Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Event Themes, The Issue No One Wants To Discuss: Part 1

This week I received the following news story from not only my professional listserve, but from several professional friends. For you see, when something comes up in Greek Life, I am the person that comes to mind for oh so many. I am the one to answer the calls, run roster checks to see if so and so is Greek, or just check in to be sure no one gets a similar bright idea on our campus. Just like some of you who hold positions, I am responsible for all of our community's actions. Sometimes when I tell you things, it is because I care about you. Sometimes, it is because I want you to avoid the hurt and pain you may cause yourself or others.

USM Students in Blackface Article

Really, Team?  Really? As you may have noted in the article, the theme of the event was "80's".  I am fairly confident that the intention of the group was to be funny.  However, the impact was so much more. Sadly, I have found my staff team engaging in a similar conversation more than half a dozen times in the past month.

When I look at USD's mission, it is pretty clear to me that we are tasked to develop culturally competent leaders. We, as a staff team, are charged with creating experiences that allow students to learn, grow and develop. So, why all the crazy when we ask you to look outside of yourself?  Why all of the anger when asked to consider how someone might feel about your costume? I have been surprised by the hostility and lack of willingness to engage in dialogue about how we represent ourselves. I have been left shaking my head and asking, "Really, Team?  Really?"

We do so many amazing things, just like these women from USM. They will not be remembered for those.  Instead, they will be remembered as women who mocked a culture and race by dressing in blackface for a social event. I want to remember you as more than this type of situation.  I want to remember your laughter and joy at celebrating new members with your sisters; I want to remember the roar of cheering when your fraternity took first place at skits. I want to remember that this era was the one that said, "We are better than this." And, I want us to be the one that means it.

Last week, I wrote about being "on the road". Maybe you just aren't as far along that road as you need to be to understand how dressing up as a racial/cultural stereotype can be hurtful and offensive. Maybe it has been one too many conversations where I have sat eye to eye with someone who felt alone, isolated, not accepted.  And, that experience was compounded by them being an underrepresented group at USD. When I talk about diversity and inclusion, I like to talk about power and privilege.  We are the largest student organizations on campus.  We have the power to protect those who are not as powerful.  We can choose to protect them in our word and deed.

I suppose I am asking you to consider it all.  And, to consider the role you play in our community.  Do you board the bus for events without saying anything, or do you step out of your comfort zone to share the message of, "not cool" with those that you call sisters and brothers if they have on inappropriate costumes? Before we jump to Mandy, Onar, etc. are ruining this, let's think. Intent versus Impact. Really.


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