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In the sphere of EID Actions Speak Louder than Words

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

Have you noticed an uptick in the number of incidents involving hate and bias, including racism, transphobia, anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant, etc.? Has an incident happened on your campus? In your community? What about in your sorority/fraternity or other organization to which you belong? Has it happened to a human you know? Or have you directly experienced an incident?

The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Riah Milton, Dominique "Rem'Mie" Fells, and Rayshard Brooks and countless others have ignited a movement and revealed the need for anti-racism and other equity, inclusion, and diversity (EID) education. The reality is that the countless number of incidents involving hate speech and bias incidents, including racism, transphobia, anti-immigrant, etc., on college campuses.

The Anti-Defamation League reports that in 2019 and 2020, there were 8,934 incidents of extremism or anti-Semitism in the United States. shared they explored over 400 alleged incidents reported to the Documenting Hate project, a database ProPublica established to capture information about hate crimes and bias incidents indicates that the actual number is likely closer to 250,000. Through interviews, police reports, public statements and media coverage, BuzzFeed News could confirm 154 of those incidents on more than 120 campuses across the country since the 2016 election. There was no rhyme or reason to any one type of institution or locality. Public, private, ivy-league, community colleges, institutions large and small have seen these types of incidents manifest. 1. Stop saying you’re “color-blind” – no, I’m not talking about the legal definition.

As I’ve traveled the country and spent time with students, I’ve heard a growing number of people begin to say things like, “I don’t see color, Suzette. I see the person.” Well, Friends, let’s break down the wrongness of that statement. Research shows, “it is nearly impossible not to notice race, especially the physical features of people of color” (Sue, 2015). In fact, “of all the dimensions of social categorization, psychologists overwhelmingly conclude that racial categorization and recognition are among the quickest and most automatic cognitive processing responses made by individuals” (Ito & Urland, 2003).

More importantly, when you say that, you’re essentially saying to individuals who identify as Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) that you don’t see them for who they are as humans. You’re saying whether intentional or not, that you aren’t recognizing those issues that impact BIPOC humans because of that aspect of their identity.

2. Commitments to equity, inclusivity, and diversity require self-reflection.

In distinguishing between diversity and inclusion, Verna Myers offered, "Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance." I would add that it’s being able to dance in one’s own, authentic style. It’s imperative that we spend time in self-reflection if we want to show up as an advocate, or work towards allyship in the social justice arena. Think about who you spend the most time with and who spends the most time with you. How much do you share in common with those individuals? What’s different? Have you thought about your own identities and whether they come with privilege?

As a White, Christian, able-bodied, heterosexual, married, cisgen, whose primary language is American-English, I have a number of identities that come with privilege. For our purposes, privilege is the concept that there are unearned advantages and opportunities that come to you because of your identity. Or, I use the definition that privilege is the idea that something is not a problem because it’s not a problem for you. It would be easy for me to go through life thinking that if you work hard, then the world is full of possibilities. While that is true to a certain extent, there are other identities that I have which place me in a marginalized group. I am a woman, was abused, experienced sexually harassment, grew up in a low-income area, and was the first in my immediate family to achieve a bachelor’s degree.

Understanding yourself provides the gateway to recognize potential for implicit bias, and places where you make assumptions. Engaging in this work increases our ability to recognize when voices are missing, or when people don’t feel able to show up as their authentic selves. If you move through the cycle, then you more freely engage in conversations to ensure a greater level of inclusion. You cannot be committed to diversity and not have done your own work to discover your biases and knowledge gaps.

3. Are you granting passive acceptance.

When was the last time you explored your personal say-do gaps? If you say that you value equity, diversity, and inclusion, strive for allyship, and/or you consider yourself “woke”, are you consistent in that space? Scroll through your social media, texts, or other spaces. Think about the jokes made in your presence that maybe you’ve laughed off. Have there been times when you’ve seen something and not said something?

Say-do gaps are where our actions directly conflict with the words we use to describe our values. About 10 years ago, I remember being in Denver, CO, for a conference. I went for a run downtown with one of my closest friends and colleague. She is one of the proudest Black women I know. She is unafraid and unapologetic. We spent a lot of time discussing race and equity issues at the institution where we both worked, and our mutual experiences after attending the same graduate school. While running, a White, homeless man yelled the n-word at her as we passed by him. I distinctly recall that moment. We both said nothing to the man, nor did we speak for the next block. I remember she stopped. I stopped. She said, “I think that’s an all-time low.” I stood there listening. I waited. She teared up. I hugged her. She got angry. I listened as she shared what it meant to her to have that happen. After some time passed, I apologized for also freezing in the moment. I could have said something and didn’t. I granted passive acceptance. It was a say-do gap moment for me. I had the responsibility to disrupt and interrupt.

We all experience say-do gaps. Those moments don’t necessarily define your character. However, what you do next, when you realize their existence – that’s a different story. Freeze is a natural response to stress, or conflict. We can strengthen our ability to show up differently in similar circumstances by spending time thinking about what we could/should say in those moments. Sitting down and thinking through the last week, tracking moments when you found yourself in a space where you let something “slide”, and considering how you might handle that differently. You see people are watching you. Those for whom you want to be an ally need to see your consistency. When you’re silent it speaks volumes.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, welcome to what it feels like to be awakened to the issues that students from marginalized backgrounds feel every day, likely on your campus. Don’t wait for an incident to happen on your campus or in your community you to move to action. Be ready. Remember, we are all works in progress.

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