Higher Ed Hates Me
Yesterday. Today. And tomorrow.
Published on ACPA: Commission For Social Justice Educators
Perspective shaped by the following intersecting identities:
Black-Able-bodied-Cisgender-Queer-US Citizen-Man of Size
Dear Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, College Administrators- including coordinators, assistant and associate directors, directors, assistant and associate professors, full professors, department chairs, deans, and provosts, and all that identify with another name:
Higher education, specifically college campuses, hates gays, queers, people of color, Blacks, poor people, disabled people or people with disabilities, women, trans folks, non-binary folks, gender non-conforming, international students, undocumented people, and Muslims at all of their dynamic intersections. This often cleverly disguised and rationalized hate is shameful and on most days unbearable. I am currently trying to survive this nightmare, fully recognizing that it was once sold to me as a dream.
I remember the day I woke up and was *traditioned the violent ways of the higher education profession. Years ago, I served on a search committee that was charged with making a critical hire. Soon into the discussion of candidates, I lost trust in both my ears and eyes. We had just completed what I thought was the best phone interview of all the candidates we spoke to that day. I was not alone in that sentiment. I thought for sure this candidate would receive an invite to visit campus; I really didn’t think twice about it, until one of the committee members voiced concerns on what I thought was a great candidate. This committee member said that they were weary of this candidate because they reminded them of a former colleague. This former colleague was a Black queer man- and sure there was controversy in his time at this institution, but I didn’t see the connection with this impressive candidate we just interviewed.
Minutes later, I had the most visceral aha moment I have ever had in my higher education career. I looked through the materials of this candidate I thought highly of and remembered that he was a member of a local NAACP organization and served on a pride committee for his city of residence. Aha, this committee member negotiated their discomfort with this candidate’s Black male queerness, by conflating these identities to past negative experiences. They have defined these identities (and their intersections) as wicked and undesirable, therefore un-hirable, un-promotable, and morally corrupt. This committee member acted in a racist and homophobic manner, which is a nice way of saying that this person is racist and homophobic wrapped in assumed well intentions. This candidate was not chosen to move on in this process, and there were a number of bystanders that said nothing and did nothing to change this fact. “Good” folks stayed quiet in the moment, and the same “good” folks couldn’t wait to share their outrage with me after the meeting- still saying nothing when it mattered; this would become a pattern from that moment to the present. I am still proud that I spoke up that day- though, I had a compelling reason; this candidate could have been me and probably will be me (Black and Queer) in the near future.
Fast-forward a number of years, and higher education is still in a pitiful and violent place. We suck! Absolutely suck. We should be ashamed of ourselves. The violence we cause is immeasurable, unremitting, and in many ways unapologetic. The gap between this violence I speak of and the folks that think they’re changing the world is quite wide, quite sad, and quite laughable. College campuses are supposed to be this dynamic space that creates intersectional leaders, critical thinkers, and world changers, but most of us don’t even have the capacity to define those terms, much less live or role-model them.
We willfully create spaces that attack our most vulnerable and brilliant students, staff, and faculty. Below are good practices that I think we could engage as a profession, specifically college administrators. This is part rant and part instructional.
1. Admit you have a freakin’ problem. If something problematic as fuck happens on your campus, at the very least acknowledge the violence, validate the survivors, begin to unpack and create solutions around said violence, and offer a heartfelt apology for the pain caused. Simple. Perhaps, not that simple, but doing what’s right is not always easy. We “preach” this to our students. Numerous times I have witnessed colleges and universities attempt to sweep issues under the rug, delaying the inevitable. The violence will always come to light.
2. When constructing new spaces or renovating old spaces, for goodness sake, design for inclusion! You should have all gender restrooms, appropriately sized furniture, décor that speaks to a variety of identities, signage expressed in a variety of languages, and new technology for folks with a variety of disabilities. If you have spaces that are not going to be renovated for a while, get creative and revise your list of priorities. Guess what, that meeting room in your union could become a lactation station, prayer and meditation room, and a private eating space for religions or traditions that require such an accommodation. And geesh, it doesn’t really matter if you lose another meeting space, folks can meet somewhere else! There is always something to be done. Again, don’t we “preach” this to our students? Seriously.
3. Mandatory social justice training, inclusion training, cultural competency training, and sexual assault and violence training is not enough. These trainings and expected outcomes must be woven into tenure, promotion, and basic job fulfillment. We must have actual consequences if these “values” and “priorities” are not being met. Why do we lie to ourselves? We know these empty trainings are not producing the outcomes we need. Or, are we trying to avoid being called out and simply check off the check sheet? Now is the time for us to correct these wrongs and begin dismantling systems. Oh, and we need to add undocumented student training to the list above, like, NOW!
4. These supposedly guiding national organizations are not doing much in dismantling the system either. It is pulling teeth to get them to release a statement on national and global violence. I’m not sure if they could ever serve the marginalized humans in higher education, as they operate as fully realized political organizations- and will protect their interest at all cost. These organizations have no capacity to hold colleges and universities accountable, as they need someone or something to do that for them. If you’re reading this thinking, is Cody Keith Charles talking about my organization- the answer is a loud, bold, and risky YES.
5. This “creating a less violent and a more vibrant” educational experience cannot be the work of your multicultural affairs, cultural centers, sexuality and gender diversity centers, women and gender equity centers, and disabilities resources. These centers are often the spaces with the least amount of physical space, least funded, least valued, least power and influence in regards to policy, and often straight-up missing from our institutions. I once joked with a colleague; she was the only staff member in our LGBTQ center, that wherever she moved physically around campus, one would find the LGBTQ center. Not only are these offices incapable of creating a more vibrant environment due to a severe lack of resources; it is also counterproductive for them to habitually try because true inclusion must be in the very fabric of the institution. Creating such an environment requires everyone to prioritize inclusion, intersectionality, power and privilege, dismantling violent policy, creating more inclusive documented practices, and self-work. And for the most part, these centers, should be looked to as the experts. Experts that are COMPENSATED for their labor.
6. Roam around your residence halls, academic buildings, student unions, and administration buildings and search for paintings, signs, landmarks, and spaces that reinforce violent histories. I just read a story about Corey Menafee, reported as a Black man, who worked in a Yale dining hall named after a notorious slave owner, John C. Calhoun- Problem! Everyday for almost a year, in this dining hall, Menafee was subjected to looking at a stained-glass panel depicting slaves carrying cotton- Another problem! Menafee eventually smashed this window in mid-June. I can’t speak to his mental or emotional state, but I can imagine with the current climate for Black folk this action made logical sense. Initially, Yale’s campus police arrested Menafee, but recently the charges were dropped. No doubt that the Yale administration feel as if they did Menafee a favor and deserve a cookie of sorts, but it is them that should be ashamed and trying to make amends. Where are all the “good” and “kind” administrators, staff, and faculty that stand firmly against racism and anti-Blackness? How does this violent window art still stand?
7. Post the damn salary range in your job postings. Intentionally leaving out the salary range is both racist and classist, besides being flat out annoying. Folks at a variety of marginalized intersecting identities (ability, people of color, poor/working class) don’t have time to waste on applying and interviewing for jobs that they could never accept in the first place. A couple of years ago, I was asked to apply for a position, seemed like a really cool opportunity. However, when I inquired about the salary range, the hiring person seemed offended. They basically told me that they would not be disclosing this information and that if the job truly interested me, then I should apply. Umm, BYE. What kind of world do you live in where you could do the things that interest you without thinking of cost and compensation? When I apply for a position, I already have a baseline salary in mind, which takes into account rent, car payments, food, entertainment, medical bills, gas, miscellaneous items, and let’s not forget our friend Sallie Mae. If I cannot pay the aforementioned, I cannot consider the position any further, no matter how much I love the position description.
8. Greek life is violent as fuck- ALL COUNCILS, and almost beyond repair. Though, my fingers are crossed. Let’s start telling the truth.
9. Higher education professionals must engage social media. This reluctance to engage Facebook and Twitter is nothing more than a sprinkle of ageism and a commitment to problematic traditions. You all look silly and out of touch. I’m not saying to be on social media every waking hour of the day, but I think you should at least have an account that is engaged a few times a week. There is no better way to gage the temperature of your campuses, learn about leading issues in higher education, and learn new ways to be advocates for dynamic change. The irony is that most of you won’t even read this post until someone emails it to you or it shows up on a forwarded blog weeks later, and that is a damn shame.
10. Trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming, agender, androgynous, bigender, gender bender, femme, stud, polygender, and pangender people at every intersection (specifically, poor trans women of color) are being systematically murdered, and unlike other identities, higher education refuses to even acknowledge their existence. Apparently, if we can convince ourselves that these folks are not real, then we have no responsibility in including them, and fighting for their safety and liberation. Addressing gay concerns, embracing gay movements, and fighting for gay rights and favorable policy DOES NOT mean you care about trans people. Trans folks are living on the edge of a 1,000 ft. cliff, and depending on their intersections, some have already taken a tumble and hanging on to the edge by their fingertips. Declaring that we will do better by trans folks is not good enough- we must do more, and then more, and then much more.
*Bonus thought- Pay the laborers for their labor. Pay us in the form of a paycheck, in the form of a promotion, or just send a check or cash to the individual. We use our precious time to educate you and hold your ass accountable, and we generally experience personal and professional violence because of it. Please message me for my address, I will gladly send it- not a joke. At the very least, make sure the laborers know that you see and value their work- and by valuing their work, putting the shit you learn to actual use.
Colleagues, we must be better. I’m not sure what to say or do to compel you to make the necessary changes. We have reached a critical point in time, and we must begin to critically examine our usefulness in regards to creating a just and equitable world.
Whew, I feel slightly better.
Cody Charles- (just your average model citizen)
This is the work of Cody Charles; claiming my work does not make me selfish or ego-driven, instead radical and in solidarity with the folk who came before me and have been betrayed by history books and storytellers. Historically, their words have been stolen and reworked without consent. This is the work of Cody Charles. Please discuss, share, and cite properly.
Cody Charles went deep undercover to study Hotepology at the University of Distinguished Hoteps, where he successfully slayed numerous colonies of Hoteps on nippy Saturday evenings- accompanied by the occasional libation and a Popeyes two piece and a biscuit combo. He is the author of The Radical Friendship Contract: 10 Expectations for Loving People Fully, 10 Common Things Well-Intentioned Allies Do That Are Actually Counterproductive, Ten Counterproductive Behaviors of Social Justice Educators, I Will Burn My Name Onto It, and Simple but not Easy: 25 Steps to Justice. Join him for more conversation on Twitter (@_codykeith_) and Facebook (Follow Cody Charles). Please visit www.consultcody.com to learn more about Cody.