Social Justice Strategies: Calling In

Cody Holland

May 29, 2017

Social Justice work permeates the work we all do in higher education, sometimes in bizarrely competitive ways. We all do our best to stay “woke” with current issues and vocab as it pertains to all forms of hate and bias to the extent that we actually start competing with one another. This contest to see who can be the most “Social Justice-y” promotes a call out culture. Calling out is the action of publicly holding someone accountable for their actions, and while I absolutely believe that calling out can be the best way to hold someone accountable and to show others that you do not condone oppressive actions, it also has its pitfalls. This following snippet explores another strategy to put in your social justice toolbox.

As so much has been discussed on calling out, I question whether we are spending enough time thinking about calling in, the private and more compassionate method of holding someone accountable. When I think of calling in, I envision overhearing a student or colleague’s implicit racist remark, calling them into my office, asking questions to get to the root of the issue, and then working with them to create a level of understanding on how their words/actions might be harmful. Am I responsible for their education? No. Am I responsible for how they feel if I decide to address their implicit racism through calling them out? No. I recognize that guilt can elicit a person to shut down and be unresponsive to further feedback. If I can circumnavigate that barrier through a strategic approach, and I have the capacity to do so, then I believe it is in the best interest of all that I call that person in.

Here are some important points to consider.

  • Calling in is not the “End all, be all” social justice tool. This work is difficult and we should utilize many different tools to be as effective as possible. Calling in should be used strategically, when the stakes are low, you have the capacity, and the impact from calling in is greater than that of calling out.
  • Calling out is useful and appropriate in the right context. There are times when calling out is the most appropriate method for furthering this work and we should be able to recognize the best times to do so.  

To illustrate the first two points here are two contrasting examples: the recent Pepsi ad minimizing the experiences of the Black Lives Matter protesters and my little brother telling me he believes “All Lives Matter”. I find it especially helpful here to think of the scope and impact of the each “offender’s” actions. Pepsi, a globally recognized brand, had a tremendous impact with their ad that warrants an equally tremendous public response. The ad gave significant space and voice to ignorance and they need to be held accountable. However, the impact of my brother’s singular comment has little to no impact on others. I’m not going to publicly shame my little brother all over social media because he would immediately shut down. Instead, I would call him in to talk though his actions and help him to understand why his “All Lives Matter” is problematic.

  •  Anger is valid. Competition is not.  I hold a substantial amount of privilege as a straight white male and I am nowhere near as imperiled by racist remarks as my colleagues of color. I believe that everyone has the right to get angry at their own oppression and that it’s important to have the ability available. If we stifle this ability, we open up the door for ignoring the groups and devaluing their opinion, effectively utilizing tone-policing and perpetuating oppression. However, we must recognize our intentions of calling someone out to ensure we are not doing so to demonstrate our “woke-ness” to others. You do not need to prove to anyone that you do this work. There is no social justice gold star to earn, just an incredulous amount of work to be done.
  • It is necessary to budget your time and energy. Bluntly, some people are not worth your time. For example, when someone posts inflammatory remarks in the comments section of your favorite blogger it is usually best not to engage them. Everyone has a finite capacity for this work so we must be strategic with how we use it to avoid burning out. So, before you decide to invest your energy into educating someone ask yourself some of these questions

Overall, social justice work is complex. There is no one-size-fits all solution. If we want to change the world, we need to work strategically and most importantly, we need to do it together.

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Cody Holland is a current graduate student in the Leadership in Higher Education M.Ed. program at Baldwin Wallace University and is involved in the NASPA Graduate Associate Program. In his spare time, he enjoys lots of coffee, traveling, and tacos. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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