Bree Best, ’16, English, is the UMBC Women’s Center’s Gender & Women’s Studies intern.
[Cross-posted from the UMBC Women’s Center blog]
For the past several months I have been trying to conceptualize what I wanted to say about white privilege and protesting, the struggle of identifying power structures, access to privileged dissent, and a whole litany of other things that I could go on about dealing with Racism = Prejudice + Power. One recent experience sticks out in my mind as indicative of just how harmful white privilege can be in spaces that are supposed to be about social justice.
At the end of March 2015, I went to protest Bill Cosby at the Lyric in Baltimore and immediately I noticed the appalling disparity between white women to women of color. As I looked for the protest organizer to discuss my concerns, I heard the protesters shame the patrons as they were walking into the Lyric – patrons who were overwhelmingly people of color. I came to protest Bill Cosby’s rape allegations and bring awareness to sexual assault, not to further marginalize already marginalized people.
When I expressed my concerns to the white woman protest leader, her response was immediately defensive: “We’re supposed to shame the patrons. They’re the ones that paid for the tickets to come see this show. That’s how a protest works.” I tried explaining my discomfort as a woman of color seeing mostly white women protesting a black man by yelling at people of color and mentioned that many of these same people being yelled at may have experienced white people yelling at them while protesting for Civil Rights, so perhaps a different strategy would be worth considering.
Ultimately, I ended up leaving the protest after the organizer told me that I was being combative (among other unsavory things). As I drowned my intersectional feminist rage in Blue Moon and mixed drinks, I considered how much more effective the protest could have been if the white organizer and participants had used an intersectional lens to think about how systems of power influence their lives, including their approach to activism. We need more critical dialogue not just about race and racism but specifically about whiteness, which is often forgotten in these discussions because it is the invisible norm against which everything else is othered.
Disrupting this white-centric framework is crucial for engaging in anti-racism. On a national scale, the Black Lives Matter protests are a direct interruption of that a Eurocentric worldview. Just as we need to decenter whiteness in the physical spaces like these protests, we also need for “allies” to decenter whiteness mentally so that they can engage in social justice without reproducing oppressive power structures or erasing the voices of people of color.
I’ve been in many situations like the Cosby protest when a white person got defensive when I pointed out a racial disparity or racially motivated power dynamics and I tried to push them to understand how problematic that can be, at which point they would either leave or ask me to leave by insinuating that I was being “difficult to work with.” These racial interactions are an everyday occurrence for me because I and many other black people must continually navigate “white space” while also decentering whiteness. However, in order to effectively dismantle white supremacy, black people cannot be the only ones working to disrupt white space – in our communities and our minds – but rather white people must also take on the often-uncomfortable challenge of confronting their own privilege.
With white spaces being virtually everywhere, my beloved Women’s Center at UMBC is no different. Throughout my internship I’ve had many conversations with Women’s Center staff about we can continue working to decenter whiteness, including more intentionally focusing on the voices and perspectives of women of color and developing strategies to more effectively enable white people to engage in constructive dialogue around race and racism. Dismantling white supremacy is a daunting task and I am equipped with the skills and opportunities to aid in this endeavor despite how exhausting this work can be.
As with most social change work, progress in anti-racist work takes time, a humbled nature, and patience. People make mistakes and call each other out. If that is the case, use the white leadership from the Cosby protest as an example of how not to react. Instead I would suggest: Take a breath, assess your privilege, welcome the lesson, and ask engaging questions that focus on creating an effective impact in communities of color. If people want to build diverse communities, then we as a community have to acknowledge and embrace our differences through understanding the greater systems at large that privileges few and oppresses many.
Contact the author, Bree Best, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amelia Meman, ’15, Gender & Women’s Studies, is the Grants and Marketing Intern in UMBC’s Women’s Center
[Cross-posted from the Critical Social Justice blog. Originally posted there on April 30, 2015].
It’s a simple enough question, but one that has a stronger implicit meaning this week. Many keep asking me “How are you doing?” pointing their eyes toward the city. I keep asking my friends “How are you doing?” with my mind flying to people dancing at North and Penn encircled by police in riot gear. It’s a simple question, but right now, it’s an important question—an important act of social justice that I want to emphasize, and that I believe is crucial to a Critical Social Justice movement.
By reaching out to one another, asking open-ended questions, and really just caring, we are taking some of the first steps toward activism in this Baltimore Uprising.
Don’t know quite what I’m talking about yet? That’s okay. Here’s a quick run-down: I’m talking about the recent often peaceful, often turbulent release of years upon years of tension in Baltimore City. Though there are many instances that have pushed the Baltimore community, it has been the murder of Freddie Gray by police that has really motivated people all around to speak louder and fight for their voices.
According to the police, the young black man from West Baltimore made eye contact with a police officer, ran away, and was then arrested. In the time that he was taken to booking, he suffered critical injuries including a severed spinal cord and a crushed voice box that put him in the emergency room. A week later, on April 19th, Freddie Gray died. The police have yet to release a report on the incident, which has only exacerbated the frustration felt by many in Baltimore, but especially black folks who have had to bear the brunt of police brutality and institutionalized violence for centuries in this city. This frustration was funneled into organizing peaceful protests, (on Saturday, April 25th gaining ten thousand supporters) which sparked incredible dialogues that centered on violence, police, poverty, and racism in Baltimore. With stronger numbers taking part in the protests, came stronger police presence and higher tensions. On Monday, April 27th, police in riot gear isolated and cornered teenagers coming home from school and riots began to break out in small pockets around Baltimore. Since this rough Monday, militarization of the police has escalated, Gov. Hogan has called in the National Guard, and a curfew from 10 pm to 5 am has been set for the city.
With this unrest, however, we have also seen communities come together to clean up after property was damaged; people gathering to help board up windows and sweep up debris. We have seen people across Baltimore and in our neighboring counties come into the city to donate and prepare food for kids who weren’t getting lunch on their days off from school. We have seen organizations like the 300 Men March come into protests to create human walls between police in full riot gear and protesters dancing in drum circles. We have also seen many all over the world come out through social media, personal blogs, and progressive news organizations, writing articles about why we should care about what’s happening here in Baltimore and why we need the change so many of us have been chanting about.
There are many ways to get active with this movement, and the first step really is simple: it’s in caring. If you just read the above wall of text summarizing what has been going on here in Baltimore and felt a little something, then I think you’re on your first steps.
Those of us who support both Critical Social Justice as a week-long event and critical social justice as a way of being involved know that there are many different ways to show support for our communities and to be an activist that supports those fighting for justice in Baltimore. Often activism is thought of as something where you march with a hand-painted sign, but it can be so many more things and include so many other people. Critical Social Justice is about meeting people where they’re at, and fostering growth from that position. Here are some ways to be a critical social justice activist for the Baltimore Uprising:
Many people come up to me and ask how they can get involved in an event, a march, a movement, and I often ask if they’ve read up on the history or if they’ve attended any public meetings on what they’re standing up for. Critical Social Justice centers not just action, but education, because we believe that the first steps to creating engaging and sustainable social justice movements is in knowing what you’re talking about, and being able to communicate with others who might need convincing. To do that, you should be reading up.
In the case of the events in Baltimore and with Freddie Gray, those leading the Baltimore Uprising (this Google Doc has even more important information on it, as well, so take a look) have listed a few must-reads for people wanting to be involved. These include:
- Ta-Nehisi Coates’s, “Non-Violence as Compliance”
- Mark Puente’s “Undue Force, An Expose on Police Violence in Baltimore” and “Some Baltimore police officers face repeated misconduct lawsuits”
- Willie Osterweil’s “In Defense of Looting”
All of these articles shed light on the particularities of the conflict in Baltimore (the monetary and physical cost of police brutality, the lack of accountability for police, the anger and frustration of being black in the city, and the conflicting messages of demanding non-violent solutions to violent problems) and are really important to read and understand as we try to make change in our communities.
Another important part of social justice movements comes with listening. That means actively listening to others who are speaking on a topic either in a classroom-type setting, or even in a casual conversation. To really allow yourself to broaden your perspectives and learn from others, you have to listen to what they’re saying, ask questions, and empathize with their experiences.
In Baltimore, this can look like listening to the community voices rather than the news anchors looking for a sensational spin. I suggest listening to WEAA (88.9 FM), especially for their political and community news segments. The Marc Steiner Show comes on from 10am to noon, but also has podcasts that you can download and listen to at your convenience (say, at the gym or walking to class).
When you’re a white ally, listening is really REALLY key. This can be as simple as not interrupting people of color as they talk about their experiences and also by validating their experiences.
- Use your social media to speak up
For many right now, social media can be draining to look at. Everybody’s racist cousins or belligerent friend from elementary school suddenly have opinions about who should and shouldn’t be committing violence; however, it is important that we power through this mess, call people out in productive and educational ways, and share information that offers insight into these events.
It can often feel like shouting into the void when you get into a Facebook debate, or when nobody likes the article you just reblogged, but often the things you’re doing make a difference. Jay Smooth and Franchesca Ramsey both talked in their CSJ keynotes about the importance of your online voice. They said that even when it doesn’t feel like you’re getting anywhere, you’re making a public dialogue for people surfing through their feeds to read and think about. So maybe even if an argument on Facebook got you nothing but tired, at least you put your voice out there and didn’t just let something prejudiced or hateful fly.
Right now, many people in Maryland are looking down on the violence in Baltimore, because that’s all they see from their local broadcaster or cable news. Try to understand where they’re coming from, the limited view they might have of the situation, and shoot them a private message. If that’s too direct, even just continuing to share materials is a useful way of spreading better information and important articles.
- Find alternative media sources
As stated several times before, the mainstream media we consume is often tilted and biased. Even though it can be really good to test your media literacy skills, having to do it constantly is exhausting, and not getting accurate information is frustrating. Find yourself another grassroots way of hearing about what’s going on.
As Ferguson has shown us, social media (especially Twitter), is important for getting community-centered information. I’ve been following these twitter users for live updates from the scene and awesome critical thought:
Deray McKesson (@deray)
Baltimore BLOC (@BmoreBloc)
James McArthur (@BaltoSpectator)
Revolution News (@NewsRevo)
Red Emma’s (@redemmas)
Also check out this list of first-person accounts.
As you follow and retweet these people, notice the networks being created, and start trying to follow it. You’ll find awesome news sources and a media community you can trust a little easier.
This might be a rather obvious thing to do, but serving the community you are working with is important. This can take so many shapes, as well. In Baltimore, many people joined up to clean the city after the mess of Monday looting and riots. Many others were working to create kids’ activities for all of the students who wouldn’t be attending school. Even more were donating online and in-person to bail and legal funds and food drives.
You could also go out to rally, and help give voice to the problems on the ground. Rallies can seem intimidating to some like myself who are introverted and anxiety-prone, but they’re a really great way to join together in common cause and make issues visible.
Baltimore BLOC is my personal favorite resource for finding the latest on rallies and meet-ups, and you can follow them on Twitter and Facebook.
Here are some donation sites that you can contribute too, as well:
- Take Care of Yourself
Sustainability in social justice movements is incredibly important. In the plainest language: You’re no good for the revolution if you’re no good yourself. Burnout, anxiety, depression, fear—they all hit us and sometimes at the worst possible times. It’s important to know that you can take a break from what you’re doing and help yourself to be better. If you don’t already know, you should try and think about what you need to do in order to recover on tough days.
Just yesterday, I had to take a little break from social media, because I was exhausted from fielding Facebook debates and reading people’s bigoted tweets. In that time, I tuned out of social media, watched some Planet Earth, drank some chocolate milk, and I felt a ton better. Now that I feel better, I’m writing this post and trying to think of more ways that I can help in my community.
The Women’s Center and the Mosaic Center have been teaming up to host Community Safe Spaces. These safe spaces are not intended to be open discussions or debates. Rather, these opportunities are meant to provide intentional healing and supportive space for UMBC community members to process and share their thoughts, emotions, and reactions as related to racism, institutionalized violence, and anti-Blackness. There will be others scheduled over the next few weeks. Follow the Women’s Center and Mosaic Center on myUMBC to get updates.
Also understand that you should be critical of the self-care you are privileged with doing. Often, self-care is used as a means of stepping away from difficult conversations that should be had. For example, a white cis woman claiming in the name of self-care that she needs to step away from a conversation about the racial or cissexist micro-aggressions she’s committed. Maybe that’s valid, and the conversation could be tabled, but that doesn’t mean that the conversation shouldn’t ever be had. Similarly, we should also think about who is allowed to have time for self-care and who isn’t.
A key aspect of Critical Social Justice is reflection. You can critically reflect on your experiences by writing, making art, conversing with friends, what have you; think about, perhaps, the ways privilege has benefitted you in this social justice work; maybe on what you learned from a really great speaker at a rally; possibly how you could’ve made a past project better with what you know now. Reflection is incredibly important, because it keeps us accountable for our actions and in tune to ways we can be better.
Right now, I’m reflecting on the role of Critical Social Justice and UMBC in Baltimore. What we could do, what we aren’t doing, who needs to speak, who doesn’t, why people on our campus seem so separated from the issue (but aren’t at all).
Recently President Hrabowski and Provost Rous emailed the UMBC student body about the challenging times Baltimore has been facing and how UMBC can be a part of this:
“Our words and our actions speak volumes about our values. Courage to address critical social challenges—while respecting others—is a hallmark of the UMBC community.”
Critical Social Justice is about having the courage to learn, speak, act, and reflect on what could be better. I encourage those reading this post to get involved in any or all of the ways I have listed above, and simply to have the courage to care. It’s easy to turn away from what’s going on in Baltimore City, when you’re a 10 minute drive away. It’s easy to ignore things and stay silent in the face of injustice. What’s hard is caring. So if you care—and if you got to the end of this post, you probably do care—you’re being courageous, and you can go so much farther.
Contact the author, Amelia Meman, at email@example.com.
Jess Myers is Director of UMBC’s Women’s Center.
UMBC’s BreakingGround was integral in helping Critical Social Justice 2014 launch last year. Through the initiative’s commitment to bust boundaries, shape coalitions, and be agents of change, Critical Social Justice was able to offer a new way for campus to talk about social justice and provide outlets for community members to engage in difficult dialogues and build community. We appreciate the continued BreakingGround support as we move forward into year two of CSJ (February 16-20, 2015) with its theme of “Creating Brave Spaces.” During one of our recent planning meetings, I asked the planning team, comprised of Women’s Center and Mosaic Center staff members, to take a pause and discuss what we’re most excited about in preparing for this year’s CSJ, and how the theme of Creating Brave Spaces resonates with us personally and as UMBC community members.
How will CSJ 2015 look different from last year’s inaugural CSJ? What is your vision for the week?
Megan Tagle Adams (Women’s Center Coordinator): For last year’s inaugural CSJ, we were trying to give people an idea of the broad range of topics and programs that could be included under the umbrella of Critical Social Justice. This year, I think there’s less breadth and more focus on depth, as we’re being very intentional about making connections with the Creating Brave Spaces theme and the various events. The week will be full of programs that engage with some similar issues from vastly different perspectives, which I hope will challenge any assumptions about what social justice “looks like.” Ultimately, I envision the week as a platform for providing the UMBC community with many different opportunities to learn about and get involved with social justice in a way that speaks to their interests and experiences.
As you plan CSJ 2015, what are you most excited about?
Lisa Gray (Assistant Director of Student Life for Cultural and Spiritual Diversity): I’m excited that Student Life’s Mosaic staff is co-hosting and collaborating with the Women’s Center on CSJ for a second year! Last year, the Women’s Center staff generously brought us into Women’s Center’s vision of campus-wide social justice activism and education – inside and outside the classroom. After last year’s learning and growth, I can’t wait to see how all the goodwill, good work and positive energy will manifest in 2015. Honestly, it already has given the awesome ideas, work and bravery coming from the CSJ Student Advisory Group and so many other students this past fall. And with Franchesca Ramsey to challenge and inspire us – it’s going to be even more amazing!
Jess: I agree, Lisa! Last year we spent a great amount of time asking the community to trust us on this new initiative. Thankfully they did and this trust has resulted in some really positive and insightful energy around social justice at UMBC. More students use the Women’s Center and come to our group meetings and events because CSJ opened up a new kind of world for them or was that missing puzzle piece in their UMBC campus experience. I’m looking forward to the new people I’ll meet through CSJ, the challenging conversations we will have together, and the work we will all do to consider how UMBC can be a brave space.
How are brave spaces different from safe spaces?
Jasmine Malhotra, ’13, Biological Sciences (Student Life Graduate Assistant for Cultural Programs): Brave spaces is all about stepping out of your comfort zones and pushing yourself while safe spaces doesn’t always ask individuals to challenge themselves. In brave spaces you are learning about different kinds of groups and communities… as well as yourself. Brave spaces encourage us to consider our mistakes while safe spaces allow us to simply be ourselves in a space.
Lisa: Yes! Brave spaces pick up where safe spaces leave us. Safe spaces are important for many reasons, the biggest one being that attention is paid to the importance of being mindful of our words and behavior. What we say and do to others matters. Brave spaces take the what we say and do to the next level – ownership and personal responsibility for our shared experiences. They challenge us to say what we mean and mean what we say without promising that we will ever feel comfortable doing so. They raise our awareness, knowledge and skills in how we communicate and interact with ourselves and others by revealing how we create and experience our social realities as people with different social identities that carry both privilege and marginalization. Successful safe spaces create tolerance and sympathy. Successful brave spaces create acceptance and empathy. Critical social justice work begins and continues within brave spaces.
What does creating brave spaces mean to you?
Amelia Meman, ’15, Gender & Women’s Studies (Women’s Center Grants and Marketing Intern): Creating brave spaces on UMBC’s campus means working on creating intentional community dialogues that are founded on both reflexivity and inclusivity: reflexivity in how we acknowledge the privilege and bias that we each bring to conversations, as well as a willingness to challenge ourselves to be more aware of both how we are engaging with others, and the impacts of our engagements; inclusivity in being generous about the knowledge that some of us may not share on certain subjects, using language that welcomes others into conversation, and especially working to learn more about the people and community around you. (For more on brave spaces means to me and other students, check out this video created by the CSJ Student Advisory Board).
Zach Kosinski (Student Life Graduate Assistant for LGBTQ Programs): In working with LGBTQ students, the concept of brave spaces comes up a lot. Often times, when folks think of an LGBTQ space, a queer space, they rely on an assumption of safety and the utmost level of inclusion. After all, they think, if people can be “out” here, isn’t this a space for effective social justice learning? The unfortunate reality is that even within LGBTQ communities, issues of sexism, racism, ableism, transmisogyny, classism, and xenophobia can be just as prevalent as in the greater culture. What this means is that our queer spaces are not always safe spaces (and that’s a topic we’ll be exploring as part of this year’s CSJ events). I see the cultivation of brave spaces as essential component to creating more inclusive, effective communities, benefiting not just LGBTQ people, but allies and society at large.
In his CSJ keynote address last year, Jay Smooth showed one of his videos called “Why You Should Feed the Trolls If you Damn Well Need To“ to spark a dialogue related to using privileged identities in online spaces for social change. How do you see the theme of Creating Brave Spaces connecting with the use of social media?
Megan: When I think about the theme within the context of social media, it reminds me that the spaces we create are not just for our immediate benefit, but also for the potential impact on those we many never directly engage with at all. Using privilege to push back against trolls, for example, may seem like thankless and futile work but it can also be encouraging to think about how one comment out of a sea of hundreds could potentially be a source of strength and solidarity for someone somewhere hoping to forge a brave space of their own.
Jess: I love the idea of online brave spaces as counter-spaces. Over the past year, I’ve been researching the strategies used by student activists involved in the movement to address sexual violence prevention and response on college campuses. So many of these activists are using social media as a tool for their activism. They are literally carving out brave spaces via social media and on their campuses for survivors to come forward, to hold their schools accountable, and to encourage their peers to address rape culture. CSJ’s 2015 theme of Creating Brave Spaces resonates with me in so many ways and I especially find power in creating brave spaces online as a space for telling counter-narratives that are so important in moving social justice movements forward.
I’m really looking forward to seeing a great UMBC community turnout at this year’s Critical Social Justice. To learn more about the initiative and the 2015 events, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and our blog.
Contact the author, Jess Myers, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vlogger Franchesca Ramsey will discuss her approach to harnessing the power of social media across multiple platforms in order to engage in meaningful dialogues about social justice. She is a popular comedian who uses a humorous and accessible approach to engage in social justice dialogues via social media.
This event is part of Critical Social Justice week and is sponsored by the Women’s Center, Student Life’s Mosaic Center, and the Dresher Center for the Humanities.
Romy Hübler, a doctoral student in UMBC’s Language, Literacy & Culture program, is a member of the BreakingGround working group.
For the past eight months, I have been working with other Language, Literacy and Culture graduate students to organize Rethinking Intellectual Activism, a graduate student conference in which we will collaboratively explore the intersections of activism and scholarship. Fellow graduate students, faculty, and community partners will join us in stimulating conversations about the future of the university as a political place of knowledge production and social justice promotion.
Some of the exciting roundtable discussions, panels, and performances we have planned include Social Justice Through Critical Participatory Research; Politics of Race, Ethnicity, Religion, and Gender; New Critical Perspectives on Service Learning and Community Engagement; Researching Political Action, Discourse, and Organizations; and Politics of Art and Art as Activism. Dr. Kaye Whitehead, Assistant Professor of Communication at Loyola University will deliver the keynote speech, entitled In Search of Your Magis: Taking a Moment to ReThink, ReEvaluate, and ReDiscover Intellectual Activism.
We invite anyone interested in the conference theme to join us between 9:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 12, 2014, in UMBC’s Performing Arts and Humanities Building. The full program is available on our conference website. Please register in advance for free to give us an accurate count for food and refreshments.
We would also like to take the opportunity to thank the Office of Institutional Advancement for advertising the conference and our co-sponsors, without whom we would not have been able to organize this conference: Language, Literature and Culture Doctoral Program; Office of the Vice President for Research; Department of Gender + Women’s Studies; BreakingGround; LLC Graduate Student Organization; Department of Modern Languages, Linguistics & Intercultural Communication; Department of American Studies; Department of Sociology and Anthropology; Department of English; and B’PAR Graduate Student Organization.
Contact the author, Romy Hübler, at email@example.com.
This activity will illustrates how students with various needs that are not considered a part of the “normal” student population (mothers with strollers, those who use rolling backpacks, anybody who needs/prefers elevators, etc.) travel around campus. The scavenger hunt will begin and end in the Women’s Center where there will be snacks and a discussion about challenges and areas for improvement.
Find out more information on myUMBC.
ThuyVy Duong, ’14, Biological Sciences, is the service-learning intern for the SUCCESS program at UMBC.
Twice a week, I teach a service learning course for the freshmen SUCCESS students. SUCCESS (Students United for Campus-Community Engagement for Post-Secondary Success, a partnership between UMBC and the Maryland Department of Disabilities) is the first 4-year college experience for young adults with intellectual disabilities in Maryland. I have seven students in my class. Bryan loves to cook, while Cedrick loves photography and the Ravens. Evan is a remarkable artist and Mary is a Special Olympics gold medalist. DeDe dances to anything but usually to a 3LW song. Jessie’s my enthusiastic class assistant. Dan’s the quiet guy who becomes less reserved each day.
This semester, the students chose to advocate for the R-Word campaign, which asks people to stop using the term ‘retard’ as the first step toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all. Slang for mental retardation, the R-Word was used by doctors, psychologists, and other professionals to describe people with significant intellectual disabilities. Today, however, the R-word is synonymous with ‘dumb’ and ‘stupid,’ and is widely used to degrade and insult those with intellectual disabilities.
How many times have you heard someone say “That is so retarded” or “Don’t be such a retard”? How many times has that someone been you? Regardless of how it is used, the term is still hurtful and only reinforces painful stereotypes that paint people with intellectual disabilities as less valued members of society.
I have never seen my students so determined and impassioned as they have been these past two weeks. They’re working relentlessly to make the R-Word Awareness Day bake sale at the Critical Social Justice Fair (March 3-4, 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. in the Breezeway) a success. They all have experienced firsthand how hurtful the R-Word can be, and I think it’s so great that instead of dwelling on that pain, they’re using their experiences as motivation to teach others about the power of words. In return, they will not only learn about advocacy but also how positive change can start with anyone, from the boy who loves to cook to the girl who loves to dance. Change can start with them, and that’s a fabulous start.
In October 2010, President Obama signed Rosa’s Law, removing the terms “mental retardation” and mentally retarded” from federal health, education and labor policy and replacing them with “individual with an intellectual disability” and “intellectual disability.” It’s a significant milestone, but it is only the beginning.
What can you do to help? Get involved with Special Olympics, Best Buddies, SUCCESS or the over 200 other organizations that support the campaign. Join the 419,710 others on r-word.org who have pledged to stop using the R-Word. Talk with those who use the R-Word and let them know why it is offensive. Be an advocate yourself. If you’re at UMBC, don’t forget to visit the bake sale. Meet the students, listen to their stories, and pledge ‘to spread the word to end the word’.
When I visited r-word.org earlier today to check the pledge statistics, a post on the front page caught my eye. Titled “the r-word,” it’s written by an avid Ravens fan who just so happens to be a buddy of mine. “The r word,” Cedrick writes, “should not be used at any point of time because it is mean and hurtful to others nationwide.” I certainly agree with him. I hope you do too.
Contact the author, ThuyVy Duong, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amelia Meman, ’15, Gender and Women’s Studies (GWST), is Grants and Marketing Intern at UMBC’s Women’s Center, Co-Leader of Women Involved in Learning and Leadership (WILL), and Director of Events with the GWST Council of Majors, Minors, & Certificates
To many, the words “Critical Social Justice” may mean little or maybe too much.
Is it a class?
A mode of thinking?
To me, it is all of those things. It’s an introduction to an academic lens, a new way of thinking, a celebration, an ongoing effort, and my brainchild.
CSJ came from my experiences as a student, a feminist, and an artist. I began to see all the gaps in social justice movements: the hierarchy of value associated with different forms of activism, the mainstream issues that take center stage and the issues that are silenced by the majority, and the lack of creative and critical programming on campus. There are so many ways to participate in social justice efforts, but they are not all recognized with the same amount of value and meaning. For example, the president of a reproductive justice lobbying group could be seen as the ultimate activist within mainstream feminist circles, but a part time artist who creates work on disability and her environment may not be seen with the same reverence as the president, though her work is powerful in a whole other way.
Rather than replicating the social justice hierarchy in the creation of CSJ, we have consciously striven to create and facilitate a variety of different programs that open up a variety of critical dialogues on the UMBC campus. CSJ invites all different types of activists—whether a person is a student, a teacher, an artist, a musician, a writer, an engineer, a doctor, etc.—to talk about how they are creating change in their own unique ways. (UPDATED: Here’s the call for proposals). We encourage many different voices to come out and speak, because, in my mind, the contributions of a student forever questioning the status quo in class can be just as powerful a form of activism as a state senator pushing for prison reform.
Along with under-recognized activism, come the under-recognized movements within mainstream social justice efforts. While race and feminism seem to take the front seat when we first think about social justice, issues in the backseat, like disability rights and prison reform/abolition, are initiatives that are just as important. CSJ is meant to get people engaged in tough conversations from a variety of perspectives. We have endeavored to create an inclusive program that deals with both popular movements (like anti-street harassment) and movements that have not had as much lip-service (like disability).
All of these conversations—whether they’ve already been started on campus, need some energizing, or haven’t been heard—are meant to spur the UMBC community towards civic engagement, as well as promote a campus initiative to continue learning from different people with different points of view.
So you might now be wondering, “Well, it’s great that you’re planning to do all of these things, but how are you going to get people to come and participate?” Well, with CSJ, I also wanted to see a campaign that offers a level of engagement that goes beyond the quintessential pamphlet exchange or flyer campaign. It’s not that either of these things is bad or critically lacking; it’s just that they happen so often that sometimes people feel apathetic towards the information they are gaining. For CSJ, I imagined creative programming that would promote active engagement with a new lens and relationship building among peers and teachers. I wanted to see people creating art together, participating in egalitarian conversations, and solving problems with teamwork, cooperation, and ingenuity.
So far, the programs that have been pitched to us for CSJ involve creative engagement through art-making, collaborative learning, and open discussions, and we are incredibly excited to see even more proposals come our way that offer new and innovative ways to learn.
So now that we know what CSJ is going to be, let’s go back to the title: “Critical Social Justice.” It is open-ended and rich with possibility. It is sharp, but inclusive. It is radical, but relatable. It is rife with appreciation for our capacity to learn more and do more for our community and for each other. Critical Social Justice is a move towards civic engagement and critical thinking that will energize our community to seek change in the world.
Contact the author, Amelia Meman, at email@example.com.