If I could pick one thing to change about higher education, I would change the way institutions prioritize social justice. In an ideal world, academic institutions would center the liberation of the most oppressed. Many institutions today ask for an “Inclusion & Diversity Statement” for prospective faculty and require trainings to students and faculty geared at reducing implicit biases.
I found an article by Randall (2019) that offers what seems to be a counter argument. This article also hits close to home because the universities referenced are located in my home state of North Carolina. The author appears to be making an argument for less social justice advocates in higher education. They conceptualize advocacy as a political, polarizing issue that left-wing democrats are trying to push. Ironically, the author’s photo is provided and he appears to be a White gentleman. This is particularly of interest to me because there was no discussion of their own privileges and biases as a White person critiquing social justice. This is the first step in the social justice movement that I would want to see highlighted in higher education: People in positions of power, ranging from admissions to faculty to graduate teaching assistants, need to consider power dynamics. These dynamics are hierarchical, which is either supported or complicated by one’s social location. For example, as a Black educator, I felt it was a microaggression when a White student attempted to delegitimize one of my lectures for my misuse of grammar on a PowerPoint slide. I am always open to feedback, but the point here is that Black women are often made to feel inferior and/or taken less seriously than White men, White women, and Black men. To this day, I wonder if this student would have approached a White cis male professor in the same way, with the same critiques. Possibly, this student would have stopped and reflected on whether or not it was necessary to undermine his professor. Despite the series of unfortunate events, I handle each awkward encounter like this with grace and curiosity before I try to assume intent. An institution that prioritizes social justice would have advocated for this student to take a similar reflexive approach.
I speak from experience because I attended a master’s program where this idea was implemented. This program offered a systemic multicultural counseling certificate, which any program with a clinical emphasis could apply for and complete. By proxy, the students in my program were required to take most of the courses that met the certificate requirements. Beyond this, the faculty members of the program would explicitly name the classroom climate if certain sociopolitical topics made individuals tense or quiet. For example, I remember one lecture where we were naming internalized racial stereotypes people have about one’s self and other cultures. As the conversation progressed, someone made the statement about skin bleaching and how this technique of lightening one’s skin has become so common across countries, that people can buy creams and other topical agents online and at various stores. Something about this shift in the dialogue made a few of my classmates uncomfortable. The faculty, a Black cis man, asked the class to spend that week’s discussion post to reflect on what was happening for us internally. In the following class we continued the dialogue, addressing implicit biases and how those show up directly in the classroom. He took this opportunity not to critique, but to authentically educate us.