly. Here, I was pretty sure my students wouldn't do anything like that. So it was up to me....
I thought about holding a mandatory all-hall meeting to address the incident. Then, I thought about what it would be like for my three Black students to sit in that meeting. I didn't want to single them out and make them feel even more uncomfortable. And what if by making it a big deal, I would encourage copycat actions. Or, let's be honest, how affective am i really as an administrator telling students NOT to do something. Telling them that I disagree with something is like telling them to do it (at least for some...I mean I don't think I'm as bad as Umbridge in Harry Potter but I also am not as delusional as to believe that all of my students actually listen to me). But I also didn't want to do nothing and make my students think that this behavior was acceptable. I wasn't sure if my students of color had seen the writing, but if they had, I wanted to make sure to send the message that this was not tolerated in our community.
We had never talked about these kind of incidents in training. We don't really have any protocol in how to address it. So here I was, confused and all on my own....
Well, here's what I ended up doing: I called the police and filed a report. They investigated and asked some of the students in the nearby hallways if they had any information. We had the writing removed as soon as the police had seen it and taken pictures of it.
Then, I organized some additional diversity training for my RA staff by having a presenter come to our staff meeting as well as go on an overnight retreat where we talked about the power of language.
But was that enough? Did we do the right thing?
I felt pretty good until about a week ago, one of my Hall Council members just casually mentions to me that the N-word is written on the wall in that very same hallway again. She said it'd been there for a while.
I went to check it out and it was very small - maybe why nobody had told me before - but definitely noticeable enough. The police just happend to be in my building (they were arresting a resident for smoking marihuana), so I went and talked to them. They said that filing a report really wouldn't do anything since most likely they wouldn't find anything anyway. They offered to help me remove it, but I figured I could do that on my mind - which was what I did right afterwards. I informed my supervisor, but knowing that the semester was almost over I didn't do anything else.
Should I have done something???
I really struggle at times with trying to educate students here about social justice, tolerance and acceptance. I feel like the things I did as an undergraduate wouldn't work here because they were geared toward a very liberal and already somewhat aware student body. Here, I would probably just turn people away with these methods.
My staff has mentioned to me more than once that they dislike how ResLife "pushes diversity down their throat." Staff has told me that they "don't believe in being gay." What do you say to that??? I've really had to change my approach with staff training from educating them about social justice to just getting them to the point of being supportive of others, wheter or not they "believe" in who these students are. I stil crinch everytime I hear the word "believing" in this context, but I fell like this is the best I could have done.
Okay, before I keep on rambling, here is the question I really wanted to raise: How much are we actually prepared as new professionals to work with that specific population of our campus?
I mean, I knew how to do ResLife before I came here. I knew how to do diversity education in a ResLife-context. But what I didn't realize was how different this education has to be based on your student popuatlion. I mean, I've heard people talk about but it just never hit home until I met my staff and students. And that was after training was over and I already felt unprepared and lost.
And since we know that as administrators we aren't always as effective in getting a message across as students/pers would be, what do we do to train our student staff to educate their peers about these issues? When our staff is already "sick" of diversity, do you really think they'll be effective in educating their residents?
Oh, so many questiosn and so few answers. We definitely still have a long way to go before being the "perfect" ResLife department, if there is something like a "perfect" department.