September 19th Session Summary “Strategies for Challenging Hate and Creating Progressive Social Change in Academic Communities”

Our first Provisions session of the 2017-2018 year explored the theme of “Strategies for Challenging Hate and Creating Progressive Social Change in Academic Communities.”  Presenters shared experience and expertise with the various topics pertaining to the theme, which led to a full discussion with input from several audience members in attendance at the lunch-time meeting.  

The first to present was Saint Rose professor Brad Russell, a 2008 SUNY Albany graduate with a Ph.D. in Anthropology and specialization in Maya archaeology.  Brad is an Anthropologist and social justice advocate, who has worked with Occupy Albany.

Why teach social justice?  

  • It’s important to understand social justice is fundamentally about equality.
  • We’ve tried to live up to that ideal of equality, yet still are not there.  There’s been a struggle to perfect the union for a long time.
  • We must educate and inform the whole mass of the people.
  • Democracy is in trouble.
  • It’s easier to build a strong child than fix a broken man.

General Tips:

  • Create an open environment in the classroom when talking about these controversial issues
  • Recognize and invite differing opinions
  • Bring the current and history into the classroom
  • Center traditionally marginalized voices (women, people of color)

Next to present was Zoe Weinberg, a Senior Criminal Justice major at The College of Saint Rose.  Zoe also assumes several leadership positions on campus.  Zoe identifies as Jewish, ethnically and religiously, and has experienced hate first-hand as a minority in the United States.

Zoe’s visit to Israel:

  • Over the summer, Zoe had the opportunity to visit Israel
  •  “In a country known for conflict and danger, I felt more comfortable and safe than I currently feel here [in the United States] at home.”
  • As an American abroad, Zoe was often approached with pity and laughter, with such conversations almost always including the name Donald Trump.
  • Upon returning to the United States, Zoe began to reflect on her experience as a Jew in the U.S.

Zoe’s perspective as a Jew in the United States:

  • In elementary school, Zoe lived in a town with only two Jewish families, hers being one.
  • She recalls a time in 6th grade when she received text messages and MySpace messages calling her a “dirty Jew,” telling her she should go back to NY, and demanding she stay away from everyone.  She, and her teachers, did not know how to handle the hatred.  As a result, no action was taken until her father stepped in.
  • Jumping forward to Zoe’s time at Saint Rose, she has heard of incidents of hate and general ignorance inside and outside of the classroom.
    • A friend of Zoe’s had their door spit on because of his sexual identity.  Little was done because many do not know how to handle difficult situations such as this.
    • Zoe has been in a classroom with a swastika drawn on the desk.
    • Many class conversations have taken a negative direction, with most professors not knowing how to navigate the difficult conversations.

How to create a safer, pro-diversity environment on campus:

  • Our campus needs protocols for diversity training.
    • “I spent some time at UAlbany this summer and experienced 4 hour, required, Diversity and Inclusivity training. This training is provided through NCBI, the National Coalition Building Institute.”  On the other hand, from Zoe’s experience The College of Saint Rose spends about 20-45 minutes on diversity training.
  • If Saint Rose wants to continue to compete in the current climate of higher education, the College needs to take note of the precedents and standards set by other institutions.
    • NCBI has professionally trained personnel that go to campuses to train administration so that in turn they can train their campus community.
    • At UAlbany, RAs and some administrators are trained to be campus trainers on inclusivity and diversity.

The College of Saint Rose has become increasingly more diverse in recent years.  However, student groups are still very much so segregated.  It is important to create environments that are inclusive and foster conversation between student groups.

“The way to stop ignorance is to educate. I think it is our responsibility as a college to provide the opportunity for students, administration, and faculty to learn more about each other in order to create a more understanding environment.”

Our final presenter of the September 19th session was Luke Lavera, Intercultural Leadership Coordinator of The College of Saint Rose.  Luke began his presentation by stating that he is an immigrant.  At the age of 11, Luke moved to the United States with his parents and brother, leaving his home in Peru.

While his parents were greatly successful in Peru, his father being an engineer with Caterpillar in Peru, they both took cleaning jobs in the United States because they did not know the language.  What mattered most what ensuring a bright future and better education for the two boys.

When Luke reached high school, he quickly learned of the stereotypes surrounding Hispanic and Latino people in the United States.  “We take peoples jobs, we are not here legally, we may be involved in gangs, we are all Mexican…” Even within the Hispanic and Latino communities there was racism.  Where did it stem from?  Ignorance and lack of understanding of other cultures.  Ultimately, “ignorance is at the core of hate.”

White Fragility:

Dr. Robin DiAngelo breaks down white fragility as such in the Huffington Post article The Sugarcoated Language of White Fragility: 

“White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.”

Combating Hate:

“Hate groups are social groups that advocate and practice hatred, hostility, or violence towards members of a race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other designated sector of society.”

Some Tips for Combating the Alt-Right in Class: (From Teaching Tolerance):

  • Do not normalize the alt-right, “if the leaders are stated white nationalists, it feels like white nationalism, then it is definitely white nationalism.”
  • Teach about the struggles faced by the marginalized groups the alt-right often targets.  It is important to name the specific hatreds!
  • Help students understand how the alt-right takes advantage of a 24-hour thirst for headlines.  The library is a great resource!
  • Connect with students who may show some signs of the views the alt-right represent.  Do not ignore these views, rather, make a note and address as-needed.
  • If a group were to come on campus, ignore the event, but also talk to the students who organize the event.  The University of Washington hosted a white nationalist speaker simply because he was free and the conservative speaker was too expensive at a $10,000 fee!
  • Finally, ask college leadership to denounce the speaker.  This means also naming the type of hate your institution will not tolerate.

Thank you to all that attended our first Provisions session on the 19th!  We look forward to our next discussion on October 17th!  Look for our next post about a week out with an introduction to our next topic, Living Our Mission in Hard Times! 🙂



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