What Does It Mean to be Marginalized?
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised… Or Included In Your Syllabus
Alongside Harvard Law School, The Coastal Carolina Student Union organized one of the nation’s first #HandsUpDontShoot demonstrations at a predominately white institution. Similar to Harvard Law School, despite Coastal Carolina University being about 70% white, participants and organizers were predominantly black. Why is there so much disproportionality? Students of any marginalized identity and their allies are encouraging each other to use the hashtag #WheresMyVoiceCCU to demonstrate why. (Hashtag individualized to any participating institution)
While many institutions, such as Coastal Carolina University, reach out to diverse populations in admissions and recruitment, they often fall devastatingly short in remedying structural inequalities and bridging de facto segregation on campus upon enrollment. This results in the superficial celebration of diversity on data spreadsheets and brochures while the issues and needs of these diverse and marginalized communities struggle to make it into the public sphere for discussion, evaluation, and, most importantly, solutions.
On August 19th, 2014 about 70 predominantly black students participated in #HandsUpsDontShootCCU followed by an all white sorority participating in the ice bucket challenge, unaware of what #Ferguson is and why it would resonate with a community so much so as to move them to action.
These events reflected with eerie accuracy what Janee Woods described in an earlier article, articulating the racial politics in predominantly white communities, “Those same [white] people who gleefully jumped on the bandwagon to dump buckets of ice over their heads to raise money for ALS… who immediately wrote heartfelt messages about the extraordinary Robin Williams, may he rest in peace…but an unarmed black teenager minding his own business walking down the street in broad daylight gets harassed and murdered by a white police officer and those same people seem to have nothing urgent to say about pervasive, systemic, deadly racism in America?”
Woods attributed this lack of participation from the white community, in part, due to the “fear of being alienated socially and economically from other white people for standing in solidarity with black people, or of putting one’s self in harm’s way, whether the harm be physical or psychological.” Whether purposeful or not, CCU maintains this fear of not only alienation but retribution as well.
For example, in a preceding, unrelated, statement a CCU Dean maintained just a few weeks before the #HandsUpDontShoot demonstration that CCU is “MEANT to be an ivory tower [pejorative term describing a place where self-proclaimed elitists isolate themselves from those they feel are unworthy of access, often among racial & socioeconomic lines]”
At a college with more black students, fewer black faculty and fewer black programs and classes than surrounding peer institutions, statements like this maintain the fear of speaking out and pursuing solutions. It’s a symptom of marginalization, it is continuously made clear these actions and perspectives are unwelcome.
In result, students organized without assistance from the university through the Student Union Twitter, unfortunately, having to pick battles, students did not invite or inform any faculty for fear “they would get in trouble if anyone saw they were involved or knew… even if they were just showing support.” Meanwhile, CCU administration takes the ice bucket challenge with a plethora of resources to publicize their initiative and support the cause. It’s fun, it’s safe, no one is going to be uncomfortable or intimidated by their presence or advocacy and at the end of the day we can superficially call ourselves a “progressive campus” for our participation.
Moreover, marginalization does not simply mean being a minority though they often coincide. Marginalization means to be treated as a “insignificant, peripheral…to be kept in a powerless or unimportant position within a society or group….It denies a section of the society equal access to productive resources and avenues for the realization of their productive human potential and opportunities for their full capacity utilization.”
Women, for example, are actually the majority at Coastal Carolina University, however, articles last year published locally and nationally drew attention to problematic attitudes and cultures on campus contributing to a hostile climate priming the area for sexual assault. Although there are increased preventative initiatives this year, it was not without struggle and collateral damage. In April 2014, The White House released a new set of recommendations to help colleges confront the high levels of sexual assault which reflected the very recommendations CCU students and faculty made to administration beginning in October of 2013- an entire six months in advance. Internal CCU petitions, proposals, and concerns, however, were not only dismissed but organizers were often penalized for their involvement in drawing attention to campus deficits.
Students advocating gender and racial equality are not the only marginalized groups on campus. Women and African-Americans are simply the largest marginalized groups on campus, therefore having the largest presence. The LGBTQ, WOC, and Latino community, for example, have long been speaking out without an audience to hear them and, even then, in the words of bell hooks, “Naming oppressive realities, in and of itself, has not brought about the kinds of changes for oppressed groups that it can for more privileged groups.” In other words, if an LGBTQ or WOC student points out that sexual assault is a problem on campus, it’s not enough to just say it. There is an assumption that the LGBTQ or WOC community is complicit, that it’s their individual problem and not one that stems from a systemic or societal shortcoming. The same can be said of #HandsUpDontShoot in contrast with the ice bucket challenge, where white faces and/or privileged people are regarded more generally as victims first while people of color must earn victim-hood, usually presumed to have “deserved it” by the general public before inspecting the situation first.
Partnering with smaller groups facing equally oppressive structures and providing them a platform is essential. In the restructuring of systems, we must hear from the whole in order to benefit the whole. Using #WheresMyVoiceCCU will continue providing insight about systemic shortcomings often lost on the populations they don’t effect.
An abbreviated list of proposed policy changes to increase access and transparency is included below, additional recommendations and critiques please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org or anonymously through our “Submit” page.
- Policy protecting students and employees from retribution for organizing petitions, demonstrations, forums, etc
- Open forums between students and administrators
- Re-evaluation of CCU’s application of Title IX’s sexual assault protocols
- Clearer, objective, criteria as to what deems an event or flyer “appropriate”
- Checks and balances (oversight) within the non-academic complaint procedure
- Designated procedure and opportunities for students/employees to make recommendations and proposals to administration- including evaluation, speedy response, and justification about ultimate decision
- Transparency and notification about meetings of the Board of Trustees and their agendas
- Formation of a Board of Overseers, as done at Harvard University. This board provides “periodic external review of the quality and direction of the University’s schools, departments, and selected other programs and activities,” and are elected by current and former students.
- Weekly notifications of crime on campus
- Removal (expungement) of any disciplinary action taken against students/employees for their participation in advocacy, especially that which has been echoed by surrounding colleges or nationally.