In the wake of the tragic mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday morning -- when a large number of Latinx lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other club patrons were murdered in one of the largest shootings in United States history -- some people in higher education are probably feeling themselves targeted and traumatized. I’m reaching out to anyone who may feel that way to say that I am thinking of you and that you are valued by some of us. I imagine the violence itself and the aftermath of responses and nonresponses from colleagues, friends and the news media can be overwhelming for people who are already treated as less than in our society. You do matter. In fact, we desperately need you -- even when we don’t do a good job showing it.
I also am writing because I believe what has been happening is incredibly relevant to the work that we do in higher education in general and as faculty members in student affairs in particular. I have been taking stock of my own response, or nonresponse, to the shooting and trying to make sense of it in light of my identities as a cisgender, white, agnostic woman from a middle-upper-class background. My privilege allows me to not engage in the conversation, not participate in community events necessary to show solidarity with targeted individuals and not think about terrorism being directed at me on a daily basis. I can simply go about my life, teaching, hanging out with my family and finishing those projects that I need to get done for my own benefit. I acknowledged the shooting to my partner and a friend I know who identifies as queer, but otherwise I have not been present in solidarity or action.
Some of you who are reading this may be wondering what you can do in the world generally and in academe more specifically in the wake of the horrific tragedy in Orlando. Based on my experiences and knowledge of the literature, here are some things that have started to come to mind for me.
- Engage in the conversation, especially with people who haven’t brought it up yet and probably won’t in the future.
- Listen, listen, listen to what people who have been targeted might be trying to tell you about their experiences.
- Continue to do your own work to understand issues of oppression -- especially those related to your privilege areas. (The most highly skilled people practice this every day.)
- Show up in solidarity (attend or help plan events hosted by others) but don’t expect praise for it. Then, keep showing up.
- Start a conversation with students by framing curriculum in a way that they must ask critical questions about how people in positions of power make decisions with or without including people who have been or are often excluded.
- Pay attention to when the conversations start to be about dominant-group perceptions, stereotypes (e.g., Islamophobia, heterosexism, cisgenderism) and feelings (e.g., “I didn’t mean it that way, and I’m really trying, so why are you mad at me?”). Shift it back to challenging the norms: Why was this group targeted? What are the consequences of stereotypes? Where do our norms come from, and how do they harm everyone? How can I question and resist norms that privilege a few people at a cost to many?
- Give resources -- time, money, people -- to establishing programs, policies, procedures and other methods of dealing with issues of inequity. That could include, but not be limited to, hiring faculty members who have experience or expertise about equity issues; tackling social-justice topics in courses; creating mechanisms for faculty, staff and students to report instances of bias that they experience; and developing means for handling instances of bias that occur.
- Seek out good sources of advice on the issues. The University of Michigan, for instance, has some great resources for educators about being inclusive and having difficult dialogues.
I plan to use some of the continuing discussion taking place on the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook page to help my students understand how incidents like these have a traumatic impact on our higher education community. If you look on social media, you can see some mostly LGBTQ people expressing frustration and anger that the student affairs FB group and professional community have been silent or dismissive in the wake of the Orlando attack.
The central question raised in the Facebook group is whether or not student affairs professionals should be expected to be supportive of people who are minoritized in society. Should we as a whole be knowledgeable about the issues minoritized people are confronting and responsible for supporting minoritized students and others? How can we go about addressing that essential question in our field?
And how can we work with others throughout higher education to grapple with it? What kinds of things can -- and should -- we in higher education do to confront violence and inequity and support people traumatized by continuing oppression? I hope we can work to find more answers and make changes in higher education to better live our expressed values of equity and inclusion.
Stephanie Bondi is a faculty member in the student affairs program at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Her scholarship focuses on power and oppression, teaching and learning, and student affairs preparation.
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