Living Uncomfortably Comfortable- #BLM Guest Post (Podcast)

[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Poetry/Art/Video/Song welcome. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at gettenure@gmail.com]

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Ms. Alexandra Hughes, M. Ed., is the current Assistant Director for Student
Rights and Responsibilities, at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. As a member of the university’s administration, in this role she works to manage student conduct and ensure the safety and security of all students, staff, and faculty at the institution. Ms. Hughes also serves UTRGV’s campus as a part time faculty adjunct for master’s students, teaching classes on cultural humility and competencies.

Ms. Hughes received her bachelor’s degree in Biology from Mercer
University in Macon, Georgia. Her master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration, at the University of South Alabama; and is currently working on her dissertation as a doctoral student at UTRGV. Lastly, she hosts the national podcast called ASCAViewpoints, a podcast for student conduct professionals in higher educati
on.

Prior to working in student judicial affairs, Ms. Hughes has served campus communities in areas such as: Housing & Residence Life, Student Accessibility Services, and Diversity & Inclusion. In her own words: “I may not be able to change the world, but if I can positively impact and change one person’s world—then I have done enough”.

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Alexandra has contributed her podcast episode from the Viewpoints Podcast of the Association for Student Conduct Administration. (transcript below)

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Transcript of Podcast: Well, they say history repeats itself and it is, and this is history in the making. So, I think you’ll have to ask yourself in this very moment, “What side of history are you going to be on?”

I’m going to ask that you please listen. Even if it makes you uncomfortable, if you’ve never had the desire to listen to anything about race before, I’m begging you to just please listen now.

This is a soft trigger warning for my fellow black colleagues in the field. I also understand that the re-traumatization of hearing this is not always the most helpful, but I’m going to ask that for everyone out there, no matter your culture, race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality, to listen. I am a black woman, and I am tired. The deaths of: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor just in this past short amount of time are only the most recent in a long, long history of tragic events that really recognize and hold light to the fact that very little progress has been made since the Civil Rights acts of 1964, which was 56 years ago. We have parents, my parents who are older than that and members in our organization that are older than that.

Last week on the same day that we watched a police officer pin his knee to a black man’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, we watched a man on the ground who said he could not breathe, who called for his mother and who we watched die on camera. This was not a television show. This was not an episode of Law and Order. We watched him die. We saw a white woman that same day in Central Park weaponize the use of saying that she will call the police and threatened a black man by saying, “I’m going to tell them that there is an African American man threatening my life,” and she picked up the phone and the world watched in horror as her entire voice changed. She got on the phone and cried and said those words, “I am being threatened. Please send the police and the cops immediately. I am being threatened.” The thing is, her phone call is what we know too well in my community.

We fear that a phone call like that, a phone call by a woman that was not being threatened. A woman that was asked to put her dog on a leash by a man who was ivy league and an upstanding, which it should not matter, black man at that, but we fear that it will lead to a death like George Floyd’s. It’s funny because in Central Park before this is where this incident happened, there is a series on Netflix, for those of you who are finding the end of Netflix during this global pandemic, by Ava DuVernay called, “When They See Us,” and this series takes place and it talks about the same place, Central Park, the story of five boys Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise who are the ages of 14 to 16 that were sentenced to five to 16 years in prison for something called the, “central park jogger.” It was a case and a crime that they did not commit. There was overwhelming evidence that showed that these black and brown boys did not commit the crime, however, they were sentenced. I would encourage you to watch it.

I grew up with a father who taught me what to do when the police pulled me over, how to hold my hands out of the window, how to ask for permission with every single movement that I make. Just late, I watched a video of a black man who recorded himself outside, I guess his house, wherever he was, with his son on the ground with his knee to his son’s neck and he was teaching his son how to live through an officer putting they’re knee on his neck, how to breathe through it, what to say, what to do, but most importantly, how to survive eight minutes and 46 seconds being essentially strangled in that position. Privilege is a word that I know people don’t like to hear. However, it has come up so much over this past week and weekend, and people have been asking me to explain it in a different way. So, this is the way that I can explain it.

Have you ever thought about if you would be killed for any of the following reasons? Because I have. Let me give them to you. If you can go out jogging, Ahmaud Arbery; if you can relax in the comfort of your own home, Atiana Jefferson and Botham Sean; if you can ask for help after being in a car crash, Jonathan Ferrell and Renisha McBride; if you could have a cell phone in your hand, Steven Clark; if you can leave a party to get to safety, Jordan Edwards; if you can play loud music, Jordan Davis; if you can sell CDs; Alton Sterling; if you can sleep, Aiyana Jones and Breonna Taylor; if you could walk from the corner store, Mike Brown; if you can play cops and robbers as a child, Tamir Rice; if you can go to church, Charleston Nine; if you can walk home with Skittles in your hand and a hood on in the rain, Trayvon Martin; if you can hold a hairbrush while leaving my own bachelor party, Sean Bell; if you can party on new year’s, Oscar Grant; if you can die by getting a normal traffic ticket, Sandra Bland; if you can lawfully carry a weapon and let the officer know, Philando Castile; if you can break down on a public road with car problems, Corey Jones; if you can shop at Walmart, John Crawford; if you can have a disabled vehicle on the side of the road; Terence Crutcher; if you can read a book in your own car, Keith Scott; if you can be a 10 year old child walking with their grandfather, Clifford Glover; if you can decorate for a party, Claude Reese; if you could ask a cop of question, Randy Evans; if you can cash a check in peace, Yvonne Smallwood; if you can run, Walter Scott; if you can breathe, Eric Garner; if you can live, Freddie Gray, that’s privilege.

Privilege is when you have never had to think about if you would die for many of the things that I mentioned above because trust me, I have, and people that look like me in my community, we have. Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because to you personally, because it does not exist and that’s the narrative we need to change. I’ve had some colleagues of mine reach out to me about what they’re planning to do, and I commend them on that. I do not have all of the answers, the best answers and please keep in mind, I do not speak for every black person as I record this episode. But what I can say is this. I think if you all are planning on your campuses to do something, there’s a couple things that I would keep in mind.

This is an issue, but we need someone to say that this is a black issue and it is critical that black students need to be addressed and to be supported. More often than not, we are grouped into people of color. However, that term can sometimes do more harm than good. I would encourage you all to reach out to your black student leaders or organize an event that is tailored to support them or even just better, ask them what it is that they need. But also, be prepared for the fact that they may not know and may not be able to tell you what it is that they need because you see, as black people, this is trauma that we are constantly living in. This is not new to us, but it is a reminder every day that it is a crime to simply live. It is extremely hard to be productive academically in a place if you’re existing that may not acknowledge or have any idea what’s going on.

I remember in 2016 when Philando Castile was killed. I remember crying as I was getting ready for work. I remember crying as I pulled into work. I remember the fact that not one person knew what was going on where I worked, and I remember feeling so isolated from my friends and family outside of where I lived. I remember crying in my office all day. I remember crying all night. And I’m sharing this personally, because a lot of people don’t have it in them to share their personal experiences right now. What I will say is this, if you do have events, I would encourage you to be very intentional with what you’re doing. If you are having them, I would encourage you to reach out to black leadership community members and others because black students may not necessarily want to hear from people that do not understand their struggles and that is okay if you don’t, but keep that in mind. Also, keep in mind that it is possible that some people may decline. Quite simply put, it can be too emotionally draining to have these conversations.

Also, not everyone understands how or wants to have these conversations in an academic way when it is your lived experience. This applies also to your fellow black colleagues as well, who are having to navigate a global pandemic while realizing that black people are dying at disproportionately higher rates of this virus because of systematic structures and the trauma of watching someone that looks like them, their child, their brother, their father, their sister, their mother being murdered and there’s nothing that they can do. It is recognizing that there are some areas and institutions that may have majority students that are not black and that is okay, such as predominantly white schools, predominantly Hispanic schools, predominantly whatever that may be and these students who may be of color, who may be white, who want to come out.

Allyship is so important and I think there’s weight in teaching others about why this is a thing, why people are upset, why people are doing what they’re doing. The real history in this country of institutional racism, the real history behind movements that are here like black lives matter and why, and what it actually is supposed to be and even educating them about other movements in this country, things that may be related to their history like the Chicano movement with Latinos and its role in maybe the civil rights. There are a plethora of virtual resources for them. It may give them a sense, if you have students that are coming in saying, “We want to do something,” that they are contributing to something and helping, whether that’s a podcast like this, YouTube videos, lectures, Ted talks, handouts, books, places they can raise money. There’s a lot of different places.

I currently am a professor whom teaches race and culture. And it’s important for me to make this clear. When I talk about the class that I teach on race, it’s not about overt things. To be honest, I skip over this slavery thing, lynching, hate crimes, all of that. But what I talk about are things like: silence, mass incarceration, English only initiatives, hiring discrimination, not challenging the racist jokes that you hear, denial of privilege that’s hurting people, red lining, property taxes, and things such as microaggressions. The reason why we are in education is to make a better future for tomorrow and to create a better society. If, as educators, we’re not advocating for social justice, then why are we really here? There was someone on the internet, on the interwebs name Scott Woods and you can find him on twitter: @Scottwoodssays.

He said, “The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease and is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people. It is still going to find a way to affect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another and so on. So, while I agree with people who say, ‘No one is born racist,’ it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air. You take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There’s no anti-racist certification class. It is a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world, is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price pay for owning everything.”

I understand that this has been hard and probably hard to listen to. And I appreciate you so much if you have listened to me up to this point, and I thank you. I ask wherever you are listening, if you are in your car, in your home, in your quarantine closet, whatever that looks like, if you don’t believe me, and if you don’t believe what I’m saying is true or any of the stuff that’s going around, there was a white woman by the name of Jane Elliott who’s known for her work. She gave a speech some time ago through her work on anti-racism and I want to propose the same question to you as she proposed to her audience.

She said, “I want every white person in this room who would be happy to be treated as the society in general treats our citizens, our black citizens, if you, as a white person would be happy to receive the same treatment that our black citizens do in this society, please stand.” Then she pauses because no one in the room stands. She says, “You didn’t understand the directions. If you white folks want to be treated the way blacks are in this society, stand.” Nobody’s standing here. That says very plainly that you know what is happening. You know you don’t want it for you. I want to know why you are so willing to accept it or to allow it to happen for others.

I know this is a lot, but I’m going to ask and I’m going to give you some tips. Don’t say, “I’m not responsible for what my ancestors did.” We know that, but instead say, “I don’t support what my ancestors did, but I acknowledge that I live under their legacy.” Please don’t say, “It was so long ago. Get over it.” Instead, you can say, “Historical events have modern day legacies and the present is shaped by the past.” Don’t say that, “That was the norm back then,” and we don’t need, “That was just the norm back then, but we’re not judging someone by today’s standards.” Hey, look. Even back then, there were people who were not okay with this person’s actions. Recognize that if someone says, “We can’t change the past,” don’t say that. Say, “We can end the oppressive legacies of the past and we can change the future.” And by the way, these were by @TheDailyPolitic. We can change the future because we need you more than ever, more than ever. So, I ask that you please help to change this narrative because we cannot do it alone.

I need you to know that you were valued and your existence matters. This is not just only for our black colleagues, but for all of us. If you are an ally, please, please, please step up in this time as well because this is when we need you most, all of us, all races, ethnicities, cultures, countries, people. Let’s come together.

Please stay safe. Please stay strong. We are still in the middle of a pandemic, so please, please, please stay healthy. But most importantly, just remember that you matter.

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

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