Category Archives: SJC Special Messages

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Asco wequassunnúmmis Netompaûog (Hello, My Friends, in the language of the Narragansett People)

On October 12, the College will observe both Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Columbus Day. Holding these observances simultaneously in our consciousness requires some mental gymnastics, especially for those of us who understand the deeply problematic history of the United States in relation to Native people. To observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day absent a commitment to examining the status of those very people serves as a performative nod to the existence of Native people without concern for the issues facing Native people.

In the United States, Native people represent approximately two percent of the population. They are a diverse community of people with cultural norms that are expressed in a variety of ways. There are more than 550 tribes that have obtained federal recognition, which is supposed to support the sovereignty and self-determination of tribes as independent nations. There are many tribal communities with state recognition as well as communities who persist absent recognition from any government entities.

Sincerely,Wind Dancer (Sylvia, member of the Narragansett Nation)

Below Are Some Issues Affecting Native People in the United States

Education
Native students represent less than 1% of the students in the U.S., yet the dropout rate for these students is twice the national average, more than any other racial group. This dropout rate is often related to insufficient school funding in Native communities and the treatment of Native students in schools in predominately white communities. Only 17% of Native students continue their education after high school. The percentage of students who identify as “American Indian/Alaska Native” at Emerson is 0.1%.

Health Disparities
The life expectancy for Native people in the U.S. is 5.5 years less than the national average. According to the Indian Health Services, not only do Native people die at higher rates than people of other races, but they are disproportionately affected by diabetes, liver disease, homicide, and suicide. Tribes in the U.S. are currently disproportionately affected by COVD-19.

Land Disputes and Tribal Resources
Conflicts over tribal land began before the founding of the United States and continue today. Land disputes between tribes, states, and the federal government are often motivated by private interests in the natural resources on or near tribal land. Tribal lands have been exploited for economic gain and have threatened these areas with climate change effects. Tribes have fought in federal courts to retain their sovereign land rights, to preserve sacred lands and burial grounds, and to protect the environment for the generation to come.

Violence Against Native Women (Content Warning)
Native women are subject to violence at alarming rates. According to Indian Law Resource Center, “More than 4 in 5 Native women have experienced violence, and more than 1 in 2 have experienced sexual violence.” Department of Justice data suggests that 80% of the physical abuse and sexual assaults experienced by Native women are perpetrated by non-Native people. Throughout Canada and the U.S., a disproportionate number of Native women, including two-spirit and trans women, go missing or are murdered.

Loss of Native Language
Most Native people in the U.S. speak English. According to the Indigenous Language Institute, only 175 out of more than 300 native languages remain today. Many tribes are working to retain their native language and have launched language reclamation projects to help their communities keep their languages alive. It is predicted that without action to salvage the remaining languages, about 20 will be left by 2050. The founding director of the National Museum of the American Indian said, “Language is central to cultural identity. It is the code containing the subtleties and secrets of cultural life.”

Voting Rights
Although Native people have the right to vote, they are often unable to exercise that right due to the lack of accessible polling places in their areas. Additionally, many Native people on reservations are unable to register to vote because reservations don’t always use standard street addresses, which leads to their voting applications being rejected. Absent voting abilities, the interests of Native communities go unaddressed.

How You Can Support Native Communities

  • Take time to learn about indigenous history. Learn about the real history of Native people in the U.S. Find out what the real story of Thanksgiving is. You will be surprised and may think of your Thanksgiving gathering in a very different way.
  • Learn about the lives of Native communities through an indigenous lens. The history of Native people is often presented through the lens ofcolonizers, ignoring indigenous perspectives and experiences. Support Native people in claiming their right to tell their own stories.
  • Celebrate Native culture respectfully. Understand that cultural appropriation is a form of theft of culture and identity. Mascots and Halloween costumes are disrespectful and hurtful. If you value indigenous culture, find and buy goods from indigenous businesses, artists, and designers.
  • Support organizations advocating for Native communities. There are a number of organizations doing comprehensive advocacy work for indigenous communities. The National Indian Education Association and the National Indian Health Board are working in areas where inequities and inequality are most felt. The National Congress of American Indians does policy and advocacy work, focusing on collecting data to better serve indigenous populations.
  • Support the needs of your local tribes. The best way to have a meaningful impact is to let local tribes determine where your advocacy and activism is most helpful. For information about tribes in your area, please visit: https://500nations.com/500_Tribes.asp

Racial Justice and Survivor Advocacy

Pandemic, Protests, and the Redistribution of Power

The past four months have been a period of significant upheaval for people around the world, including the very communities in which we live, learn, and work. adrienne maree brown describes the pandemic as a period of compression, with those who are able to withdrawing from the world and going into the deep isolation of self-quarantine. adrienne suggests this compression, for some of us, resulted in a return to our truest natures, rediscovering who and what we value most in our lives. Some would say we have experienced a kind of spontaneous attunement to our higher and better selves.

And yet, this compression occurred against the backdrop of indisputable evidence of oppression, direct and structural violence, and systemic racism. We sit in the midst of a schism—a gap between what our higher selves want for our communities and the reality of the lived experiences of those in the margins. The result of this schism is rupture—the kind that creates disorder, shifts consciousness, and activates a desire for reclamation.

It is a time of reclaiming our bodies, our rights, our agency, our land, and our self-determination. This reclamation is revealing itself globally in the form of history-making protest. People around the world have taken to the streets to assert the rights of Black and African American people to exist in their fullest humanity. Many have realized that “none of us are free until all of us are free.” At the same time, the #MeToo movement has been re-energized and survivors are calling for individual and institutional accountability. They are naming names and daring others to live up to their promise of safety, care, and justice.

The pandemic has created an opening for transformative change. Who among us will step into co-creating the future of our deepest desires?

 
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Racial Justice at Emerson

Echoing POWER’s 2019 social media posts, blackatemerson, a new Instagram account, posed this simple question: “How have professors, administrators, and other Emersonians treated you?” In under a week’s time, over 115 students and alums, a majority who identify as Black or people of color, posted stories of their experiences at Emerson. These testimonies recount ongoing microaggressions, casual uses of the N-word, the fetishization and critique of Black women and their bodies, isolation from consistently being the only Black person in a setting, not seeing themselves reflected meaningfully in curricula, and expressions of what it feels like to be both hypervisible and invisible at the same time.

 

I am also seeing faculty and staff colleagues of color who carry the weight of supporting students of color, while also being tapped to guide their departments on diversity. All of this is occurring while they struggle to make sense of the ongoing murder and horrible treatment of people who look just like them. The emotional burden carried by students, faculty, and staff of color is tremendous, and yet they continue to do their best work in the context of an environment that every day reminds them that it wasn’t built for them.

This week, I was surprised by a message forwarded to me by a colleague at another institution, a place where I worked for five years. The letter was signed by the Board of Trustees, the President, and all members of the senior leadership team. Here are some of the commitments that college is making in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and their community’s call for racial justice:

  • Express support for movements across the nation to put an end to systemic racism, and join with them to say that Black Lives Matter and racial injustice must end.
  • Make implicit bias training mandatory for all students, faculty, and staff with commitment from the Board of Trustees to participate in the training.
  • Expand curriculum in areas addressing racial injustice, systemic racism, and institutionalized inequality.
  • Provide funding for recruitment and retention of faculty and staff of color and for Employee Resource Networks (affinity groups) to strengthen recruitment and retention.
  • Institute comprehensive exit interviews with departing faculty and staff of color to identify common themes, and begin an enhanced retention plan.
  • Increase access to therapists of color and ensure they understand race-based trauma.
  • Review and update training and policies for campus police to ensure empathetic, equitable, and just standard operating procedures.
  • Expect to be held accountable for their actions and not to expect colleagues of color—who for too long have shouldered the hard work—to lead this alone.

Only time will tell what actually happens at that institution. Maybe their commitments will lead to real and lasting change and maybe they won’t. Nonetheless, I can’t help but ask what we are willing to do at Emerson to make it the place that represents the aspirations of our better selves?

 
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Where To Begin?

Begin at the beginning by reflecting on your own beliefs and actions. Examine the ways you might be benefitting from the status quo. Then assess the norms, policies, practices of your program, your organization, your department, your office,  or your division for the existence of anti-racist practices. If you don’t know what that is referring to or you don’t see any of these practices present, then you know where to begin your work. Here are some thought-provoking resources. Warning: These resources are pointed and direct. They will make you uncomfortable. If they don’t, then you aren’t really doing the work.

Scaffolded Anti-Racist Resources: http://bit.ly/ScaffoldedAntiRacistResources

A word for White People, in Two Parts by adrienne maree brown: http://adriennemareebrown.net

The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture: https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/white-supremacy-culture-characteristics.html

 
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Survivor Advocacy and the Importance of Knowing The Landscape

This past week, I have seen a surge in community concern and survivor advocacy about power-based interpersonal violence (PBIV) and the College’s response. Questions were raised about climate in student organizations and the College’s ability to hold student leaders accountable for harms they have caused.

Survivor advocacy is critically important. Not only does it play a role in community accountability, it also serves as a powerful catalyst for change. It was survivor advocacy that sparked the review of College processes in 2014, leading to a detailed Sexual Misconduct Policy, the hire of a full-time Title IX Coordinator, and the creation of the Healing & Advocacy Collective (formerly Violence Prevention & Response). It was survivor advocacy in 2019 that resulted in a Presidential Working Group charged with examining the “sexual misconduct ecosystem” among students. This current wave of advocacy has the potential to result in continued institutional as well as cultural change at Emerson.

As you push forward, please know that survivor advocacy is most effective when grounded in deep knowledge of the landscape, including what the laws and regulations allow and what they limit, what the scope of any relevant policies are, who has responsibility for what, as well as where power is exercised and by whom. As you work to address concerns, look for the root causes of issues by asking yourself why something is occurring. The first answer you come up with is never the root cause. Continue to ask why. Here are some places to start in understanding the landscape:

 
NINE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT TITLE IX AT EMERSON COLLEGE
  1. Title IX is a federal regulation that prohibits sex discrimination in educational settings that receiving federal funding. Power-based interpersonal violence (PBIV) has historically fallen under these regulations. The regulations will change on August 14, 2020. See: New Title IX Regulations Overview at bit.ly/sjcmessages
  2. The College must comply with Title IX regulations or risk loss of federal funding. This funding comes largely in the form of financial aid. 
  3. The Sexual Misconduct Policy outlines how reports of PBIV will be addressed by Emerson. See: www.emerson.edu/policies/sexual-misconduct 
  4. The policy does not cover what occurs within student organizations or the student leadership processes. Student orgs are governed by SEAL (www.emerson.edu/seal) and student staff positions are under the purview of many departments across the College.
  5. In most instances, Emerson’s Title IX Coordinator will not launch an investigation into a report of PBIV without the participation and agreement of the person who has been affected by the harm.
  6. The Title IX Coordinator is only one of many people at Emerson responsible for the addressing reports of PBIV, the provision of accommodations or supports to people who have been harmed, and the implementation of actions to increase the safety of individuals or the campus community. See Eco-Map for Student-on-Student PBIV at https://bit.ly/sjcmessages,
    which details the range of individuals who may have an influence on what occurs in response to a report.
  7. The Title IX Coordinator does not conduct the actual investigation of reports of PBIV. Investigations are conducted by an internal or external investigator assigned to a case.
  8. The Title IX Coordinator does not have the authority to impose sanctions on any member of the community. Student sanctions are imposed by a Sanction Panel. Faculty and Staff sanctions are imposed in accordance with Appendix B of the SMP. See: www.emerson.edu/policies/sexual-misconduct#AppendixB
  9. Most importantly, despite efforts to develop trauma-informed processes and to conduct trauma-informed investigations, this process will never be sufficiently supportive of the people involved. It is a process dictated by federal regulations that was created in the likeness of a flawed legal system.
If you or someone you know has been affected by power-based interpersonal violence, please feel free to contact Greta or Melanie in the Healing & Advocacy Collective by email: advocate@emerson.edu

Juneteenth

"Juneteenth" written vertically

June 19 is recognized by many in the United States as Juneteenth, the date that marked the “end of slavery.” Although Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which legally freed those who were enslaved, in January of 1863, slavery continued in Texas until the arrival of the Union Army in Galveston, and an order from General Granger was issued, finally freeing those who were enslaved on June 19, 1865. This holiday, sometimes called “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day,” received its name by combining June and 19. African American communities continue to observe Juneteenth through celebrations and other festivities.

This year, Juneteenth is resonating deeply across the United States in far-reaching and new ways due to the wide-spread protests in reaction to the murders of Black people and the corresponding heightened calls for racial justice. People are calling out the ongoing and insidious nature of oppression, white supremacy, and injustice in our society. For some people, this is a moment of awakening to what has been the experience of the Black community throughout the history of the United States.

Today, the media is filled with renewed calls for the creation of a national holiday, the colors of liberation – black, red, and green – are lighting up bridges, and some businesses and universities have declared Juneteenth as a day of observance and reflection. These gestures may be symbolically meaningful, however, observances and reflection alone are woefully insufficient.

Echoing President Pelton’s recent piece, “America is on Fire,” I also pose the question:

What are you going to do?
– Sylvia Spears, VP for Equity & Social Justice

Moving With Deep Intention and Care

Dear Members of the Emerson Community,

We are writing to you following this weekend of widespread mass protests and community organizing mourning the murders of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee, Nina Pop, and so many individuals whose names do not make headlines in ways that reach collective consciousness. Each of these murders is devastating and now they are happening in the midst of an ongoing pandemic that is disproportionately harming Black, Brown, Indigenous, and immigrant communities.

The violence of racism, white supremacy, and other forms of systemic oppression is a continuing crisis that becomes hypervisible in public moments like this. In this accelerated time, we ask for patience and understanding as we move slowly, with deep intention, thoughtfulness, and care for the ways these ongoing and recent events are also close to home for us, and disorganize the cells of our bodies and the rhythms of our lives. In this intensified moment, we are working daily, both to address acute and persistent harm, as well as to celebrate the resiliency, dignity, and beauty of our communities.

In the days and weeks to come, we will continue to create ways to hold space with communities. We will share more information in the near future.

If you are currently looking for ways to engage in allyship and solidarity, we encourage you to use the many resources that people have already created explaining white supremacy, structural violence, and how to build an anti-racist practice instead of asking individuals and communities of color to do more labor to help create understanding or give guidance on what to do. You can find some of these resources compiled at https:/linktr.ee/sjc, as well as watch or read the transcripts of SJC LIVE on anti-racist practice and power, violence, and institutional betrayals. In addition, we are regularly sharing information, links, and art reflecting the brilliance of our communities on Facebook and instagram.

The Social Justice Center

Special Message – March 25, 2020

Dear Members of the Emerson Community,

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 was officially reported to the World Health Organization on December 31, reports of racist and xenophobic acts against Asians have increased substantially. Last month, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “The coronavirus epidemic has set off a disturbing wave of prejudice against people of Chinese and East Asian ethnicity.” Since Michelle Bachelet’s remarks in late February, reports of xenophobia have continued to increase. Let’s be clear: COVID-19 is not a Chinese virus or a foreign virus. It is a virus deeply affecting communities around the world.

It is our collective responsibility to be in solidarity with people affected by racism and xenophobia. We must do more than appreciate the community messages sent by others or “like” social media posts that denounce racist acts. As one Emerson student said years ago, “I have the receipts…all of the messages that have been sent about racist acts and yet we are still experiencing racism.” We must interrupt racist and xenophobic acts wherever and whenever they occur.

We must also recognize and honor the people who are still working outside of their homes in support of all of us. Let us do what is necessary to truly be in solidarity with others. Let our actions speak more than our words.

Sincerely,

Sylvia
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Here are some of the things we can all do:
  1. Speak up if you hear racist or xenophobic remarks and let people know the behavior is not acceptable. Concerns about COVID-19 are no excuse for racist behavior. We will speak up and you can, too.
  2. Be an active bystander in solidarity with people from racialized and marginalized groups. If you can do so safely, interrupt harassment whether you witness it in person or online.
  3. Express dissent if you notice something in the news or on social media that reflects racism and xenophobia. Draft a letter to the editor, leave a comment, or report it. At Emerson, you can share your experience anonymously to the Social Justice Center at www.emerson.edu/bias. You can also report incidents targeting Asians to the Asian Pacific Planning & Policy Council through their online reporting center: www.asianpacificpolicyandplanningcouncil.org/stop-aapi-hate 
  4. Do your own work by deepening your knowledge of anti-racist practices. For a starting place, check out the Catalyst Project’s 15 Ways to Strengthen Anti-Racist Practices at: https://collectiveliberation.org/15-ways-to-strengthen-anti-racist-practice
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Friday, March 27, Noon
SJC Launches Facebook Live Series on Deepening Anti-Racist Practices
In support of community, the Social Justice Center will be hosting short live video talks about growing your own anti-racist practice. The talks will take place on Fridays at noon Eastern Time, with the first introductory talk launching this Friday, March 27, via Facebook Live at: www.facebook.com/socialjusticectr
 
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Poster for "Coronavirus: Wisdom from a Social Justice Lens"Coronavirus: Wisdom from a Social Justice Lens from Irresistible, formerly known as the Healing Justice Podcast.
“We’re bringing you medical information, invocations, grounding practices and dialogue from the March 7, 2020 webinar: COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Preparation for People Living with Chronic Illnesses in the United States. Unlike much of what we’re seeing in the media and public discussion, the virtual gathering—organized in a week’s time—centered the wisdom and life experiences of people who live with chronic illnesses and disability.”
Podcast and transcript at: https://irresistible.org/podcast/corona

"Haymarket books" written on rainbow background

Ten Free E-Books from Haymarket Books
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Available until April 1 at: https://www.haymarketbooks.org
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Social Justice Center

Emerson College
(617) 824-8528