On the morning of November 11, today, The University of Missouris Online Emergency Information Center released a statementsaying that the university’s police have captured the suspect who posted threatening messages on Yik Yak and other social media. According totwo screenshotson social media of Yik Yak, the suspect separately wrote, “,” and, “”
This comes during a day of unrest at the university following several incidents of racism, such as the student body chairwoman, Payton Head, who wasthe victim of racial slurs while walking through campus. That incident took place in mid-September. But the trigger that lit the flame of unrest took place during October 24 th. On the wall of a brand new college dorm, a swastika was depict with human faeces, according to The Washington Post.
Graduate student Jonathan L. Butlerwas on a hunger strike up until the university’s president Tim Woolfe resigned from his position on Monday. This was after protests by students, including the student group Conference 1950. Conference 1950 refers to the year the first black graduate student was admitted to the university. Woolfe is said to have resigned for his lack of competence in dealing with incidents of racism and racism, and in failing to address students in a timely fashion as their concerns arose.
Approximately 1,170 miles from Mizzou, as the University of Missouri is often called, is Yale University. Yale has been dealing with its own racial and racist dilemmasa” white girls only” frat party at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon( SAE) Yale chapter that find black and brown girls turned away. On October 31 st, Yale sophomore Neema Githerewrote a public Facebook personal account of how she had received the same treatment last year, presumably as a first-year student.
There is also the matter of what is now a famous or infamous email-depending on who you ask- that was a response to guidelines about “appropriate” Halloween attires. The email, written by Erika Christakis, an early childhood lecturer at the university, and who along with her husband, Nicholas Christakis, is a matter of mansion life at Yale. Nicholas, is in fact a “master.”
According to the university’s admissions communication material, “”
The response to theChristakis’ has been protests by many students who have called for a formal apology, and for the couple to resign from their post. The reaction, according to one account from Yale senior Aaron Z. Lewis, has also watched students collecting to share accounts of personal racism at the university. Yale college dean Jonathan Holloway’s response came late, which Holloway recognise in a letter to students- included in Lewis’ account.
In analyzing both Mizzou and Yale, there are cleardistinctions in the racist incidents that took place and their immediate aftermath. Indeed it matters too that one university is an Ivy, and another is not. The details of each specific context that led to racial unrest at each university very much matters. But it would be careless and perhaps even ignorant to not discern the culture climate both sets of racial unrests take place in, and the implications for our conversations on race, free speech, and the future of public spaces, which may include safe spaces and intellectual spaces.
A friend asked me on Sunday what I thought of all of the events. I said,” I am still in the midst of reasoning, but part of me cannot help but feel the chicken has come home to roost .”
The experience of being a person of colour, a black( foreign) girl at a predominantly white institution or PWI, is a part of my identity. I did both my undergraduate and Master’s work at PWIs – first at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and then at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois.
The importance of this fact is that I know and understand and have some of the same experiences as students of color in both sets of universities- and indeed in universities across the country. The dimension of being foreign and a Nigerian third culture kid is important. But it didn’t negate racialized and often casually and covertly racist experiences in my schooling.
In this route, it is very easy for me to be in solidarity with the students of color at both universities. Though I witnessed and experienced very few incident of overt racism, the casual, silencing racism, often in the form of microaggressions, is part of being a person of color in a predominantly white space. Microaggressions such as the expectations of intelligence, the questioning of whether you “deserved” tobe in such a space( read: that you didn’t” take some other white kid’s spot “), and whether you did in fact “merit” your scholarship.
There is of course more.” Why do all the black kids sit together ?” This was a real question asked by white school mates. Nobody ever seemed to question why white children sat together as they often did, and they were in the majority. There was the usual “fun-making” of foreigners with particular accents, cultural hypothesis and stereotyping depending on who you are and where you’re from, and the unceasing and ridiculous questions that constructed you wonder if your classmates were really receiving a college education at all.
Being an African too, I was subjected to the most ridiculous stereotypes Americans have about Africans. I quicklybegan to resist its own experience through humor and subjecting Americans to the most ludicrous tales you’d ever heard. But I had gone through four years of college with people whocould not refer to me as a Nigerian( or say I had” come from Botswana “), but who would still refer to me as” from Africa .” Make no mistake about it- I am an African. But the insisting of referring to me as per my continent is socially located in the erasure of Africa as a diverse place of plural identities.
I was often on the receiving objective of” positive racism” too- being the “well-spoken” black girl. One commentary made about me that I cannot forget even if I wanted to because I have heard it multiple times:” You’re not like other Black people .” I still remember the first time I experienced this in college. Iwas in a state of shock and fury that left me silent. But I soon began to respond to that statement by asking,” What do you entail by that ?” This would send them down a rabbit pit of their casual racism.
I had been around white people my whole life but never like this. And to be fair, as a foreigner who was significantly more cultured than many of my classmates as an undergrad, some of the experiences were unsurprising. Still, I had never been around a more ignorant, clueless group of people in my entire life. I attained friends- yes, I made good friends there- many whose relationship I have maintained.
I have also passively kept in touch with many who I would not call friends, but whose lives appear on my radar because of social media. And indeed it is not a surprise to see the performance of mental gymnastics they undergo whenever a Black child is confronted, assaulted, and killed by police. It is not a surprise that many more simply wholly remain silent on the race issues of our time. Growing older does not mean people change.
So yes, having been in the shoes of many Yale and Mizzou students of coloring and had the same same experiences, I understand their plight.
As a graduate student at DePaul, I had the pleasure and privilege of being in the classroom teach. It is very clear that like my parents- who are academics- I also very much enjoyed being on the other side of the classroom table.
I taught intercultural communication. Correction: I taught intercultural communication to majority white but significantly more diverse students than my undergraduate classrooms, as a Black African woman. The topic of the class focused on capitalism, racism, sexism, patriotism, and subcultures in America. Basically all the things that are usually make people uncomfortable.
My classroom was a place where on the one hand, as a young person, and a young Black woman at that, I had to establish authority and respect from the get-go. On the other hand, I had to foster an environment of dialogue and disagreement in an intellectual space, all while maintaining a safe space for students.
This is a great ask of any educator and indeed it involves a delicate balance of openness, plurality of sentiment, asking one’s ego and one’s students to be challenged; asking and answering difficult questions, and allowing students to engage in critical thinking that doesn’t always arrive at the same conclusions. Having completed the graduate program and reflecting on my experiences in it as an organizational and multiculturalism intellectual, who examined diversity, whose research looked at race conversations in digital media, and then also as a educator as well, being a person of color in an academic space is interesting, and filled with many contradictions.
On the one hand, one of the( valid) criticisms of academic institutions is their- small l. This liberalization often means that those with opposing standpoints- conservative, perhaps even middle of the road, or completely off the spectrum- may struggle with the classroom and the academy as a place that truly allows for plurality of perspective. As an intellectual space, this is a criticism that has not been addressed seriously enough.
On the other hand, despite this , which is deemed more friendly towards marginalized groups, academia and the university spaceis wrought with the same experiences of discrimination as elsewhere in the culture, from student to faculty to administration. The reality of is available on the university as a person of colour, who attempts an intellectual space, butwho also desires a safe space, can entail being caught between a rock and a hard place.
When we talk about safe spaces, what are we actually referring to? Public spaces are much more easily understood, as are intellectual spaces. Public spaces are almost self-explanatory in that they are to be utilized by everyone, in compliance with laws and regulations. It is worth noting of course that public spaces in the country have not always been equal; it is important to remember that legality and fairness and equity are not synonymous.
Intellectual spaces are also self-explanatory in that there are places where learning pass and is promoted at a higher level such as universities. Like public spaces, intellectual spaces were built on foundations of exclusion, dependent on race and gender/ sexuality, most notably.
Safe spaces are however , not self-explanatory, and if you ask cultural experts, their definition may even differ, albeit narrowly from one person to another. But the general idea of a safe space is that it is a place, or it is the personification of a person( suppose: “Allies” ), oftentimes in an educational surrounding, that another personirrespective of identitycan approach without fear.
As defined by the Safe Space Network, a tumblr dedicated to the cause:
Safe spaces are not only noble undertakings, they are necessary in the midst of historically and continually formally and informally exclusionary public and intellectual spaces. The problem of course is that the goals of a safe space may to contradict the goals of both public and intellectual space, and especially the latter. These spaces aim to exist together in universities but the very problem we are having is their co-existence.
Can one be both and challenged in a space that aims to be both safe and intellectual? Can one speak in a space that is both safe and intellectual and public, when a specific political ideology( liberal) is deemed preferable? Do the very existence of these different objectives in these different intangible spaces under what might be an unintended prevailing political ideology, allow for to be authentically public and intellectual and safe, without choosing the importance of one over another?
When I reflect on my experiences as a student, a intellectual, a young professional, and convey them, I am often asked how I survive( d) in them in all my identities. What people are asking me, I suppose, is how I( and others) function within these contradictions. I often want to tell them that the entire world is filled with contradictions that most of us survive in. as Audre Lorde so wisely commented.
In my multiple identities: African, Black, girl, intellectual, student of culture, writer, and maybe one day even a public intellectual- all of which I exist in white spaces- some whiter than others, I tell people that I set certain values above others, while not rendering lesser values. I also tell them that I know that attaining multiple objectives needn’t be mutually exclusive. This is vague until I give an example.
My best example is in teaching.I was raised by academics but truly I was raised by educators. And I have always loved the classroom as a student- and in adulthood I would find out I love it as a educator too. It is imperative to me as a student and as a teacher that difficult, challenging learning take place in the classroom. This, I am willing to argue, is more important than any discomfort I feel as a student or a teacher, with of course some limited exceptions, such as the known threat of bodily harm.
Interestingly it is my experiences in my identity as Black and foreign in White and American spaces that promoted my ability to handle the classroom in an intercultural learn environment, teaching intercultural communication. My students of colour ensure me as someone who understood their experiences. But my white students understood that their experiences too were of great value in the class, when the material challenged them.
The classroom as bell hooks asserts, ought to be a contested space. The contested space, according to hook in her scholarship on feminist classrooms, is defined as “”
Kyoko Kishimoto and Mumbi Mwangi further emphasize hooks’ phase by arguingthat, “” The reality is whether you are in front of the desk or behind it, the classroom ought to be a challenging learning experience.
One of the reasons for my insistence of speech and thought freedom, and intellectual plurality, is because of my father who is a public intellectual, who was a former journalist, and who knows what it is like to live in a country where freedom of speech is restricted. For my father’s insistence on freedom in Abacha’s Nigeria, the safety( ironically enough) of him and our family was not secure and was what eventually led to us leaving the country.
In my upbringing- which one should never negate in their understanding of ego and other- freedom of speech and indeed of the public’s right to knowledge( freedom of the press ), along with freedom of movement, is not something that I simply learned as a It builds up the very essence of who I am and how I perceive the world around me. With very few exceptions will I ever deem, that these liberties, can be restricted- in the public space, in the intellectual space, in the safe space, and where these spaces intersect.
It isthesevery liberties that foster my insistence on the importance of safe spaces. The students at Yale and at Mizzou are asking for safe spaces in public and intellectual spaces. And I reiterate: safe spaces should exist in order for people of color to be in places free frommarginalization, or at least where they can discuss their marginalization without fear.But we cannot discount that the inherent purpose of a public space, for all its failings, is for multiple people to exist in it; the inherent ask of an intellectual space is for a plurality to to exist.
Thinking about the email that Erika Christakis sent to Yale students in which she cautioned that the well-meaning guidelines regarding Halloween costumes, should still allow for people to be “obnoxious,” I think multiple interpretations can and ought to be considered.
Do I think that some of what Christakis wrote can be interpreted as essentiallygiving people free reinto wear blackface? Yes. But I also think that interpretation is not discounting that she was asking for students to have the space to be , not necessarily. I do not think she was saying wearing Blackface is or wearing offensive garbs is. I believe she was saying something more general: Have we got to the point where every facet of free speech must be in agreement with a particular ideology in an intellectual and safe space for it to be allowed?
She has a point. I say this as someone who publicly extol that I would not be addressing white people this year about why Blackface is a bad idea.( Because quite frankly if you don’t know by now- and I’ve written quite a few pieces on it – it’s because you don’t wish to know .)
But thequestions that Christakis posed in her letter and that her husband Nicholas are both concerned with are worth asking. Especially so, after watching the interactions with Yale students and Nicholas. Do we even know how to entertain guess in what is a liberal academic space that are not ipso facto, fitting into popular liberal ideology? I am considering less and less of that in.
What I’m basically saying is that people of color and our voices have to be emphasized because the public space and intellectual space is inherently prejudiced against us. But what I don’t think should occur, is this notion that disagreement in these spaces should be withheld. Deem thejournalism prof in Mizzoublocking access to photos and asking for the journalism student to be removed from a public and intellectual space, for it to be “safe.” That is unconscionable as someone whose position ought to build them particularly knowledgeable on the importance of the freedom of the press.
We can argue about the prejudices of the press and the hostility that people of color experience. And we must insist and fight for organizations to be responsible for authentically diversifying their spaces with more than only one or two black and brown faces at different levels. We must insist that these institutions actually do the important work of diversity, which is deliberate and continuous. But we also have to fundamentally understand that the protection of free speech is at stake in all spaces and at all times. And even at our own personal offenses, that speech ought to be protected.
This worry about freedom in intellectual spaces of course is not new. One of the best inspections that have occurred this year was in” The Coddling of the American Mind .” The author argues for what has essentially become a cultural institutionalization of protecting students from discomfort, at the cost of actually educating students in the classroom, and training them to deal with inconvenience beyond the classroom.
While I still have my reservations of the authors’ commentary on microaggressions- naturally, as a multiculturalism intellectual I approach these differently- I certainly appreciated the overall debate and especially the section on the value and implications of trigger warnings. The latter of which though I understand the theoretical desire for them, I question their implications.
In” The Coddling of the American Mind ,” I also notice very much my cultural biases coming into play in an interesting route to agree with the authors. Because the other truth of my experience, considered by all of my identities, is that I do very much position Americans as too focused on, and a apparently eternal obsession with avoiding pain and trying pleasure.
In my Nigerian upbringing, I can wholeheartedly say that pain and inconvenience is not just let, your parents teach you to expect it throughout their own lives. They even go as far as saying it is necessary for ultimately positive outcomes. It must be said of course in any intercultural communicative space, such as the many we find ourselves in, that the context of these values are important.
In the context of our public spaces however, we know that people of color already are likely to experience discomfort. I asked Madison Moorewho is a writer at Thought Catalog and elsewhere, and a research associate in the Department of English at King’s College, University of London, of his experiences at Yale where he earned his doctorate. Moore discussed the prevalence of microaggressions but emphasized that this is not unique to Yale. It is certainly not unique to Mizzou. It is not unique to the American collegiate experience. We know that the creation of the safe space in the intellectual space is an attempt to lessen these discomforts. So how do we achieve this without compromising free speech?
It is easy, for example, to talk about the importance of maintaining plurality of perspective when you’re a white male in the United States. The authors of” The Coddling of the American Mind” are just that- white and male. As is Ryan Holiday, who wrote a great pieceon why we need to stop protecting everyone’s feelings. Holiday including with regard to is someone whose public writes I follow closely, and the authors of article- Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt- are both brilliant intellectuals. But their positions as people with the highest privilege in this culture may also promote their view, even if and when I agree with them in whole or in part.
In, the brilliantJelani Cobb , wrote about race and the free speech division. In it, he included the following:”
The importance of this paragraph is at the epicenter of our” race problem” in our public, intellectual, and safe space intersections. Indeed, liberties do not exist on equivalent high levels of power- I certainly value some more than others as I have stated earlier. It is also applicable that people are in different and unequal postures of power in relation to society as a whole, and to each other. It is necessary, as Cobb points out, that we consider the principle foundations of free speech in relation to liberty of ego and the other.
Still, if I remember my political theory well, Voltaire, Hume, Kant, Rousseau, along with their early influencers including Locke, Descartes, and Bacon, knew that liberty was ultimately a complex topic. Choosing where my autonomy begins and aims, and choosing this in relation to yours is a tough, if not altogether frustrating endeavor that has( and ought to be) redefined based on new information and indeed what has taken place- context. But I am not an expert on liberty , nor do I even want to enter the inevitable metaphysics debate going down that track is certainly lead us. I only wish to ask questions about how we resolve the public, intellectual, and safe spaces in our current culture.
What is the future of the intellectual space if it does not allow for plurality of opinion? The result is the reduction of academic freedom and the new( and growing) model of customer-service relationships being applied to the student-teacher relationship. What is the future of the safe space? The safe space too suffers because stakes a claim to marginalization, even if their claims are ahistorical. And the public space? The public space becomes even worse than it is now- the fights, from petty to institutional and economic- become more polarized.
Some of the solutions to our space problemhave already been provided. Implementing cognitive behavior therapy to deal with potentially triggering events and deliberations, asLukianoff andHaidt present, shall be examined by educators and parents alike. The economics of academia and the economic burden it presents ought to be considered too. My personal hypothesi is that it simply can’t go on, from a financial well-being view for the nation. But also, that the less economic rationales students( and their parents) have for becoming a deterrent to education and learn, the more freedom teachers can exercise.
As for safe spaces, there too needs to be more practical guides of functioning beyond their borders. There needs to be a plurality of sentiment presented on how to deal with microaggressions in public and intellectual spaces, to confronting challenging dialogues and subjects in various ways. Is the best route genuinely( and always) avoidance? Teaching young people- and I can say this as a young person, albeit from a different culture- to avoid inconvenience, poorly prepares them for greater educational pursuits, and for life.
You know what my father said when I graduated college in the summer of 2011 and was unsure about law school and life? What he said about most challenges to me at the time:” Growing up is hard. You will learn. You will survive .” To which my mother added,” Things will be more difficult for you too, because you want to achieve so much .” It’s not good practical advice for resolving some of our, but it is good life advice; one must survive first, before anything else.
So indeed I stand with thestudents of colouring at Mizzou and Yale. I stand with them in solidarity. I stand with their calls for diversity. I am with them in experience and in spirit. But I would do them and myself and anybody who I influence through my terms on the( digital) paper or in a classroom, if I do not also demand that we re-think the direction of our intellectualism.
We require plurality of ideas and view and voice- we need it for people of color because of historical disadvantages but we need it too, for the benefit of. We need it in our intellectual spaces and we need it in our safe spaces and we need it in our public spaces, and the spaces where these three intersect. Without it, we are a people still concerned with having power over another . With it, we are a better people: a people who can advocate for racial justice and truth, diversity, and not just free speech, but ultimately in any and all spaces.
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