not so isolated…

not so random…

#TBT Throw Back Thursday (June 2011)


From another isolated incident newsletter archives

“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” James A. Baldwin

Another Isolated Incident

We are talking about patterns here. I realized that when Baldwin speaks of history, we could also use the word truth. We are constantly seeking truth and truth is in us. Here’s to another month of self reflection — maybe we will find it this time.

African American Studies — It’s not just a black thing

tshirtThis headline is from a t-shirt I saw recently when co-facilitating Texas A&M’s LeaderShape session. This made me think of how much of our well intentioned social justice work we — and most importantly to me — I, leave for someone else to do. I remember in my African History course the only black male professor at my school (the other black professor was female and taught composition) took me and the other white students on a journey of truth that I was not prepared for in the least. To this day I still have that text book, Before the Mayflower, by Lerone Bennett, Jr., because it rocked me to my core. It is only now that I realize that the few black students on my undergraduate campus were not in the class and I probably assumed they knew all of this already. How can I hold these two truths at the same time? Black people know everything about being black and it is their place to deconstruct racism, at least regarding black race relations.

I love it when I catch myself in an illogical circuitous argument. Perhaps, illogical circuitous arguments are just a white thing — or a dominant/privileged thing. Generally, that might make it feel all better — white people: illogical dogs chasing their own tails and answering their own arguments. Ludicrous — and fairly accurate.


I was asked to write an article about doing more social justice work on campuses with budget cuts looming. What is interesting is this isn’t a tangent — at least to me — because the previous string of thoughts were swirling at the same time as I got this opportunity. I think it is the same problem. When I go to a campus twice in the same month because the folks bringing me don’t know that the other office exists or that it is just “too complicated” to co-sponsor programs — we waste money, time, and lessen our impact on campuses. Granted the checks still get cashed and I have more access to different groups of students — but really — we could do better. Here are some other thoughts…

With budget cuts turning to budget slashes and college campuses carrying the social weight of social justice trainings, what are you to do as a diversity programming board or campus activities advisor? It is a tough reality check that “doing more with less” doesn’t seem to answer. After working in Student Life for a decade, here are some free (yes, free!) suggestions on how to stretch the dollars you have left without looking further than your desk or adding something new to your in box.

It’s Not Just A Speaker Thing

As a diversity speaker myself, I will disclose a secret. You have to pinky swear not to tell anyone. Ok? Lean close… here it goes… You are already doing Diversity programming on your campus. Shhhh… don’t get so excited with your rebuttals, let me explain. On your campus, there are more than likely several departments that bring in speakers other than Campus Activities. Think about your academic departments, campus wide speaker series, alumni programming, etc. Campus Activities could co-sponsor (money) or co-market (visibility) with these programs. I encourage you to attend and bring your friends as well. Ask yourself when is the last time you attended (not worked) a program. You get to learn something too. Also, when working to bring in a speaker, bring in a diverse group of speakers that also speak to a wide audience. Does your relationship/safer sex program include LGBT relationships? Does your MLK Week speaker address sexism? Do you only bring in speakers of particular racial or ethnic groups during specific times of the year? If so, know that they can speak the other 11 months of the year on topics that are relevant to your campus too! Bringing in a speaker during their “off-peak” time actually can get you a discount on the program as well! This may see odd, but it is rarely done on campuses. I more often hear that additional programming is needed than I hear about groups supporting all of a campus’ initiatives and utilizing outsiders for a larger purpose.

It’s Not Just A New Thing

Take a second to jot down your university’s traditions, honor codes, and sayings. How can you use what the campus already rallies around to reach a broader audience with a more inclusive message? Take Homecoming, for example, and ask yourself how can you welcome back all of the students that make up your campus? What can you do to honor campus pride with non-traditional students, veterans, student parents, commuters, and those that don’t play or enjoy sporting events? Utilize current themes and mottos to paint broader strokes of inclusion for all voices that make up your campus community.

It’s Not Just A Space Thing

If you work on a campus that believes diversity or social justice programming is the responsibility of someone else, another department, or that a new student group needs to be formed first — I believe you are wrong. Use what you have. What if weekly discussion questions are posted on campus, in the student newspaper, or on dining hall tables? Could you start conversations — even difficult ones — and trust your community to have a dialog? If not, perhaps, offer ongoing programming or resources on self-reflection, authentic dialog, intergroup conversations utilizing groups and academic departments already in place. Lastly, take someone to lunch! Start a “take the other to lunch campaign” — folks gotta eat right? If you can give discussion prompts and teach people how to talk to one another – not about what they know they disagree on, but to listen and learn about the people themselves — you are building connections and community! Being as though I don’t work on one campus, I host open dialog conference calls every month and have found that by providing a space, folks from all over the country benefit from great conversations. Sharing and listening is FREE!

It’s Not Just An Outsider Thing

What I find most exciting about social justice programming, is that everything that you need is already around you. No store runs or t-shirts required! Look around your office, campus, local community and see what is already happening. Moreover, find out from other people’s perspectives what is happening. To see other’s experiences on your campus — you have to ask. Why not ask for comments on a blog or facebook page? You could even go really old school, and have a blank bulletin board with a prompting question to solicit people passing by feedback, thoughts, and comments. For example, “Where do you feel safest on campus?” and see where people identify. Then, do a conversation program there or at least contact the students, staff, faculty, and community members associated with that space. On one campus, I got disposable cameras donated and asked members of my campus community to take pictures of “social justice.” This was open ended and I got lots of images to share with the larger community about the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful realities of that campus. I eventually took all of the pictures and connected them together into a social justice blanket that we displayed on the campus activities center to generate further conversations. You don’t always have to bring someone in from the outside to get an inside view of your campus experience.

Take a good look at your programming and budget situation. Once you have access to your campus resources, traditions, and ongoing programming, make it a priority to incorporate voices that are silenced but have lived experiences that are marginalized by the majority-based story on your campus. Remember, social justice programming isn’t about doing something new or more with less. Social justice programming is about reaching a wider audience with broader strokes of reality, complexity, and intersectionality that make our campuses unique from one another.

Mission: DREAM Summer

Jose Luis ZelayaJose Luis Zelaya has decided to dedicate his summer to help high school students achieve dreams of higher education. He plans to travel around the country talking about the DREAM Act, legislation that would allow undocumented students who have grown up in the United the States the opportunity to give back to their communities. Please read his story and help support his dream if you can.

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Copyright 2015, Jessica Pettitt. Jessica Pettitt is the “diversity educator” your family warned you about. Through teaching, writing, and facilitating tough conversations, she has figured out how to BE the change she wants to BE. Now it is your turn!
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