Social Justice Discussions in #SAchat

by Niki Messmore

Social justice (the process and goal of dismantling systemic inequities) is performed and discussed in a variety of methods within the professional field of higher education and student affairs. An emerging avenue of social justice education is social media, including Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. Erica Thompson of the ACPA Digital Task Force approached me to ask about proven practices in social justice with digital technology and I’ve been reflecting on the overall status of student affairs and SJ education online. This reflection will include a case study: my observations related to the posting of a blog post titled “Why I Feel White Folks Shouldn’t Run Multicultural Affairs” by Jerad Green.

If we were all on Larry Wilmore’s The Nightly Report segment “Keep It 100” and the question was “Is student affairs fully committed to social justice?” I’d throw bags of weak tea at anyone who said “Yes”.

Although social justice is an espoused value of student affairs and can be found within the ACPA & NASPA Professional Competencies, we are still working towards bettering our policies, curriculum for graduate students, professional development, and more towards fully embracing social justice. There’s a lot that can be done.

One way we can further our progress? Social media.

CASE STUDY

On January 21, 2015 Jerad Green posted the above-mentioned blog post on the Student Affairs Collective, a website that originated the #sachat weekly chats and backchannel for folks within the field to post thoughts, articles, questions and to connect with one another. Green’s blog post led to a flurry of activity on Twitter that demonstrates how SA professionals connect on social justice topics in a public forum.

Observations:

  • White Fragility: “White fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves”, a term coined by Robin DiAngelo. White fragility was very real following Green’s blog post. There were a number of white student affairs professionals from various backgrounds and time in the field who reacted defensively. Some comments included: believing it was unfair that someone could deny them a job based upon the color of their skin and bringing in their other marginalized identities to demonstrate personal expertise on understanding racism.
  • Coded Racism: There were comments from white professionals that stated Green’s post was “reckless”, someone should have helped him write a “more appropriate” article, and they were worried for Green’s professional future for writing the piece. These tweets are examples of a (subconscious?) maintenance of institutionalized racism and a push for respectability politics. They do not acknowledge that Green had the right to engage in storytelling of his own experiences and perspectives…even though it is critical to hear the perspectives of people of color on issues related to multicultural offices in higher education.
  • Dissonance and Personal Growth: There were individuals who displayed resistance to this idea that race matters in selecting multicultural directors and engaged in a colorblindness approach. However, after interacting on Twitter with the author and others, the were resistant individuals who demonstrated growth in better understanding where the blog post was coming from.
  • A Continued Conversation: It can be difficult to have follow-up on social media conversations. As we have began to see the national cry for justice in the wake of the events in Ferguson dissipate, folks are often looking for the next shiny thing to discuss. However, writing response blogs is a good way to keep the conversation going. Dr. Dafina-Lazarus Stewart, Associate Professor of higher education and student affairs at BGSU, wrote an excellent response blog post that captured multiple sides of the topic.

In many ways, engaging in social justice discussions on social media is similar to other methods of communication. There are risks, certainly. It is very easy for message tone to be misinterpreted and the format (especially Twitter) is incredibly limited. One concern is that SJ topics often require nuance and it is difficult to pack everything one needs to have an educated exchange of ideas in 140-character tweets. Additionally, folks are sometimes worried about their professional reputation since social media is a public forum and there may be repercussions for their statements.

On the benefits of SJ discussions on social media, it does allow for professional development with colleagues around the world and help to break folks from the bubble of their own office/institution. Overall, I believe it creates a forum for a topic that is often ignored in higher education and provides easier access to educational opportunities.

What do you think? Is it beneficial to engage in social justice discussions on Twitter hashtags like #sachat? Or is it more harm than good?

Tweet me at @NikiMessmore with your thoughts!

 

 

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Social Justice Discussions in #SAchat