This year, one of my goals is to become more active in student organizations, and to actually do something about my strong sense of social justice and my support of diversity. So through signing up for some organizations, I found out about “Lead On!”: a Student Diversity training workshop hosted through a partnership between the Student Body Government’s Director of Diversity, Brandon Williams and Elena Ruiz, a graduate assistant at the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
To be honest, I didn’t exactly know what I was getting into when I signed up for the workshop. I just saw the title of the workshop and Elena Ruiz’s name on the list of guest speakers, and automatically knew I was going to be in for a good time! That was exactly what I got. I left the workshop having learned something, in addition to feeling pretty pissed off!
Williams said of the workshop: “We decided that a workshop would give members of each diversity organization a chance to voice out their frustrations and learn from our guest speakers.” The speakers were Lindsay Dunn, a professor from the Deaf Studies department, Thuan Nguyen, a Residential Life CRE and Joel Garcia, a graduate student. “Ultimately, the goal became that we wanted all student diversity organizations to see each other and where each one stood, and to be able to work together in order to ensure that those who support and embrace diversity could have a much more powerful and potent voice on campus.” Williams said.
I’ve always considered myself an ally and open to learning more about what diversity really means, but the workshop really drove home the frustrations that many of these students feel. I’m not going to lie and say that I understand their experiences, which would be denying that I have the white privilege.
Williams said to me, “How many people understand what privilege is? How many people are willing to acknowledge that they indeed have privilege? My dad once told me that, ‘Often, people fear to look deep inside and find those ugly truths about themselves that we all have. You can only make real progress if you acknowledge that it is there, fix it, and then help others who are struggling with the same thing’”
I never really truly realized the extent of my whiteness and my white privilege until I got to DC and all of a sudden had random guys in the street calling me a “cracker”, so it has been a topic of interest for me for a long time now.
To be honest, sometimes I avoid addressing the topic, because it can be pretty difficult to discuss: I don’t want to say anything bad, I don’t want to offend anyone, and I certainly don’t want to look stupid. But it has to be done. In order to really understand where racism and discrimination comes from, everyone has to individually step back and take a look at their thoughts, actions and words.
During the workshop, Elena Ruiz started a discussion about what it means to be “color blind.” It is impossible to be color blind. You know why? When someone says they’re “color blind,” because only the person “inside” matters, it means they’re wimping out on discussing the topic of racism and other –ISMs. For so many people, race is a huge part of their identity and culture, so to purposely overlook that is to reject and belittle their identity.
Ruiz also brought up an interesting point about how many organizations take the easy way out by delegating all diversity-related issues to a single “Director of Diversity.” Ruiz emphasized that the matter of diversity is everyone’s business, not just that of a single person. Williams—who is Director of Diversity—said of the SBG: “As of right now, I believe that SBG does not reflect diversity. However, as compared to the years before, I believe that steps are being taken in order to make that happen. I truly believe that SBG wants Gallaudet to be a more diversity friendly community. This is something all that we, the cabinet members, discuss all the time. President Dylan Hinks, and Vice President Derrick Behm and the rest of us have made that a top priority and I think in the long run that investment will pay off.”
What can you do to support the SBG’s desire to promote diversity? You can become an SBG Diversity Fellow, just contact Brandon Williams at Brandon.email@example.com (don’t forget the L in the middle!) You don’t have to be Asian, Black, Latin@, an international student or LGBT to join a student diversity organization, all you have to be is an ally. Contact the following people:
Asian Pacific-Islander Association- Lindy.Klinger@gallaudet.edu
Black Deaf Student Union- Ericka.Baylor@gallaudet.edu
Rainbow Society- Morgan.Eastman@gallaudet.edu
English Language Institute Student Organization- David.Hardman@gallaudet.edu
Latin@ Student Union- Fernando.Contreras@gallaudet.edu
International Student Club- Dominic.Harrison@gallaudet.edu
Finally, during the workshop, Joel Garcia gave a presentation about an idea that is in the works, setting up a Coalition of Minority Student Organizations. This Coalition brings together student diversity organizations and various institutional aspects of Gallaudet University, such as the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Student Body Government.
I am cheering Garcia on with this project, and I propose that this Coalition should be granted a part of our student unit fees, the same fees that have helped the Student Body Government, The Buff and Blue, and Tower Clock to become strong and enduring organizations with vital roles in our campus culture. It is time to stop being colour blind, and to start seeing in colour.