Finding my humanity in teaching higher education, By: Dr. Stephanie Bondi

I was beginning to think I’d lost my humanity.  I push the dog.  Scream at the kids.  I roll my eyes at people I overhear talking about things I disagree with.  I feel overwhelmed, incompetent, exhausted, and afraid a lot of the time. Maybe you can relate to some of this. I’m glad to report I’ve begun to find my humanity again.

Last December, I invited folks with a White identity teaching in student affairs preparation to do a training together. We used Sandra Kim’s online program Healing from Toxic Whiteness.  We also held virtual discussions every couple weeks to process what we were learning together.

I’ve learned many things from the training and the community we’ve built.  It’s honestly helped me to reconnect with my humanity. Kim explains how we’ve actually been socialized to interact with each other in dehumanizing ways. For example, we don’t listen to each other.  We think we know what someone is going to say before they start.  We often think we know how things will end and react prematurely. We plan out a whole conversation from beginning to end before it happens. I see this too often in myself.

In the training, Sandra Kim explains the compassionate activism approach. She explains how colonialism and White supremacy have led most of us to know only certain ways to interact with each other.  We know how to judge ourselves and others. We know how to ignore the pain of people of color and other people in minoritized groups.  We know how to talk at each other but not listen to ourselves and each other.

A piece of losing my humanity is using coercion in daily interactions. As I’m writing that I’m thinking it makes me sound pretty awful. Before this training I would have denied that I’m coercive. I certainly never decided, “I want to be coercive. Let’s get started.” But as Sandra Kim explained, sometimes we’re so passionate about something, or we so much want the pain to stop that we coerce ourselves and others.

Let me give an example of coercion. One day a colleague made a comment that landed on me as very racist.  I was sure that the person hadn’t meant it to be, but because of their background, they weren’t aware of the impact that it had on me and probably others. I was nearly sick to my stomach thinking about how I could approach this person to bring it up, but I felt I must.  I imagined the conversation in my head—what I’d say and what they’d say. Over and over and over. I noticed the pit in my stomach and the tightness in my chest. I was a mess for hours as I stewed what to say and how to say it.  As I noticed what was going on for me, I figured out I was mostly worried the person wouldn’t agree with me because either (a) I wouldn’t be able to explain how the comment was racist or (b) because I wouldn’t lay out an effective argument about why they should feel the way I do about it. This is the coercion that I mentioned.

As a teacher, that philosophy of coercion and control informs my curriculum, lesson plans, and interactions. I’m usually thinking “how can I get students to the place I want them to go.”  That’s teaching, right? There are all kinds of tools we use: incentive, requirements, and evaluation.  It sounds funny when I write it out here—teaching is about control–yet I know it to be the ways I often think about my teaching.

Sandra Kim explains a method of compassionate activism which, instead of control and coercion, includes elements of consent along the way.  It begins with the self. Using this method I can ask myself, “Do I want to talk to my colleague about what they said?” instead of doing it because I worry I’ll be a bad person if I fail to talk with them.

In that scenario, I followed the steps that Kim explains in the training.  First, she explains how important it is to do that self-work which involves not coercing or shaming oneself.  It also includes paying attention to pain and how that may motivate us as individuals to move towards or away from different interactions. Only then, once the self-work has been done and one has addressed within oneself the “emotional charge” then an individual has much greater capacity to connect with another person.  In my situation, I needed to notice and pay attention to how I was taking on the responsibility to change another person’s mind and I was fearful that I would not be a good person or ally if I failed to do so.

In order to connect with others, Kim explains we need to ask the other person to share more about their internal reality.  We also need to invite their participation rather than expect it.  Expecting their participation ignores their agency as people and is dehumanizing. It also has a likelihood of being ineffective as people who feel pushed into a situation often resist.  In the situation with my colleague I described earlier I finally went to talk with them. I went only after I realized that I didn’t have to coerce them into believing what I did. I realized I only had to talk and listen to them. I thought to myself, “That’s easy.  I can do that.” In that way I had also released the emotional charge inside me that was swirling.  That kind of human connection—talking and listening– is natural to me and aligns with my values. Once I was able to work through my own emotional charge, I had much greater capacity to listen to and have a human interaction with my colleague.  I’m pretty sure that if I had talked to my colleague before coming to clarity about what was going on inside me, I would have been talking at him instead of interacting with him as a human.

There’s another layer to the situation. There are the power dynamics.  I’m not always tracking those from my mostly dominant social positions as a cisgender White woman teacher, who doesn’t have a disability, from an upper-middle class background.  I hardly think I’m being coercive when I’m talking about my passion for social justice to students. I hardly feel like I’m being coercive when I talk in the classroom about how important it is that we notice how some groups’ needs are met and others are often not.  I’m just passionate.  But taking this course, I’ve noticed that it sure does feel like coercion in the classroom with students and at home with my kids. When I talk about it with passion and no invitation on how other people feel, amidst that power dynamic, it can feel like my way is the only way.  And the students and kids in these situations get turned into the objects of my lessons.  Anyone like to be the object of a lesson?  Doesn’t sound appealing to me.

So, now I’m working this philosophy into my life and my teaching to be on the lookout for my coercive efforts. To pay more attention to how my positions of power may be playing out. I’m focusing on being a better listener and inviting, rather than expecting, people to engage with me. Offering invitations rather than expecting people to engage with us is not the same as allowing people to abuse us or bully others. Kim states that as individuals and groups we can set boundaries about behavior that is having a negative impact in certain spaces and that we can do this still in a humane way, acknowledging the other person’s reality. It’s a slow process for me to unlearn engrained habits.  It’s worth it because my humanity is priceless. And importantly, in my fullness I am so much more capable of being present with people and advocating for justice.

 

Bio: Stephanie Bondi is on a journey to find more of her stolen humanity.  She teaches at University of Nebraska – Lincoln in the student affairs program and is mom to Rylee and Reece. Contact her by email at sbondi2@unl.edu or on Twitter @s_bondi

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My First Cabaret, By: Ryan Keesee

It was at the ACPA 17 Cabaret my friend and I made the deal, you enter, I enter. I watched and attended the ACPA Cabaret my second year at that point. I learned how the event supported local organizations focused on the LGBTQA community as well as scholarships for this same population. Watching the performers, I thought it was something I could never do.

When the application for the 2018 show came along my same friend reminded me of our deal, we entered, and were accepted. I entered my stage name as Kinky Blessing. Kinky representing Kinky Boots which I wanted to wear. I always admired thigh high boots and thought about how fun it would be to rock a pair. The Blessing is an ode to my personal college group of friends. We collectively regard ourselves by many group names but we are currently owning The Blessing because this is the title given to a collection of Unicorns. Why unicorns? Well…why not, right?

I grew up in a lower socioeconomic home with my mother and sister on the perimeter of Atlanta or as natives call it OTP. Shania Twain was played…a lot! Who’s Bed Have Your Boots Been Under, Any Man of Mine, & yes….Man I Feel Like a Woman were played throughout the house on repeat. I remember helping with chores and singing to all of Shania’s songs and dancing throughout the house. My love of the songs and the femininity never struck me as something wrong then and I was never challenged until later in life. All I knew was that I loved Shania’s look in the Man I Feel Like a Woman video. When the chance came to select a 90’s song to perform, I instantly jumped to this selection and excitedly pulled together the Shania look.

The search for my clothes was an experience within itself. I specifically recall sitting on a bench in Goodwill trying on a pair of high heeled boots when I looked up and saw a young kid observing me. I perceived how they were trying to comprehend a guy with a beard jerking a pair of kinky boots on his legs. While I was in DSW trying to find THE right pair of boots, multiple stares and giggles were had. My thoughts during this experience were, “This is my lone, one-time experience. What of those individuals that face this everyday? What of those individuals that need a size 11, cause they’re impossible to find! How privileged and blind am I to have never considered this before.” As I pulled one pair of thigh high boots off I felt a muscle fade in my hip and worried a might’ve actually caused real damage in the process of getting my Shania on. I longingly looked at boots I wanted but couldn’t afford. I imagined how fabulous I could be if I just had that one pair of $150 gold studded thigh highs. I found my hat, wig, gloves, and bedazzlement at Party City. I vocally gasped when I found my top hat because it was velvet and beautiful! I hope it becomes a signature piece for me : )

All in all I pulled my outfit together. Then the contemplation came into play. What would my Uncle think? Seeing his nephew wearing studs and make-up? How might my mother explain it to her friends, “this was just a charity experience he was doing.” How do we explain any Facebook pictures to my nephew and niece? How rattled will my college friends be to see their friend dressed as a woman? Owning my identity as a gay man has come with its difficulties, and thus far I have handled it well enough so far; but, was I really ready to explain the world of drag to others? Above my concerns of judgement from family and friends I was even more concerned about the drag community itself. I felt and am, in a sense, an imposter to the scene. Although I received multiple nods as, “a new drag baby,” I was concerned how I may represent this community and if in doing so could I potentially cause harm. As I continued to share the news of my upcoming performance, I continually received phenomenal support. In the end, I resolved to remember the purpose of the Cabaret and appreciate the opportunity I had to contribute. As with other things, I was also prepared to entertain questions and challenges that could arise as a result of my participation. I was proud I had the courage to participate and grateful for the new knowledge and friendships it brought.

Performing in the show was a liberation of my own desire to let it all go and own those things that were deemed “feminine.” My hair I could flip, my lips were luscious, and I damn well fit in a corset. I had prepared a few choreographed moves in my hotel room that all but left me during the performance. My beautiful top hat refused to stay on my head and I may have had a few nipple slips. Overall, though, I felt amazing. I suspended judgement and just imagined myself dancing in my home with my dust rag in hand. It  felt good to let go of my own insecurities and own my Queen.  I received great feedback from the experience and one colleague even expressed how I slayed my performance which was all the validation I ever needed.

Beyond all of this, what made the experience was the people. While my time on stage was LIBERATING, the moments I enjoyed most were standing in the box cheering on our fellow Queens and Kings. There’s something to be said about the strong sense of community that exists within ACPA and within every single performer that poured their heart out that night. We pressed our faces to the glass, screamed, “Yaaaasss,” and offered hugs to each member that returned to our space after their performance. THAT was the Cabaret experience. Knowing we were all there for reasons beyond ourselves and owning that bravery was the galvanizing experience of it all.

To conclude the show, we all gathered on stage to sing, This is Me, from The Greatest Showman, which, if you know the song, is pretty representative of this experience. At one moment on stage, I stopped and thought how fortunate I was to be a part of something so impactful and fun. It truly ignited even more desire within me to continue understanding and advocating for this community. I’m excited to see the Cabaret continue to grow at future ACPA’s and hope to see many more new faces join in the fun. Collectively, I believe, it is an experience like no other to explore the Drag community and truly immerse yourself.

Until next year,

Kinky ; )

 

Ryan Keeseee (He/Him/His) Currently works as the Assistant Director of Volunteerism and Service-Learning at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter as @keesee22.

Discomfort Rather than Fear: A Reflection and Call to Action, By: Danny Foster

I’m uncomfortable.

As I reflect on the incident that happened at the Philadelphia Starbucks just a few days ago, and the subsequent reactions, I continue to be uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. I am a queer, white, cis-male; I am from an educated middle-class family and I hold a graduate degree. I am one of the most privileged people in the United States, and that privilege allows me to say “I’m uncomfortable” over and over again rather than “I’m afraid” or “I’m unsafe,” I feel that’s an important point to make, here. I am uncomfortable because I continue to have to examine how I have been complicit in systems of white supremacy. The Starbucks incident again has me examining my actions (conscious and ingrained). I have never had to fear the police, that doesn’t mean I am always comfortable around officers or scared in their presence, but it does mean I have never had to think “will I go home alive after this interaction?”. That is why I am uncomfortable.

This isn’t the type of post where I give all of the answers or any answers at all, really. This is simply a call for my white colleagues, friends, peers, and communities to continue to be uncomfortable and to use that discomfort as your call to action. It is not enough for me to be educated.  It is not enough for me to have read some really great research by scholars of color. Guess what? It’s not enough for you either

The Starbucks event is not an isolated incident, it is a symptom of something much larger, more systemic and systematic, but because it didn’t result in death, because a white woman recorded the incident, because a few (not even most) white people in attendance questioned the police, and because the two black men were meeting to discuss real estate opportunities with a white colleague it has become palatable for the (white) masses. It is an easy catalyst for white people (like me) to cry “Injustice” but for people of color this is a day in the life. Let this be your catalyst. We (white people) all have to start somewhere, but don’t let this just be your start. Use this as your assignment to do more. Research the murders of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and the countless other people of color murdered by police in our country. Look at the murders of trans people (specifically transwomen) of color. Dig deep in to our history of segregation, white supremacy, racism, colonialism, gentrification, and oppression. Read about racism. Read about history. Listen to people of color. Hear what is being said. Work to understand the fears of the marginalized around us. Take action in your work and communities. Protest. Be active in your communities and work places. Interrupt systems of oppression, hell, just interrupt the cisgender, white guy in your meeting so your colleagues of color have a louder voice in the conversation. Start small, but start!

We all recognize our role in racism at different points in our lives. Obviously, we want that recognition to be earlier, but if the Starbucks incident was your moment take it and run with it. Take it as far as you can and never look back. One thing, though, white people, learn to follow. We have, for too long, failed to listen to people of color and the most marginalized in our communities because we have always been “the leader.” Remember when I said to listen to people of color? That’s not just to inform you, it is also for you understand the needs of people of color and following through on those needs by using your privilege to amplify the voices. I am not the leader in this moment, and neither are you.

I’m uncomfortable. I hope for the sake of my friends of color I am never again comfortable. I will continue to question my complicity. I will continue to recognize my role in white supremacy earlier every day and dismantle it. I will teach my students that using their white privilege to help people of color and other marginalized identities is more important than their comfort, because for many racism is a life and death scenario.

I hope you are uncomfortable too.

 

Danny Foster (He/Him/His) is a Residence Director and Orientation Coordinator at Lamar University in Beaumont, TX where he lives with his partner, Dylan. Danny is passionate about Social Justice education and restorative justice in student conduct and hopes to one day be a Director for a Student Conduct Office.

Danny can be reached at fosterdj2@gmail.com or @FosterDJ2 on Twitter.

Racial Justice: A Reflection on the Black Lives Matter Movement, By: Allison Hunter

I would like to start by expressing that this is simply my reflection on things I’ve seen recently surrounding the movement. I will also give the spoiler alert that I hope this causes you to rethink your involvement with your students and the community around you. Okay, so here goes. It feels as if no matter where I turn, I am seeing post, articles, news feeds, or brief clips surrounding racial injustice. Even in my direct community, I see men and women of color being mistreated due to the color of their skin. We always say “It’s 2018 in America” or “This has to stop”, but I truly wonder if it ever will. I am very passionate about my experiences as a Black Woman growing up in North Carolina. I have personally been the victim of racial discrimination, but I don’t let it stop me. I use my experiences to push me to affect change for others.

In the later part of January, TV One, a station that focuses on discussing issues in, and the achievements of, the Black Community, announced that they would be airing a series called “Two Sides”. The series is produced by Viola Davis so I knew there would be an interesting twist. The basis of the show is focused on giving the families of many of the victims of police brutality a chance to express the truth of their loved ones case while giving the law enforcement agencies time to express their take.  Watching this series really has pushed me to be emotional about the state of our country. Each episode showcases the lives of the victims before their tragic death. There is a clear theme amongst them all, these were Black people with limited opportunities, living in the inner city, subject to the mistreatment of their local law enforcement. From the stories that have already aired, the Eric Garner and Ezell Ford stories, my sociological mind has been thrust into analyzing the many social structures that have failed these men. Based on the information provided it almost feels as though they were both targeted by the systems that are in place to keep them safe. This causes me great frustration and sadness. These emotions led me to pay closer attention to the lives of Black men around me. In the past week, I have been informed of instances where DWB or Driving While Black has impacted someone I know. It almost makes me wonder, what are we doing wrong as a people?

I have taken the time to reflect on our history as a community and it leads me to believe one thing. We have done nothing but what we were designed to do. Systemically, we were brought to this country to be the mistreated and impoverished. Thankfully, we have opened our eyes to the systems around us and we and our allies are fighting to change what history is trying to dictate as our future. How do we impact this change? I think that answer is simple. It may manifest differently for each of us but, as educators it starts with us. Taking the time to lead by example, hearing the voices of all our students for who the are, respecting their experiences, and admitting our biases is a huge first step. For me, I hope to inspire others to use their education as the key to open many doors and to mentor those coming after me. I know those don’t sound like concrete things but, it’s what I know I can do, along with my civic duty to vote and be involved in my community. What you do, is strictly up to you. But please do something. Don’t let people continue to lose their lives in vain.

More is More: Strategies for Including Gender Diverse Students; By: Elliott Kimball

I have a trained a lot of faculty and staff on how to be more thoughtful about LGBTQ+ identities, and more inclusive in their daily practice, yet one theme is always chief among their concerns: how do I work with and avoid offending transgender, non-binary, and gender diverse students? I find that most often their unfamiliarity with the mountain of language and terminology associated with this population only heightens these concerns. While I try to instill confidence in their ability to create that mindful and inclusive space, I also want them to understand why this must be a community responsibility.

Consider what this might look like in practice: Meet Taylor, our new favorite imaginary student. Taylor comes from a rural yet privileged hometown, steeped in conservative values and rooted in a strong Baptist community. Much of Taylor’s life has been spent questioning their identity, yet never had the exposure or language to understand or unpack how they were really feeling. Additionally, this wasn’t something Taylor felt safe questioning openly in their environment. Taylor is thrilled to come to college, hoping the experience isn’t marked by their parents guiding Taylor away from all things tagged as diverse, multicultural, or queer. Taylor is in your first-year seminar course, and upon receiving your welcome message notices your pronouns listed in your email signature. Taylor lights up, and immediately finds time to come to your office to discuss how they’ve been feeling about their own gender identity, wanting to share that they don’t feel like a man or woman. What do you do?

We should impress on all factions of our campus community that giving intentional thought to better serving gender diverse students is both critical and urgent, partnering this message with the encouragement that it is easier than most people think. We have to move away from the mindset that our resources for LGBTQ+ identified students lie only with specific people, often those that also identify as Queer, and only within specific offices, often charged in some way with cultivating inclusion on campus. You should feel empowered to become comfortable engaging with LGBTQ+ students.

Faculty and staff will often imply that they believe themselves unlikely to be engaging with a student that might come out to them as Queer. Yet the narrative of students struggling with their gender identity or sexuality and spending time on the institution’s webpage seeking out the most appropriate resource for support is further from reality. It is more likely that students will share this with those whom they have trusted connections with: meaning you.

Here a few things you can remember…

When a student shares with you their sexual or gender identity, don’t assume that you know why they did. They may have told you because you will be navigating their records and want to avoid you loudly declaring your confusion around a potential mismatch between the system and the person standing in front of you, but they may not have. Anytime someone shares a marginalized or oppressed identity with you, recognize the importance of the moment and extend appreciation for the courage and vulnerability required to share this part of themselves.

Ask how you can support them, understanding professional boundaries and circle of influence – don’t assume that you should immediately direct them to the nearest all-gender restroom. No, you can’t go home with them and share the couch while they tell their parents, but you can use language to reduce the stigma around counseling, walk them to their first appointment, and empower them to practice skills in a safe space that will help prepare them to navigate that potentially uncertain conversation. Challenge yourself not to tokenize. Tokenizing students can happen outside of simply reducing their entire being down to their recently shared identity, and using that to inform assumptions you will make about their person in the future – which hopefully you know not to do. Going back to the danger of assuming why they came out to you, don’t also assume that every professional interaction you have with them from now on will somehow center around their gender identity or sexuality. This is a part of them, yet they are still a student like any other. This also isn’t your opportunity for some free professional development through a live case study. Use online resources to hear queer narratives, finding on-campus workshops and resources surrounding the support of LGBTQ+ students, and put yourself in spaces with people who identify differently from you.

Identify resources on your campus, and understand that you simply connecting a student with someone who can better help them succeed doesn’t mean you aren’t doing your part. Prepare yourself to be more inclusive in all situations by practicing with gender-neutral language. This can include using they/them pronouns in the singular by default in situations where you are unsure of how someone identifies, but also thinking about processes that can help you gather the necessary information without potentially exposing students to a name they don’t identify with. Lastly, remember the importance of confidentiality when working with gender diverse students. Feel comfortable checking-in, making sure that they are comfortable with you sharing the name and pronouns they use with you in other spaces, being aware that everyone can’t be open in all spaces.

How would this be illustrated if our imaginary friend Taylor came to see you? First, you would want to recognize and appreciate the courage it took for Taylor to come in and share this important part of their experience with you. Second, validate their experiences, believing in their narrative and affirming what doesn’t feel right to them. Normalize their experience, sharing that coming to terms with who you are is a part of development, and that college is a place with many wonderful opportunities to do that. Ask if they have shared this with others, and if they might be interested in connecting with other students that identify similarly to learn more about LGBTQ+ identities and the on-campus community. Ask Taylor what they need from you and how you can support them, knowing that certain circumstances are beyond your control. Avoid making promises that you can’t keep, like ensuring Taylor that you will always be there, or that everything will be fine – because as we know about the coming out process, it might not be. Maybe next steps include you walking Taylor over to the LGBTQ+ Resource Center/Multicultural Affairs Office/Intercultural Engagement space, connecting them with another professional staff member, and encouraging them to start attending meetings for the LGBTQ+ group on-campus.

What is more important than knowing the complex definitions of every term surrounding gender and sexuality? Authenticity. Students are used to being targeted, intentionally misgendered and identified as a form of discrimination, so you being honest and upfront about what you know and how you can help will take you further than you think.

 

Elliott Kimball, M.Ed. (he/him/his)
Assistant Director of Intercultural Engagement, LGBTQ+ Outreach and Advocacy
UNC Greensboro


Elliott Kimball currently serves as the Assistant Director for Intercultural Engagement at UNC Greensboro, overseeing LGBTQ+ Outreach and Advocacy. Prior to this, Elliott held positions at UNC Asheville and the University of South Alabama, bringing more than four years of work in higher education across areas such as residence life, fraternity and sorority affairs, sexual violence prevention and education, commuter student programs, and student engagement. Elliott holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication from Appalachian State University, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of South Alabama.