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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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