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The Difference Between “Being Better” and Just Looking Like It: How We Harm Our Black Communities

July 27, 2020 Wanda Swan Sarah Colomé, M.S.

How We Harm Our Black Communities

As NASPA’s Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention, Education and Response KC Leadership, we find ourselves grounded in the truth that our current reality is not a new revelation. Current dialogues are built on generations of activism, exploitation, trauma, and dehumanization, and it is imperative that we reconcile ourselves to our collective complicity.

The erasure of the Black community – and specifically Black womxn – is pervasive throughout the history of higher education, and the field of sexual and relationship violence prevention, education, and response. Our movement to end violence is complicit in the erasure of the BIPOC who continue to expel emotional and physical labor to our benefit, often at the expense of themselves. Change comes from more than a public statement; we must interrogate how anti-Blackness and white supremacy is rooted in our policies, practices, staffing, funding mechanisms, budgetary process, educational assumptions, service barriers, partnerships, conceptualization of “professionalism”, and understanding of the word “justice”.

We Have Been Here Before: The convergence of several ills

Though this is not a new moment, it is one where we reaffirm our commitment to collective liberatory practice and call on our membership to resist the political urging to view current realities as distinct, rather than interrelated issues.History is strewn with examples of civil rights and social movements being pitted against one another as a form of distraction and division. We know, however, that the movement for Black lives is built upon a legacy of activism, and is intrinsically related to the recent assault on survivors, transgender, and gender nonconforming/gender queer students through the newly released Title IX regulations, the disregard for the humanity of our undocumented community members, the xenophobic and Islamaphobic suspension of Visas, the continued colonization of land, the disparate impact of COVID-19 among communities of color, the impact of militarization on communities of color, and numerous other “issues” often competing against one another the valid attention, financial support, and human resources they all deserve.

Dismantling anti-Blackness must be a facet of each movement for justice and humanity if we aim to ever truly create a better world. As we stated in our November 2018 statement on the proposed Title IX regulations, “the most vulnerable populations on campus are: women, underclassmen, racial, ethnic and sexual minorities, sorority women, student with disabilities, and students with past histories of sexual victimization (Fedina, L., Holmes, J. L., & Backes, B. L., 2018).The recently released regulations further marginalize students who bravely occupy space that was never built for them, through shifts that include but are not limited to:

  • Inequitable measuring of various forms of violence by importance based on their expected “impact”;
  • Trauma-inducing live hearings;
  • Trauma-inducing cross examination;
  • A reduced geographic scope of responsibility for University’s to address sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, and stalking;
  • Reduced transparency for religious institutions;
  • Denial of a party’s testimony for consideration by a hearing panel if that party chooses not to subject oneself to trauma-inducing cross examination;
  • No proposed time limit on case adjudications;
  • Athletic coaches no longer serving as mandated reporters;
  • Adjudicative processes mirroring our criminal justice process; and
  • Specifically frames Title IX and VII as existing outside of a “general civility code” that would otherwise render hate speech as a violation.

Collective Learning, KC Commitment, and Call To Action

As leaders within NASPA, we believe it is imperative that we continue to question and resist the manners in which we are complicit in perpetuating systems of oppression – particularly that of anti-Blackness - in our work, including our relationships to law enforcement, surveillance, and militarized policing.

 As a relatively new Knowledge Community we are working to cultivate a Leadership Team onboarding process that centers the lived experiences of marginalized communities most impacted by sexual and relationship violence, and grounding members in the roles power and privilege play in the perpetuation of oppression – both as acts of sexual and relationship violence, and in the ways that our structures, systems, and approaches are built upon and contribute to anti-Blackness, colonization, and other forms of oppression. We invite those who have a similar commitment to join us in cultivating a Leadership Team grounded in this praxis.

We also hold ourselves accountable to engage those on their journey of learning, contribute to the dismantling of white supremacy as it is embedded throughout our institutions, and to above all, work from a margin-to-center approach that prioritizes the needs and safety of historically-minoritized survivors. We engage this framework with the knowledge that when we center these narratives, we create policies, processes, and practices that benefit everyone.  

Self-Guided Learning
We encourage everyone, especially our non-Black/non-POC members to engage in self-guided learning to challenge the systems you both experience and perpetuate within your various communities. We’ve noted two sources as a starting on this journey of combatting anti-Black racism and oppression.

  • Campus Advocacy & Prevention Professionals (CAPPA) put together this great list of Resources on Dismantling White Supremacy.
  • The Swan Center for Advocacy & Research has compiled a digital library that can also start as a starting point on combatinganti-Black racism and oppression.

Those interested in being a part of these collective efforts are invited to join the Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention Education and Response Knowledge Community.


Wanda Swan, NASPA SRVPER Chair

Sarah Colomé, NASPA SRVPER Vice-Chair


Wanda Swan is the founder and Executive Director of The Swan Center for Advocacy & Research, a Georgia-based, nationally-serving 501(c)(3) that is dedicated to survivors of violence who identify as Black and/or African-American.  Follow The Swan Center on LinkedIn for updates.

Sarah Colomé is the Director of the Women’s Resources Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where she oversees gender equity, sexual misconduct prevention, and survivor advocacy and support initiatives.