In a recent WISA KC leadership meeting, I quipped that I was not sure what our next public policy update would be given the current dumpster fire(s) blazing around us, saying I was tempted to title the piece just that. Queue amazing moment in which we all shared our favorite memes of dumpster fires and the dog sipping tea while the room around them burns image (K.C. Green’s “On Fire”—please check out the whole comic). The state of affairs certainly feels unbearable and hopeless, particularly when acknowledging that this flashpoint moment on the national scale have already been five-alarm fires raging through many communities. Black, Indigenous, Latina, and Asian womxn along with Queer and Trans womxn and womxn with (dis)abilities have been engaged with sustained activism working to dismantle the oppressive structures in our systems and cultures. We must listen and find a new path forward. Engaging in direct and indirect action to call political leaders, corporate executives, and yes, campus administrations to heed our calls for change on these issues is only a part of the solution.
I, often, turn to the writing of Audre Lorde, and when I am most troubled, I find her words to be helpful in framing the path forward in our public policy work. Lorde writes, “In a world of possibility for us all, our personal visions help lay the groundwork for political action. The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower” (“The Master’s House Will Never Dismantle the Master’s Tools,” Sister Outsider, 1984, p. 112). From this lesson, I want to remind us of two key practices for womxn working in the midst of these flames: setting and communicating boundaries and engaging in transformative justice for addressing harm. In my lived experience, learning to set boundaries and working to repair harm when we have injured others are central to creating a more just and equitable culture, and doing this work in our individual spheres of influence generates tools for redressing the larger systemic (public-policy-related) issues we must change.
Much of our navigation of our lives—in work, social spaces, political arenas, and the twisty overlaps of them all—requires the creation and communication of our limits, boundaries, and consent, though we have mostly relegated these conversations to the idea of sexual consent. Dr. Faith G. Harper writes, “I’ve defined boundaries as the constructs that differentiate between ourselves and someone else. Boundary violations can occur when that space is not negotiated in conscious and mindful ways and our actions result in harm (regardless of our intentions)” (Unf*ck your Boundaries: Build Better Relationships through Consent, Communication, and Expressing your Needs, 2020, p. 37). Setting and communicating our boundaries allows us to explore our own limits and identities and to establish parameters for interactions with ourselves and others. Spend some time reflecting on where your physical, emotional-relational, time, intellectual, and spiritual boundaries lie. What are your rigid (non-negotiable) boundaries? Which boundaries have you let other decide for you (permeable)? What are your situational boundaries that you continue to re-evaluate (flexible)? (Harper, 2020, pp. 21-29). How are you communicating with others about your boundaries? As I think about some of the current state of student affairs work and the political landscape, I find that the issues that make me the most frustrated and hurt are typically the ones that have impacted the boundaries I have established in my own life, for instance respecting my bodily autonomy and identities or demonstrating value for my time and labor.
Importantly, we must turn to the work of transformative justice to repair harm. When I replicate harm by violating someone else’s boundaries, I endeavor to employ the principles of transformative justice, which adrienne maree brown describes “justice practices that go all the way to the root of the problem and generate solutions and healing there, such that the conditions that create injustices are transformed” (We Will Not Cancel Us, 2020, p. 47). This type of accountability beseeches us to center the person harmed and address the specific harm through deliberate and considered action, while recognizing the power and identity differences between the parties. Transformative justice requires us to have difficult conversations, offer concrete apologies, and build substantive change when we have harmed others to ensure that we do not cyclically repeat the harm.
So as the dumpster fire rages around us, I hope we are able to engage in our growth and continue to build paths to accountability within our circles that ripple out into our broader communities. Implement self-reflective communal spaces that can support and challenge your understanding of yourself and your worldview. (Re)Engage in spiritual practices that fill your emotional-intellectual-spiritual cups and help you center on better understanding your boundaries and strengths.
Dr. Amanda Jo Hobson (she/her/hers or they/them/theirs) is the Associate Dean of Students at Indiana State University. They hold a doctorate from Ohio University’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts. AJ has a passion for teaching issues of social justice through popular culture through programs, such as “Inclusive Communication, Boundaries, and Transformative Justice” and “Horror Films as Social Commentary.” She is the co-editor with U. Melissa Anyiwo of Gender in the Vampire Narrative (2016), Gender Warriors: Reading the Contemporary Urban Fantasy (2018), and Queering the Vampire Narrative (forthcoming). Amanda can be found many days reading endless novels, watching movies, and hiking with their dachshund named Silas (after a certain Gaiman character).
brown, a.m. (2020). We will not cancel us: And other dreams of transformative justice. Chico, CA: AK Press.
Harper, Faith G. (2020). Unf*ck your boundaries: Build better relationships through consent, communication, and expressing your needs. Portland, OR: Microcosm Publishing.
Lorde, A. (1984). “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Berkeley: Crossing Press.