31 May 2020
I am angry, I am afraid, and I am frustrated. But my rage, my fear, and my weariness can in no way compare to the pain and suffering that Black people experience on a day-to-day basis in the United States and in many places across the world. The murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Tony McDade in Tallahassee, Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and the racist incident towards Christian Cooper in Central Park, New York City are the most recent examples of violence, hate, and racist acts by white people towards Black people in our society.
Some of the main words in that last sentence are: Murder, Violence, Hate, Racist, and…Recent. The protests we have watched in many parts of the country are not just reactions to the past week’s incidents; they are accumulations of all of history’s “recent” traumas and threats Black people have had to survive. The demonstrations are responses to living in fear every single day. How can the loss of Black lives due to police brutality, white supremacy, and systemic oppression not be the most critical issues of our time as educators and as a country?
In ACPA’s position statement on issues of social justice, ACPA focuses on the advancement of higher education through the lens of social justice and advocacy. Through the Strategic Imperative on Racial Justice and Decolonization and associated programs and resources, ACPA brings these values into practice, developing actionable goals and initiatives to promote equity, human dignity, and inclusion on college campuses around the world. The promotion of these values is not only our duty as an association, but also our goal as representatives of student affairs professionals and the students they serve. Beginning in 2017, ACPA made a commitment to direct resources, energy, and time toward addressing racial justice in student affairs and higher education around the world. The incidents of the past weeks are glaring examples of the continual individual, community, and systematic work that must be done to create truly inclusive and just spaces.
These words sound nice, but change only occurs when we give our values action. As executive director, I commit to you to not only continue the necessary work of dismantling racism, but to aggressively and unapologetically advance us into action. This blog post is the first of a number of communications from ACPA leaders that we will offer sharing different voices, perspectives, and resources. This is not a one-and-done statement from an association that allows us to check a box on a communications list. This is the core of who we are, so you can and should expect us to lead the higher and tertiary education call to action.
I sometimes observe an, “I just don’t know what to do,” response from folks who know that systemic oppression exists, but are frozen when it comes to transforming knowledge into action. For white people, our work is just beginning when we recognize and accept the racism and bias within. We must work to transform other white people (especially those with positional power or status to create change) to also do their self-work and our group-work. I recognize that I have addressed most of my comments to white colleagues, friends, and family because we have much work that must be done. A colleague and ACPA Governing Board member recently reminded me that anti-Blackness exists in all communities, and that there is also still much work to be done not just in white spaces, but also in non-Black, People of Color communities. As an educated membership, we already know about the abundance of resources available to privileged people like us, but why do we behave as though we don’t know what to do?
Earlier this week, I was held to account for my own inaction as a white person when a family member responded in ignorance to a Facebook post I wrote about racist acts of violence in the U.S. – It was a glaring reflection of my own inaction, how little I have initiated conversations about race or power or privilege with family and friends. I also want to apologize to ACPA members and to take responsibility for any unintended harm caused by the pre-scheduled, yet ill-timed “Tell Us What You Need” COVID-19 email and survey that we sent to members on Friday, 29 May.
The labor of diversity, equity, and inclusion education and advocacy is all-too-often placed on People of Color and other marginalized identities. By writing this post, it is my intent to honor Black colleagues, friends, and family who show up every day and tolerate my mistakes and my fragility, who fight and work harder than white people to be recognized for their talents and contributions, and who do so in fear for their lives and livelihood every single day. Every. Single. Day. I also honor that all forms of oppression are connected, and that there is beauty, strength, struggle, and triumph in challenging systems defined by majorities and power perpetuated by supporting the status quo.
Justice is certainly about arresting, charging, and convicting those directly responsible for their crimes, but it is also about me (and all of us) doing something to make the world a safer, better, more accepting and loving, and more liberated place than what we did yesterday. And tomorrow, I/we figure out how to do more than I/we did today. White people and non-Black People of Color, what is our plan for today, for tomorrow, for the next day, for the next week, and for the next year? What is our plan for the rest of our lives? I write this to ask us to figure it out, then do it, and then do it some more. That is the work of a college student educator, and I invite you to join me and ACPA in continuing and progressing the fight.
Join me in action right now. One way is to use the phone in your hand or the computer in front of you to help those directly addressing the pain and suffering occurring right now by donating (if you can) to organizations doing justice work for Black lives, like:
- The Minnesota Freedom Fund
- The George Floyd Memorial GoFund Me Campaign
- Black Visions Collective
- Reclaim the Block
- …or many, many others
Again, this is the first message from ACPA leaders on this subject, and it will not be the last. Stay connected with us.
In solidarity and action,
ACPA Executive Director