Real and Symbolic Violence

We continue to see real race –related violence. Just over a year ago, we witnessed the incident took Michael Brown’s life and then learned about the systemic economic policy targeting African-Americans in Ferguson about which Coates (below) might be referring. Since then several people have been killed through police contact, predominantly African-American's: Eric Garner, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and so many others, most recently Texan college student, Christian Taylor. Eric Garner’s case spurred a recognition by white allies of the biased and very unequal application of the justice system, called ‘Criming While White.’

 I appreciate the observation that Ta-Nehisi Coates raises in Between the World and Me: “But a society that protects some people through a safety net of schools, government-backed home loans, and ancestral wealth but can only protect you with the club of criminal justice has either failed at enforcing its good intentions or has succeeded at something much darker.” In culturally relevant classrooms, this and other points are addressed.

 There are other kinds of violence that are both hard to see and measure. Universities appear to be a focus of bias and unequal application of their stated missions (i.e., symbolic violence). A recent University of Illinois report recommended that the administration should train faculty and staff about microaggressions and provide them with "tools to address racial microaggressions, such as how to facilitate dialogue in the classroom." Beyond that, it recommended creating an education requirement that students take a class about race, white privilege and inequality in the United States.

Bias is real in educational systems. I see microagressions as symbols of our deeper social dis-ease with our history, trauma and fears. And the ongoing killings are the more extreme expressions of the same root dis-ease. However, and fortunately, transformative teaching and extracurricular activities, as well as consistent university-wide policies and practices that promote inclusion and counter micro and other aggressions are the medicine we need to administer in order to promote wellbeing, racial and other justice.

 However, many universities seem to be caught in web of ‘trigger warnings,’ practically editing anything that may be seen as upsetting or offensive. As the authors note in the thought provoking essay, The Coddling of the American Mind,Universities themselves should try to raise consciousness about the need to balance freedom of speech with the need to make all students feel welcome. Talking openly about such conflicting but important values is just the sort of challenging exercise that any diverse but tolerant community must learn to do.” Unfortunately, classroom discussions should be, but are too often not safe places to be exposed to incidental reminders of various kinds of trauma.

 On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your campus with respect to inclusion and excellence?

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