Thursday, March 30, 2017

Acknowledging and Exploring Privilege

Intersectional Privilege 
by Genesis Rivera

Privilege can be defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. More simply, we can define privilege as a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group. These privileges are granted by society through values and norms based on aspects of one’s identity. Aspects of a person’s identity can include race, class, gender, sexual orientation, language, geographical location, ability, and religion.

It has been said that privilege is the silent partner of oppression; it is not as easy to identify, and its benefactors cannot separate themselves from it.  Another important thing to notice is that everyone has some form of privilege, and privileged groups have power over oppressed groups. Privileged people are more likely to be in positions of power – for example, they’re more likely to dominate politics, be economically sustainable, have influence over the media, and hold executive positions in companies.

It’s also important to remember that we cannot look at privilege individually, but rather systemically. While individual experiences are important, we have to try to understand privilege in terms of systems and social patterns. We’re looking at the rule, not the exception to the rule. A straight white male is given his immense privilege through institutional powers not through his own work ethic or positive attitude. It’s important to bear this in mind because privilege doesn’t go both ways. Female privilege does not exist because women don’t have institutional power. Similarly, black privilege, trans-privilege, and poor privilege doesn't exist because those groups do not have institutional power.

However, women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, religious minorities, and poor people can have privilege in other aspects of their identities. Privileges and oppressions affect each other, but they don’t negate each other. For example, while all women experience sexism, the sexism that black women experience is unique in that it is informed by racism. White women can separate sexism from their white identity and make choices that would only serve the identity they value more; i.e. the 54% of white women that voted for a man that boasts about objectifying and groping women.  Black males can have the privilege of not having to worry about sexual assault while walking down the streets at night, but still have to suffer the oppression of racism. Even black women and black transwomen, often considered the two most oppressed groups in America, can have the privilege of not having to suffer the effects of ableism; ableism is discrimination in favor of able bodied people.

The most interesting form of privilege for this generation, however, may be white gay male privilege. To borrow a phrase from Michelle Alexander: like racism, heterosexism is highly adaptable. Gay kids continue to be bullied at school and kicked out of their homes. Gay seniors get forced back into the closet at nursing homes. In many places, it is socially acceptable for two white gay males to marry, be approved for a mortgage or loan, stay in hotel rooms together, and express public displays of affection. And if you are wondering why, think of the skills of those who learned to lobby and write op-eds and talk with their friends and neighbors about equality for LGBTQ+ people. Think of the millions of dollars that were raised and poured into winning the freedom to marry. Think of the mayors and governors and elected leaders around the country with whom the LGBTQ+ community has built relationships. And think of all the people who were given a chance to really get to know a gay person before they even came out to them.

What if white gay males took all of that same effort and dedication and threw it at our world’s greatest challenges? Standing shoulder to shoulder with the Black Lives Matter organizers as they collectively demand justice and systemic reform. Lobbying our elected leaders to protect transgender people from discrimination and violence. Marching with the DREAMers as they fight for immigration reform. All while acknowledging their allies and the debt of gratitude they owe to Horace Julian Bond, a leader in the civil rights movement, and Dolores Huerta, a Mexican-American woman who advocated for American laborers.

All aspects of our identities interact with one another. We experience the aspects of our identities collectively and simultaneously, not individually. The interaction between different aspects of our identities is often referred to as an intersection. The term intersectionality was coined by KimberlĂ© Crenshaw, who used it to describe the experiences of black women – who experience both sexism and racism.

Because of the way we use “privilege” every day, people often get upset when others point out some of their privileges. Often we think of privilege as “special advantages,” it is the aspect of thinking that has become the quintessential dilemma of this issue. Privileges cannot go on being exclusive. Men do not have to worry about gender-based discrimination. White people do not have to worry about racism. Cisgender heterosexuals do not have to worry about sexuality based discrimination. Everyone should expect to be treated that way. Everyone has a right to be treated that way. The problem is that certain people aren’t treated that way. We don’t use the term “privilege” because we don’t think everyone deserves this treatment. We call privilege “privilege” because we acknowledge that not everyone experiences it.

Lastly, people often get defensive when someone points out that they have privilege. The positive connotation that comes with the word is often detrimental to its meaning. Many people think that having privilege means you have had an easy life. As such, they feel personally attacked when people point out their privilege. To them, it feels as if someone is saying that they haven’t worked hard or endured any difficulties. But, you can be privileged and still have a difficult life. Privilege doesn’t mean that your life is easy, but rather that it’s easier than others. It means that life is more difficult for those who don’t have the systemic privilege you have.

So What Now?

Acknowledging someone’s privilege is in no way intended to make them feel guilty. Nor is it sufficient to acknowledge your privilege, feel guilty, and go on carelessly living a privileged life. We don’t want you to feel guilty. We want you to join us in challenging the systems that privilege some people and oppress others. Guilt is an unhelpful feeling: it makes us feel ashamed, which prevents us from speaking out and bringing about change. You don’t need to feel guilty for having privilege because having privilege is not your fault: It’s not something you chose. But what you can choose is to work against biased institutions by utilizing your privilege in a way that challenges oppressive systems instead of perpetuating them.

I’d recommend that you read more about the concepts of oppression and privilege in order to expand your understanding. The links at the end of this article are a good place to start. Second, we need to take action. Listen to people who experience oppression. Learn about how you can work in solidarity with oppressed groups. Admission of white privilege could lead to a complacency that leads individuals away from anti-racist activism. Instead, join feminist and activist communities in order to support those you have privilege over. Focus on teaching other privileged people about their privilege, all while admitting that you are no expert and directing them to the proper information.

In order to check your privilege you should start by taking the following quizzes. None are perfect, but they can help you get an idea of what you are starting with.

More references:

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Response to the Town Hall

Paying Attention
By Genesis Rivera

Last week, The Hofstra Chronicle printed an article, written by a student staff member, whose goal was to provide coverage for the most recent Town Hall. The student seemed to have missed a significant portion of the event that has gone repeatedly overlooked at several key opportunities, even just in the two short years I’ve been here. I am writing this article to provide readers with details about the parts of the event that were not touched upon in the original article.

On Wednesday, March 1, 2017 the President, Provost, and heads of several other departments on campus came together for a Q & A Town Hall. The President and other administrators were only answering questions during common hour, which was incorrectly reported as four hours in the original Chronicle article. With the hope that they would have the opportunity to voice their concerns, about forty students sat patiently in the audience watching the proceedings. A little more than half of those students were part of some underrepresented group on campus.

Once the questions began, a student was asking for what I believe are luxuries, such as a parking garage to make way for more green space on the north side of campus. The hopes of students quickly fell when listening to the first response given to that question by our president. He said, “You should be proud to be a part of the Hofstra pride,” which the President quickly retracted once he realized that it caused students to apologize for their criticisms of the university. Later, in the same answer, he continued by saying, “[Hofstra should] gentrify the north side of campus.” To gentrify means to “renovate and improve (especially a house or district) so that it conforms to middle-class taste.” I found the use of this word problematic because there are several cases across the nation, many specifically in the five boroughs of New York, of low income families that have lived in urban areas for generations being forced to move to make way for the new “middle class taste” that they cannot afford. This comment was not addressed throughout the rest of the discourse.

Once the President had finished his first response, another administrator explained a 10-year plan to beautify the north side of campus, but by then the damage had been done. The combination of President Rabinowitz’ and another administrator’s answers had eaten up about twelve minutes of the limited time students had been allotted, and set the tone for long, thorough answers to be provided for all questions posed. In fact, responses for almost every question from then on were thorough, which is to say that several administrators would spend a long time explaining the specific details of issues such as food prices and dining hours, two identical questions about shuttle availability, and the cost of trips to the city. However, there was a set of questions that went unanswered with almost no acknowledgement at all.

Several students in the crowd had come at the behest of underrepresented groups on campus to show administrators that we are not only present, but that we feel uncomfortable, and in some cases unsafe, on campus. One female student stood up and made it very clear that she does not feel like she is a part of the Pride. She described herself as a “black, transfer student,” two labels she felt caused her to have a harder time assimilating to campus life.  At the end of her statement, she asked the students in the crowd if they felt the same way she did. Almost every person of color in the room raised their hands. In response, the President gave us homework: “I didn’t know there were students who felt that way...You need to let us know that there is a problem and how we can fix it.”

I found this response surprising for several reasons. First, it was significantly shorter than the previous responses given to every other question posed to the group. Second, it seemed as if he was brushing quickly over the issue that was most pressing in the eyes of every student who had just expressed their marginalized status at this institution. Not only did the students just reveal their concerns directly to the President, but underrepresented students have spoken to several faculty and administrators, including the Provost, on their varying levels of frustration with certain aspects of the University. I wondered why this information did not seem to have made it to the President. Why didn’t he seem to have a plan for how to address these concerns from underrepresented students?

Once I got over the short response that placed the burden of fixing issues and making themselves heard back on the underrepresented students, I raised my hand to present my ideas to assure that students of all backgrounds and religions are acknowledged and welcomed here. I spoke for several minutes offering up my suggestions and solutions to fix issues such as KKK and other White supremacy groups recruiting students from predominately white institutions, like ours, and tracking retention rates of students of color. I pointed out the great progress we have recently made toward a more inclusive campus and presented a plan that I have been mapping out to address issues of racial, religious, and ability discrimination on campus. I included numbers, from the Hofstra website, to support my claims and ended with a plea to the heads of the departments to make this a university-wide campaign to incorporate more diversity on campus.

I sat down thinking this was the moment that our voice would be acknowledged; surely now they would give a twelve minute response from several administrators as to ways we could fix the issues I had just identified. Instead I heard, “I didn’t understand that part about the numbers,” from President Rabinowitz. He passed the microphone to the Vice President of Enrollment Management who cited figures I had not intended to refer to. Then Dean Pertuz spoke a bit more about numbers and acknowledged that there is a challenge with diversity and intercultural engagement, in that we have numbers, but need to get more of the community to engage cross-culturally. However, I am already aware she is part of the small group of people on campus working to fix it, and she was not necessarily the person I wanted to hear from. I wanted to hear from other administrators, so that I can feel reassured that this is an issue that was being acknowledged and addressed.

Nothing more was said on the subject. After the short hour, that only fit about 5-6 questions, a few people approached me to set up meetings and gather more information about my ideas. It wasn’t the response I had hoped for, but it was the one I got. The President, who I had hoped would at least acknowledge the problem, made a beeline for the door. Despite a few hellos and goodbyes, I did not hear anything of substance from the President that would indicate he was taking this issue of ignored and underrepresented students seriously.

It solidified the thoughts that many students of color on campus already have; if you want to find a sense of community with other underrepresented students on campus you have to join the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) or another cultural group on campus. If you don’t like the way diversity issues on campus are handled, join the Dean of Students Diversity Advisory Board. Or if there is another issue, reach out to any involved faculty member or down-to-earth administrator, and they will point you in the right direction to get things done. We’ve identified our allies and have been able to work around the people here trying to silence our voices. And if you weren’t convinced of the silencing problem before, consider the fact that I had to write this article in response to the official Hofstra Chronicle coverage that only told half the story.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Encouraging Interfaith Awareness

Hofstra’s Muslim Students Association 
encourages interfaith awareness on campus
By Maryam Qureshi

Hello Hofstra! I am Maryam Qureshi, and I will be writing from the Muslim American perspective. As part of the Dean of Students Diversity Advisory Board, I hope to represent the voices of religious diversity on campus and more specifically, those of the Muslim faith.  As a student activist, I aim to help defeat stereotypes and misinformation about my faith and culture.  In doing so, I would like to share with you my experiences this semester in promoting social cohesion on campus.

On February 1, the Hofstra Muslim Students Association (MSA) and the Office of Intercultural Engagement and Inclusion (IEI) co-hosted World Hijab Day where we recognized the millions of Muslim women who choose to don the hijab (headscarf) and live a life of modesty.  Women across campus, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, were openly invited to experience hijab for a day.  

Unfortunately, the hijab has been misinterpreted as a symbol of oppression and segregation of the Islamic patriarchy.  Speaking out about the hijab on World Hijab Day was my protest against these narrow-minded misconceptions.  The hijab is my safe space to work, study, and play.  The hijab allows me to reaffirm my faith and identity everyday as a Muslim American woman. 

“Although I do not wear the hijab myself, World Hijab Day allowed me to reflect on the beauty and confidence that the hijab provides for my fellow Muslim sisters,” said Saira Mahmood, a junior accounting major. 

Last week, Hofstra MSA also hosted the first Islamic Awareness Week (Feb 27 to Mar 3) at Hofstra to promote understanding of the Muslim faith.  During this week, Muslim students on campus sought to engage themselves in conversation about what it means to be a Muslim living in America today. 

Islamic Awareness Week was a five-day series of events for the Hofstra community to expose themselves in cross-cultural and interfaith dialogue.  Members of all faiths and backgrounds were invited to attend and to show solidarity with Muslims on campus.  Events included, Ask a Muslim Day, Arabic Language Day, Fast-A-Thon, Muslim Women Empowerment Day, and Visit a Mosque Day. 

One major misconception about being Muslim is that people think that all Muslims are part of the Arabic culture.  However, the truth is that the Islamic faith is inclusive of people from all different parts of the world.  Arabic Language Day celebrated this cultural diversity and inclusivity.  Kayed Alsultan, an international graduate student from Saudi Arabia studying forensic linguistics, said that “it was amazing to see interested students and faculty learning about the Arabic culture through its language and literature. Everyone went back home learning a few Arabic words and numbers and their name written in an Arabic calligraphy style of their choice. Personally, I felt appreciated for my diversity at Hofstra University.”

Khizar Siddiqui, a senior health sciences/pre-med major and member of Hofstra MSA, explained that “many people are unfamiliar or confused about what Islam stands for. Visit a Mosque Day allowed students to experience the Muslim community on Long Island, as we prayed, ate, and talked together. Muslims and non-Muslims were able to reach out to one another and to stand up for equality, friendship, and optimism.”

Descriptions of the events offering during Islamic Awareness Week.