The Symposium Continued: How to Do Something About Everyday Discrimination

BY TARA OLSON
Student Activities Coordinator
For the UAS Whalesong

When helping to plan and organize the Power & Privilege (P&P) Symposium for the first time on the Juneau campus last year, I was often asked by students, colleagues, and community members: “Why?” They were genuinely curious, as you might be, too. Why is a Symposium that focuses on how social hierarchies and identities manifest themselves in our communities  needed or even relevant on a college campus? They’d say things like: ‘Aren’t we past that?’ ‘This sounds like a liberal issue.’ ‘People are making a bigger deal of these issues than they need to.’

As we work to prepare for next year’s event, I’d like to address some of these concerns through the context of microaggressions. We likely all recognize discrimination when it’s blatant, such as: the Orlando gay nightclub shooting and numerous examples of police brutality against members of racial minority groups in the last year. These macroaggressions might be dismissed or minimized by some as extreme, isolated incidents. But many scholars, social justice advocates, and people of minority status see these macroaggressions as indicative of larger societal inequities in the United States.

Darald Wing Su, author of Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation, describes microaggressions as “the brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual-orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group” (p. 5).

There’s an interesting blog, titled “Microaggressions: Power, Privilege, and Everyday Life,” which documents anonymous stories of real experiences people have day to day across the nation (microaggressions.com) and I thought I would share with you some examples:

““You talk like a white girl.” I have been told this many times because I use ‘big’ words when I am talking casually. I am a Black girl.”

“I mention to a co-worker that I grew up in a trailer park, and she says, “But you’re so smart!””

“I work for a plasma donation facility where they provide all employees with free “men’s” scrubs. If, as a female, you want scrubs that fit your body, you have to pay for them.”

“In the local cafe with my 6-year-old daughter. A guy comes in and, to the server, makes cracks about ‘Al Qaeda’ and ‘terrorists’. Wish I could come up with some scathing-yet-eloquent reply, when I want to curl up under my hijab and hide. Wish I could shield my daughter from this. Wish people would believe that this hurts, even though I am white as well as Muslim.”

These types of experiences, reoccurring over time can impact an individual’s ability to be successful and the overall health and strength of a community. Just because our country has made significant strides in civil rights does not mean our work is done. These issues cross political divides as less privileged individuals (in one or more identity categories) are members of each party. Fortunately, as a direct result of continued macro and microaggressions, we see social movements developing in our society, such as the recent Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March on Washington movements that strive to ensure equity.

Plans are underway for the second year of the Power & Privilege  Symposium, with a tentative date of Nov. 7. Community and UAS involvement is what makes this event a success and we want to encourage you to start planning now if you’re interested in presenting a session. We recognize that expertise in these areas doesn’t come from only advanced degrees – it comes from personal history, research and interviews, lived experience, and our unique backgrounds. Students interested in presenting at the 2017 symposium are encouraged to reach out to faculty members, staff members, and fellow students now to start planning. Not only does this give you plenty of time to get ready, it also might give you an opportunity to tie your presentation into coursework, an independent study experience, or more. Get creative! Look for a call for session proposal submissions to go out in March.

Interested in having a say in the planning process and making a meaningful contribution to your campus? Consider volunteering to serve on the P&P Symposium planning committee. The Committee is currently seeking student members to help plan the next Symposium. Please contact me if you’d like to serve on the committee. Meetings will occur once per month, starting in February. Your perspectives and ideas will help the committee create effective promotional material, select skilled presenters, organize volunteers, and arrange the event schedule.

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