By: Ravae Duhaney
This February, my preschoolers joined their peers across the country to celebrate Black History Month. Though we celebrate the accomplishments of African-Americans every week, that month is special. We engaged in a Black Musician Study, with students investigating instruments, genres, and artists, reading books on Black musical legends, and comparing their lives to our own. A lot of these books are set in the past and focus on the hardships of segregation and unfair treatment.
Recently, during a read aloud about Ray Charles and the challenges he faced as a person of color, one of my students exclaimed, “I don’t like white people!” I seized this as an extremely important teachable moment. We went on to discuss why he felt that way, why his emotions were justified, and why he shouldn’t discriminate or generalize an entire group of people, the way people had against Charles. We thought about people in our school who care about us, help us, and happen to have white skin. This reminded me that if three, four, and five-year olds are able to comprehend hatred and disgust, the pain that is soaring through older children and adults across the country, especially in light of recent events, could not be more searing.
In the face of these realities, we have no time to waste. This school year marked the first in which the majority of public school students are minorities. Our generation has a responsibility to work to ensure that each and every one of them is moving through a system that affirms their identities, shows them they’re valued, and allows them access to the opportunities they have been denied for far too long.
While the “whites only” signs of the 60s have come down, the reality of separate and unequal endures. Alongside glaring gaps in educational, employment and economic opportunity, people of color in this nation face a variety of subtler, no less damaging assumptions. A successful black lawyer hears whispers of affirmative action. A young black boy on a corner is seen as “lurking,” while his white peers “hang out.” A black college student is asked to give “the black perspective” to a seminar full of white students who are never asked to speak on behalf of their entire race.
When my kids hear or see these injustices happen to the people they know and love, they think about what it means for their own futures. Recently, a male student in my class stated “I want dreads when I grow up,” to which a female student responded “you gonna go to jail.” My heart dropped. My co-teacher and I were shocked and saddened to see the stereotypes so internalized in these four- and five-year-old hearts. Leaving school that day, I knew I had to work even harder to affirm their self-worth and the value of our history.
I joined Teach For America to help students who look like me — plain and simple. But now that I’m in the classroom, I’ve found that my students are helping me just as much as I am helping them. At such a young age, they reflect the honesty and challenges of the world, and help me to understand how the world perceives people that look like me and how I perceive myself. They help me to recognize the magnitude of the educational inequity, lack of opportunities, and institutionalized racism across America. And they help me to see the importance of having caring, dedicated individuals fighting these injustices in the classroom.
We have a long way to go as a country before we truly achieve justice for all. To fix the systemic oppression that has created the gross inequality of the present will take the hard, dedicated work of countless leaders and changemakers. We must work toward these long-term changes as well as the immediate, urgent opportunities to change the way our students view themselves and their futures.
As teachers, we can play a central role in this. Every day, we can remind our kids that their thoughts, ideas, identities and opinions are important. We can share our own stories so that when our kids look to the front of the room, they see a little bit of themselves reflected back. We can remind them that they matter, that they always have and that they always will.
Ravae Duhaney is a 2012 graduate of UMBC and Teach For America-Chicago alum. She teaches Pre-Kindergarten at Herzl School of Excellence in Chicago.
Compiled by the Retriever Weekly Senior Staff
Demand better from chapters engaged in wrongdoing, but don’t group all fraternities together
Last weekend, The national fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) found itself at the center of controversy concerning misconduct by some of its members. A video capturing some of its members making racist chants has revived debates about the culture of college fraternities across the country.
A video surfaced on Youtube and Twitter depicting members of SAE’s University of Oklahoma chapter chanting racial slurs against African Americans. The young men in the video chant “There will never be a n***** in SAE, You can hang ‘em from a tree but they’ll never sign with me, There will never be a n***** in SAE.”
Their actions have provoked condemnation from various parties. Brad Cohen, the organization’s national president, asserted that “ “I was not only shocked and disappointed but disgusted by the outright display of racism in the video.” David Boren the University of Oklahoma’s president, called the video’s contents “reprehensible and contrary to all of our values.”
Outcry over the incident has progressed to constructive action as well. Students at the University of Oklahoma have protested on campus in the days following the video’s release. The university has expelled two students found to have led the chant in the video.
Unfortunately, fraternities have been involved in reprehensible misconduct before. At times, this has involved racism and bigotry. In other cases, it has involved sexual assault or excessive hazing. In the eyes of some, these problems stem from faults within the overriding culture of fraternities themselves.
Yet it is important to note that not all Greek life organizations engage or tolerate such abhorrent actions. Nor can any one fraternity, SAE included, be broadly associated with hazing, racism, or sexual misconduct. To claim such would be unfair to individual fraternity chapters that instead demonstrate upstanding character.
Susan DuMont, who has worked as Coordinator of Student Life for UMBC’s Greek life, pointed to her own experiences working with UMBC chapters to support this point. She pointed to UMBC’s own SAE chapter as an example, saying that “the UMBC chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon certainly does not need to be taught not to use racially charged hate speech.”
DuMont also emphasized the importance of diversity in UMBC’s fraternities and sororities, saying that “Our Greek Community is almost exactly reflective of the diversity in the student body.”
Across college campuses, many fraternities have worked to address and prevent the sort of wrongdoing that has surrounded their counterparts. The University of Utah’s Phi Gamma Delta chapter recently met with Latino students to proactively discuss race and identity issues. At Dartmouth, fraternities have held campus forums to prevent campus sexual assault and have incorporated bystander intervention training into recruitment and rushing.
Other chapters have have gone beyond addressing on-campus issues and have expanded a constructive imprint in their communities. Many fraternities engage in service projects within their surrounding communities or focus their efforts to highlight ongoing social issues.
The solution to addressing misconduct among fraternities may not be to condemn or demand change from fraternities as whole. This unfairly groups all fraternities and their individual chapters together, regardless of their actual conduct. A more constructive strategy may be to demand greater accountability from chapters individually.
Campuses themselves may have a major role to play in this regard. As DuMont conceded, “the challenge is offering the education and intervention that each chapter needs and offices can only respond to what they know about.” Student bodies then could foster the overriding culture that demands accountability from its Greek life organizations on each campus.
Advanced registration for classes can cause issues
Advanced registration too early for students who do not know class grades for planning of the next semester.
Planning in advance is a useful skill — practicing it means students are more prepared, and can make more practical decisions. However, advance planning without appropriate knowledge is useless. For UMBC students, this nightmare is cyclical, occurring every semester when the time comes to sign up for classes – and it’s made more difficult by how early registration takes place.
Registration for the next semester takes place a little more than halfway through the semester. Many students have just barely taken the second exam in many of their classes. They more than likely don’t have a good idea of the grade they will get in the class, nor do they know what their next semester’s extra-curricular commitments are going to be.
The registrar’s office at UMBC sends out the mass reminders to sign up for classes very early on in the semester, way before students can actually sign up for classes. All these registration reminders and the signing up for classes take place too early in the semester, leaving students nervous and still unprepared.
This semester, the reminders were sent out at the very beginning of March. Students are not allowed to register until the end of March or the beginning of April. This reminder is too far before the time that is necessary to talk to advisors.
This uncertainty makes it extremely difficult to predict what classes the student will need for the next semester. This means that all the advance planning in the world does not do much for the students beyond engendering frustration.
According to Steven Smith, university registrar, these policies are in place because, “there are things that students must do prior to the actual first registration date. For example, contacting the advisor, reviewing the degree audit, meeting with the advisor to get registration clearance, and reviewing the published course schedule prior to your registration appointment.”
These things do not take a month. It seems like an allotted time span of a week or two would not only remedy some issues with student frustration, but by placing more rigid time constraints on students, it could help them remember to get all of these tasks done.
Smith said, “Registration at this time of the year allows students to deal with creating their schedules prior to the time-crunch that students face at the end of the term.” And yet, students get annoyed with these policies more than they seem to help.
Rivka Arno, a freshman computer science major said, “it’s really annoying. The signing up really early just makes things frustrating because it’s so far in advance; your other plans for the next semester aren’t yet in place. You don’t know whether you’ll have a different job, an internship or anything.”
Advance planning is useful. It helps students manage their time better. However, too far in advance, it is unrealistic to expect students to predict classes and time management for the next semester. UMBC should consider pushing off registration, as well as delaying the reminders for registration.
Email scandal could spell trouble for Clinton’s future
The timeline surrounding Hillary Clinton’s email scandal details something of from an episode of House of Cards, and any political scandal ripe enough for good television doesn’t spell good fortune for a presidential nominee.
On March 3, The New York Times revealed that Hillary Clinton has used a private email account for professional business in the past.
Upon swearing in as Secretary of State in 2009, she was informed by State Department that certain emails should be retained and official communication systems were not mandatory, but “preferred” as to dispel any suspicion regarding her business.
The private email (email@example.com, according to Gawker) was allegedly just as secure as her professional email. During a press conference on March 10, Clinton claimed that she “fully complied with every rule [she] was governed by.”
“I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email,” she said. “There is no classified material.”
Since Sidney Blumenthal, a former aide to President Bill Clinton, uncovered the email address, speculation has arisen regarding what she could’ve used it for. To these, Hillary claims that “others had done it,” a statement which brings speculation in onto itself. However, Mercury News recently revealed that she’s “the first Secretary of State to have conducted all official government business on a private email address.”
One can only imagine House of Cards characters Zoe Barnes and Lucas Goodwin exchanging emails with Blumenthal in a vaguely monochromatic office.
Clinton’s scandal, reminiscent of a Frank Underwood fiasco, doesn’t spell good news for her campaign in 2016. While some experts claim it may not affect her stance as a democratic nominee, this may force some voters to reconsider how well they know this potential leader of the free world.
Republicans and the far left have long criticized the Clintons for being largely self-serving and opportunistic, and this email scandal does nothing to soften these criticisms as Hillary’s response only further fuels them.
Her vocal support of Israel’s military operations in Gaza during the summer of 2014 and active pursuance of “capitalistic feminism” also helped paint this image of a conniving Hillary Clinton who’s ultimately in this – whatever this may be – for herself. Two questions remain: What exactly did Clinton use this email for, and is a self-serving president fit for the White House?
A critical approach to political correctness and the First Amendment
It appears that the Western world is locked into an ideological war with extremists as terrorist groups, such as ISIS, have begun targeting cartoonists, journalists and filmmakers. Because of this, “political correctness” has become vogue whether it’s being argued for or against — maybe we’re having the wrong argument.
A few weeks ago, a friend asked for my opinion on Jonathan Chait’s article “Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say” in New York Magazine. The essence of the piece chastised left-wingers and social justice advocates for how they’ve reacted to ideological differences. He lists journalists who’ve been attacked for publishing satire or some belief that didn’t correlate with their own philosophy.
While the article was full of holes, he did succeed in highlighting a relevant issue within the U.S.: the consequences associated with freedom of speech.
Political correctness is defined as the avoidance of language which insults or excludes marginalized groups of people. However, the majority of us, in our own manners of speech and daily conversations, land somewhere in-between, naturally leaning towards either side.
What makes this spectrum difficult to navigate is how fuzzy the barriers from political correctness to bigotry are. We live in an experimental nation with increasingly complex racial/sexual relations, so unless bigotry is spelled out for the everyman, it’s deemed acceptable or, more often, goes unnoticed.
The issue occurs when rights are misunderstood.
The First Amendment goes as follows:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
Only the government is prohibited from impeding on what you can or cannot say.
Regardless, most civilians believe that freedom of speech prohibits others from critiquing or reacting towards what they’ve said. They believe the First Amendment states “You can say whatever you want and others just have to deal with it,” which is a very flawed assumption.
No right is devoid of consequences. While you may be able to post “Women are stupid” on Facebook, others can critique your opinion on the spot. You could also easily break your company’s morality clause with such hate speech, and it would be within their right to fire you if this status were to go viral.
The terror acts listed by Chait are extreme and very illegal, but these groups are still conflated with the marginalized groups they’ve risen from. ISIS is the prime example as they’re driven by a fanatical, violent version of the much-maligned “Muslim doctrine.”
And so, when famed provocateurs such as Charlie Hebdo aim to attack ISIS or al Qaeda with harsh cartoons of Mohammed they inadvertently attack the entirety of Islam, including many civilians who encounter Islamophobia on a daily basis. When men’s rights activists attack radical feminists, they harm liberal feminists, sexual assault victims and countless others in the process. When you attack a minority within a minority, you harm the majority of the minority.
There’s no excuse for how marginalized groups are kept marginalized thanks to citizens like Chait who brush off any idea too far towards the left without examining why these extremists found this work offensive. Those claiming President Obama is initiating a politically-correct war on terror after saying “We are not at war with Islam — we are at war with people who have perverted Islam” put more energy into criticizing his approach rather than understanding why this distinction was so imperative.
People can say whatever they please, but they need to be mindful of what you say. Our society is run on ideas. Our opinion is a powerful cog in this rusty machine, and it will always contribute to some greater agenda of which you may or may not be cognizant.