Lift every voice

Speaking out for justice at the AFT’s Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Conference in New Orleans last year. Photo by Nijme Rinaldi Nun

Voice.

It’s what unions are all about: giving workers a voice in the conversation about how their workplaces are run. For faculty and staff, that means speaking out — and being heard — when administrators, elected officials and policymakers talk about academic programming, grading policies, financial aid, department funding, equitable hiring and all the millions of other details faculty and staff swim around in every day on campuses across the nation.

Voice is why I believe in the union.

And now it’s the driving force behind our new Voices On Campus, this new online publication we are launching for and about faculty and staff members of the American Federation of Teachers.

Turns out, giving faculty and staff a voice is not only fair and right and wise — it’s also fascinating.

I love hearing retired professor John Raines recall the heart-pounding risks he took as a Freedom Fighter and as an old-school Edward Snowden. He nearly perished in a small-town jail! And then risked his life again, stealing from none other than the FBI. Really?!? What inspiration moves a person to do that?

I also am inspired by Ben Weber, whose idea of a great field trip was to bring his undergraduates to one of the largest prisons in the country. Those kids will never be the same — and since he shared his story with me, neither will I.

Then there’s the insight I got from Lawrence Ross, whose new book, Blackballed, shows the unvarnished truth black students live every day on primarily white campuses, shut out of Greek life, enduring Yik Yak abuse (“I really don’t like 99 percent of the Black people I meet,” for example)and neo-Confederate parades. This honest, unfiltered account was, for me, eye-opening, and his blog for Voices reflects his concern for faculty trying to navigate the same territory.

Voices On Campus is filled with these stories. Voices from union members, faculty and staff, education experts, students, policymakers, labor advocates and thought leaders. To ensure it’s an audible chorus rather than a cacophony of unrelated reflections, we will continue to theme our quarterly “issues” — now posts. We will be posting content online throughout the quarter that is related to that quarter’s theme. And we’ll include a big-picture article each quarter to provide some context and help it all to hang together in a cohesive, instructive and hopefully inspiring way.

First up: a cycle of stories about race. In particular, we are looking at the black experience on campus. Stay tuned. We expect to post our first pieces in February.

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