On Monday, April 19, Residence Director Jarvis McCowin and I held a program in the Student Village classroom discussing microaggressions, stereotype threats and discrimination on campus. This program was reactionary in many ways and followed a town hall facilitated by the Residence Hall Council, as it sought to educate residents about their own privileges, biases, etc., while providing a space for residents to share their experiences.
Community building definitely occurred after the light bulbs went off, and residents had their “aha” moments. They started to realize that they were not alone; they have shared experiences on campus, including incidents of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia (forms of oppression leading to microaggressions) and with stereotypes (e.g., being called a jock, assuming one lacks intelligence due to hair color, etc.). It was a wonderful opportunity for reflection and growth. Learning also occurred as residents were able to name the hurt and pain caused from these daily attacks on their identities. Over time, these subtle attacks take a toll as they build up and impact their emotional well-being.
Residents learned about the aforementioned scholarly terms (e.g., microaggressions, stereotypes, privilege, oppression, etc.) by viewing videos such as this, and also learned about campus activism regarding the program topic through the I, Too, am Harvard campaign. After viewing, residents reflected, and shared their lived experiences with discrimination and being stereotyped on campus. Some students expressed that professors treat them differently than students who are from this area. Other students expressed that they feel targeted in many situations, solely because it is assumed that they are “city kids.”
To conclude the program, we asked the residents where we should go from here. How do you bring up the issue of racism on campus? How do you enlighten those who have been ignorant for so long? The majority of the responses were heartbreaking yet inspiring to witness. Residents voiced experiences about where they felt targeted because of the color of their skin, their gender expression or political ideology, among other social identities. Particularly, our residents with marginalized identities are not feeling welcomed, nor does it appear that they feel a sense of belonging to campus. For example, one resident shared logging on a social media account (Yik Yak) only to find that another post was targeting “those city kids living in the dorms.” Other residents had countless examples of how Yik Yak impedes their ability to function inside and outside the classroom. This is only one aspect of how residents are viewed as “the other.”
Although there were only about 15 participants in the program, many expressed that they didn’t think this would ever change. They claimed that you can’t fix ignorance, that the only way people stop being ignorant is if a drastic event occurs in the person’s life that makes them see things from a different perspective. The participants also mentioned that ignorance is something that is learned, and that it is hard to unlearn things that you have known for so long.
There was one resident that disagreed with these views. She believed that you must help people try and see the problems and the issues. She used the example that you can grow up in a Christian household, live by certain standards and beliefs because those are all that you are taught, and then open your mind later. Just because that is all that you were taught doesn’t mean you can’t expand your minds and grow as a person.
However, no one knew what we could do to help these situations. Many stated that awareness isn’t enough, because people can be aware of these problems but that doesn’t mean that anyone will do anything to change what’s going on. Which begs the question: Where do we go from here as a campus?
Buzz reporter Victoria Estell is a Residence Assistant and a SUNY Broome student.