“Listen, I really have no idea what to write about social justice.”
What do I want to write/say in a social justice blog? Should I write using a post structural format? A post colonial? A post modern framework? How about a dash of CRT (Critical Race Theory) grounded in third world feminism? Should it be interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary? ( I loved the last post on this blog! Loved it!)
Should I talk about the Superbowl, Richard Sherman, and other football related social justice issues? Should I write about Justin Bieber and his White privilege? Sochi, Olympics, homophobia? Or should I write about the Biggest Loser and the drama of a woman’s body changing as she embarked on an extreme weight loss program? A woman’s right to choose and the continuous attack on those who dare to consider abortion? What about (some members of) congress and President Obama’s words against each other? What about gun issues and the how we define rights and civic disorder? Gun violence on college campuses? The common core? The attack on ethnic studies? Tenure track and the adjunct situation in American higher education?
On a daily basis, I spend time reading about various social justice issues. I follow Colorlines, Jezebel, and Angry Asian Man. I love it. I love reading scholars’ blogs and I love interesting thoughts from people with different perspectives. I love listening to someone’s story and experiences; however, the American education system loves leaders who speak up.
Many social justice courses or trainings have people sit together, in a circle, talking about themselves. I have participated in several meetings and I have caught myself counting how many times I speak. I have caught myself focusing on what I have to say rather than listening. I have forced myself to speak up because I think that is expected. What if our expectations changed? What if I did not feel a pressure to speak but I was encouraged to listen more? How would the conversations change?
I believe discussions about power differences would go much more peacefully. I would learn more about others’ experiences and I believe I would hear more vulnerability in others’ stories. When listening to others speak, there will be more awareness about power and privilege. The fear of not being heard would not exist, and thus I may not feel the need to talk over others. I have been in classrooms that privilege listening, but the collective knowledge and value of speaking overrides anything that any facilitator or educator can overcome individually.
As a woman of color, I lose respect for individuals who discount my experiences. As a cis gender, heterosexual, (temporary) able bodied, possessing thin privilege, and even within the Asian American community being Chinese American makes me more visible and accepted, I feel better about myself when I genuinely engaged with others by listening to them.
As much as social media provides opportunities for all of us to comment on political, pop culture, and many issues connected to the larger social justice context, the act of listening to a personal experience is much more powerful. In light of Lunar New Year celebrations and Black History Month, communities of color are trying to share their stories. I use the word ‘trying’ because every year, there are individuals who choose to use their voice and silence others’ lived experiences. Every year, people want to confine lunar New Year celebrations. Every year, some people question why there isn’t a White history month. I believe individuals who desire a White history month have failed to listen to communities of color express how American history has centered a White experience.
As student affairs scholars and practitioners, our work should reflect on students’ experiences. I co-facilitated a diversity course with my friend, Stephanie. I told the students, “Participate in class like everyone is listening to you. Also, when you’re presenting, don’t bore me. I’m paying attention.” The incredible students gave the most engaging presentations because they knew they were heard.
So, listen to others, so they can feel heard.
- As educators, how can we create spaces that value listening?
- When have you valued speaking over listening? Why?
- When have you valued listening over speaking? How did you feel in that moment?
Joyce Lui, Ph.D. is a Research Technician at Cesar Chavez Institute at San Francisco State University. She is one of the founding members of Journal of Critical Thought & Praxis at Iowa State University. Her research focuses on Asian Americans, community college and transfer students of color. She enjoys good food and identifies as an introvert.