March 25, 2011 § 1 Comment
At the small and elite liberal-arts college that I attend, the idea of social justice and egalitarianism is very much embedded into the fabric of the college. Yet over the course of my time here, the actions of the school and its students (including myself) haven’t lived up to the school’s image. Even as a socially conscious school which brands itself as such, my college community was not immune to creating or perpetuating inequalities, stratification and exclusion. In a response to the increasing acts of homophobia, racism and sexism on campus, the women’s center on campus organized a forum to allow people to air their grievances, communicate with one another and figure out how to address the identified problems.
At the forum, hundreds of students, dozens of professors, and several administrators showed up to discuss and dispute what the problems were and how we could go about addressing them. It was powerful and exciting to see so many passionate and intelligent community members articulating what brought them to the meeting and what they identified as the main problems. As facilitators, it was thrilling to be doing the work that we had talked about for so long and dealing with the complicated politics of making change in practice. Where we hit a wall, however, was when we tried to explain academic concepts in real-world terms and applying them to everyday practice. Among many of the women and gender studies majors, we often joke about the amount of times we use words like “intersectionality,” “social construction,” “agency,” and “structure.” After a certain amount of classes, readings, and papers, it feels as if we know these ideas like the backs of our hands. Yet when we tried to explain why we need the supportive structures to enable individual change, we felt at a loss.
The forum was our first attempt to spark conversation and inspire people to change their actions, while explaining why we needed more support from the administration and identify where they are lacking. The second meeting broke into factions about what was more important–student responsibility or institutional systems. Just like structures and individuals exist in balance to one another, we have to find a balance between theory and practice.