We are living in turbulent times. Coronavirus, lockdown, the death of George Floyd, the global Black Lives Matter movement, the climate crisis and the growth of fascism are all issues that have awakened our social consciousness in recent months. We all have a responsibility to act on these concerns, students most of all. Below are some of the many ways that Trinity students can make campus more inclusive and become more active in confronting prejudice, discrimination and oppression in their academic and social lives.
Think Critically in the Classroom
Whether you’re studying the humanities or STEM, the driving force behind your education and your lecturer’s PowerPoint slides is critical thinking. Every institution, system and mode of thought is prone to biases. It is therefore crucial that we question everything. If we consider our academic institution to be infallible, we fail it and fail those of marginalised groups whose voices are decentred. In questioning your education, you are embodying its highest aspirations.
Largely homogenous academic institutions decide what and who is important enough to study, exalt and remember, often leading to the complete absence of marginalised voices. Therefore, one must question the canon. If your reading lists contain only the works of white men, apply the critical thinking that your college education is supposed to be teaching you: is there a gap in representation because women, BIPOC and queer thinkers really achieved nothing in the subject that you’re studying?
Despite the discomfort, we need to call out exclusion for what it is: racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism. Ask these questions of your professors and TAs. It may feel uncomfortable – aggressive even – but instead of trusting your university to be above the oppression and exclusion that is endemic in society, trust that your lecturer will be able to handle it and treat your point with respect. It is, quite literally, their job.
This may seem like a pretty weighty ask, but it really can work – particularly when we consider how women in academia, students and outside movements have started to shift the narrative. Although this is a positive development, it’s time that we expand this progress and make our modules and degrees inclusive to more than the work of white men and women.
Think Critically in Conversation
Apply this critical thinking outside the classroom – at home, in societies, in clubs. Call out those who are prejudiced. In recent years, and especially during the coronavirus pandemic, the online world has become the preeminent site for debate and activism. The online comment section represents a strange little universe where we are probably more exposed to people of differing opinions than everyday life, but where both the screen, anonymity and disagreements means that people are, well – let’s just say not at their best. Although it may be tempting, it is important to remember that if someone says something vitriolic, hateful or uninformed, do not indulge in pettiness.
In your journey towards inclusivity, you’re trying to be a good representative to a broader audience. Stick to facts and keep level-headed arguments. Throw some educational resources their way. If you roast and shame them, they’re more likely to become even further entrenched in their world view. There’s a very good chance that you’re not going to convince them, but at least you can be a representative to everyone else scrolling through. It’s frustrating but, in order to be inclusive, you must take the high ground.
Be Social and Accommodating Online
Unfortunately, inclusion does not just happen overnight. Societies are a big part of the college experience, where groups of people with similar interests come together and potentially make friends for life. This, however, is not always the case if someone feels excluded from a society because of an insensitive comment made by a committee member or an inaccessible event that makes them feel different because they have a disability.
Societies have the power to promote inclusion by engaging in the inclusion training provided for the executive committee members. Attending the training is one thing, but putting it into practice by all members is the most important part of the process. So, if you are on a society committee, consider creating and implementing an accessibility or inclusion officer who can help make all of its members feel welcome and included. If they have any questions, they can check in with the Ability Co-op.
Today, with the additional complications of coronavirus and the online world, one might think “well, at least this Zoom quiz night is in an accessible location” if it is taking place in the comfort of their own homes and not in a room on the top floor of House 6. Although this might be true in terms of physical disabilities, this could fail to accommodate students with sensory or mental health disabilities. When organising an online event, ask yourself “can we provide subtitles?” and “how can we ensure students with anxiety feel included?”. Consider using online platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Google Meets that provide automatic captioning, and have a committee member check in with more quiet students.
Watch What You Watch
In your free time, think about what you interact with: don’t whitewash your cinema experience. It needs to be stressed that not every black film you watch has to be 13th, 12 Years a Slave, or 42. In fact, they shouldn’t be. Everyone should respect the brutal history of black people and should have a sense of the current-day black struggle, but to only explore black cinema to see iterations of those themes doesn’t give you a grasp on the full spectrum of modern black culture and identity.
First and foremost, movie-goers are meant to be entertained – to seek entertainment for entertainment’s sake. Your entire life you have watched films to relax. Don’t treat watching a film with black people involved like it’s an education or a chore – approach it as you always do. Going to watch Black Panther can be approached the same way as watching any other new Marvel film, and its messages can be accepted just as those in Captain America are. Moreover, a rom-com with black people in it is just a rom-com.
The casual exposure to a wide spectrum of characters who also happen to be black will help rupture the stereotypical bubble that black characters are commonly stuck in. And how better to get an accurate portrayal of black people than to watch films directed by them. Films with black directors, such as Jordan Peele’s Get Out, offer the same refreshing perspective on what it is to be a person, in the same way that Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird and its depiction of actual teenage girls was a relief to women everywhere.
Diversify Your Book Pile
The nuance conveyed through literature can provide a much deeper understanding of a situation completely alien to our own circumstances. Reading books about and authored by people whose experiences are beyond your own will grant you access to an array of perspectives on struggles that other forms of entertainment and education can oversimplify.
Zadie Smith’s On Beauty provides insight into forms of racism that shift according to class and community, and artistically addresses how race and money pervade every social scene while also portraying the fluidity of racism – by doing so, it reveals how contrived it is. Just Walk On By by Brent Staples is another must-read. Awareness of blackness is a two-way street, and Staples perfectly illustrates the measures black people go to in everyday life to redefine the archetype of violence that is attributed to the colour of their skin.
If you can accept the phrase “history is written by the victors” but not “black history has been erased” you are being glaringly inconsistent. To study history completely is to understand that there are no victors. A complete history contains a multitude of perspectives from all people. To neglect a perspective is to disregard the impact of the interconnectivity of a population and, in doing so, makes influence relative. To make an influence relative is to name a victor. Therefore, the goal of gaining a complete understanding of our world and how our own situation came to be involves incorporating and analysing every perspective with equal weight – including the perspectives of those who were oppressed.
For the sake of education itself, much less the principles of inclusivity, it is crucial to attend and participate in Trinity’s Black Studies Module. It will broaden students’ exposure and understanding of the different forms of cultural influence. This module, and the discourse it encourages, will help guide students’ efforts to address racism. Because even if you haven’t personally experienced or witnessed oppression, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
Start Talking Racial Politics
When we discuss politics, racial tensions and their effects on political developments need to be included. To achieve insight into the implementation of political reform, we must identify all variables – and race is a variable we cannot continue to ignore. Reading works and publications by Hubert Harrison, a black philosopher who paved the way for people like Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey, is a must for this.
By highlighting what we ignore, these philosophies can bridge the gap between what we are affected by and what we can change. The socio-political upset we see today is not a new phenomenon and we must understand previous attempts to challenge this imbalance of power if we wish to understand why we are in yet another paradigm of the same movement – and thereby, hopefully, make up for those shortcomings for the last time.
In order to unify our intersectional activism, the solutions we propose must be devised with historical hindsight and be shaped by social variables. As we discuss politics, we must discuss race, class, gender, disability, opportunity and other social variables – this is necessary if we wish to gain a thorough understanding of how political structures affect our current society and what kind of people it takes to govern them fairly.
Change on campus won’t happen if we stay silent. It may be daunting to “rock the boat” and easier to leave it as it is. But you have to remember that you pay for your education: would you keep a product you are unhappy with, or would you return it for a product that meets all of your needs? We all have the power to drive change – starting an online petition or even sending a simple email complaint to a lecturer about a paper being ableist, racist, homophobic or sexist is a step in the right direction.
Want to keep being inclusive easy? Be kind. The world is scary enough with everything going on – the last thing a student wants to worry about is being removed from a group chat or excluded just because they are considered “different” or not as outspoken as others. We are all in this together, and we can all make a difference and change for the better, big or small. The best time to act? Now.