- What types of activism do you think works best on this campus?
- Do you consider yourself an activist given the work you did at Transy?
- Who are students you consider activists on campus?
- Whats one thing you wished student activists knew?
- DPS? Why are they like this?
-Are you someone who sees yourself utilizing conventional tactics in a university setting to make change?
-What came first? Art of Activism?
-Have your efforts ever been seen as a nuisance to campus administrators?
-Have you ever used tactics in your activism that were unconventional?
-Do you believe the administration on this campus is more likely to respond well to unconventional or conventional? What does the campus deserve?
Transy has never been a community where it is easy to see any overt activism, but on other campuses in larger cities, activism has taken form in ways that are more visible by being adapted into creative forms. Students have come up with creative ways across campuses in this country of making their point in mediums outside of writing that are visceral as a way to stir an immediate response from their campus community. When getting a a campus administration to listen to your structured pitch and willingly change seems unlikely, art makes an activist statement in a way that is public and undeniably pointed.
The above image was taken from a poster campaign at Columbia University by the Guerrilla Girls Broadband (GGBB). Their intent as an organization is presented in a way that takes a serious issues and raises campus consciousness about the problem while also putting pressure on the administration to change. Artistic expression also allows an activist to utilize humor as a way to present difficult issues in ways that make these issues approachable and interesting. In 2017 it isn’t enough for a cause to be important, but it also has to be a sort of moment all on its own. Why be just important when your causes can be entertaining/cool/aesthetically pleasing/inviting/subversive.
On a small campus like Transy, very few people have taken advantage of the impact in-yer-face art could make. In the right spot, a majority of our student base could be exposed to a cause depending on the medium and presentation of the artist. Outside of the structure of an essay or pitch, an activist now has the opportunity to use performance art/poetry/visual art/etc.
As my group prepares to meet with stakeholders on campus to address sensitivity issues in the Department of Public Safety (DPS), I’ve had the lingering worry that our cause will be dismissed. We’ve yet to speak in class about what happens after someone responds to one of our causes with a “no”. Do we have an obligation to remain quiet and “civilized” if DPS were to remain the same as they always have? Or would that then give us permission to get creative in ways that DPS can’t ignore or dismiss. What if every time DPS went on nightly rounds their route was covered in posters alluding to situations similar in Oliver’s blog? Or someone created an alternate contact sheet that listed each department as they are actually seen by the students.
“Department of Public Safety- Don’t call if you are a WOMAN/P.O.C./L.G.B.T.”
As a student artist/activist at Transylvania who is biracial/queer/poor…I had an immense bias when reading this article and didn’t really appreciate Heller’s skepticism of our current student culture across universities. I think the nature of my peers across this country is going to take our world into the next phase of radical progress. I guess that makes me the very person many of the faculty and staff have difficulties with in Heller’s piece. I’m not here to ask for permission, I just do it. Much of my youth growing up, was spent in radical queer spaces for people of color in inner-city Chicago. These spaces were about living in opposition to the bureaucratic world I find myself part of today. I pride myself on relentlessly using my values to produce ideal spaces for my community when the outside world doesn’t seem to want to catch up. Anyone who knows me can speak to my entire artistic, academic, and activist ideology being dedicated to completely breaking down what I find problematic and making something entirely new in different spaces without waiting on other people in power to supply their own terms and conditions. Heller’s piece calls for negotiation, and an understanding that progress is slow in the real world once you’re separated from the spaces you find others agreeing with you. However, I can feel my twenty-something brain slowly ripping myself apart as I wait for an even slower progress that the author hints at. In 2017, our pace for progress is at the click of a button, and if you can’t keep up then you aren’t seen as worth even that time. For a university that has to take that time to negotiate between the needs of hundreds of people on staff and current student activists, I consistently see my generation getting more and more unsatisfied with the pace of response. For many other people like myself, I feel like slowly giving up on larger systems all together and creating pockets of community where I can… is the only real progress.
I was recently talking to another friend of mine who also works in old Morison about this particular May term course, and my group’s objective to get DPS to acquire better ideals of sensitivity. My friend made a joking comment that I was “finally going about things the old fashion way” when all of sudden it became clear to me that this is the first time I’ve done a form of activism to convince someone through my efforts, rather than creating spaces for other likeminded people just to exist in the first place. This wasn’t just for survival but for thriving in the future on this campus. In many ways, this assignment does feel like I’m interacting with the “real” world for this first time. From my experiences working with DPS, those staff members do not share the values of the people I care about, and if I want to see any sort of progress I have to learn how to pitch my thoughts for change to an audience that has their own oppositional stake in the future. Part of me wants to send DPS with a list of non negotiable requirements to satisfy my urge, but I know from reading both Heller’s and the Kezar and Maxey piece that there is value in knowing what to do when all you can hope for isn’t the perfect ideal but something slightly better. Right? ….Right?
Before I conclude this post, I want to talk a bit about sensitivity. Sensitivity is something that comes under fire a lot in the Heller piece, but it is also an ideal that we want DPS to obtain through my group’s efforts. How do we convince another group of human beings on the value of sensitivity when statistics and policy and formal letters can’t do the job? The Theatre professor in Heller’s piece ultimately found sensitivity as a form of artistic oppression. He struggled with understanding why others found issue with him creating art that was triggering. In my mind it is quite obvious. Some professors on this campus see a trigger warning as a way for students that are too sensitive to deal with certain issues to avoid the real world. This really isn’t about sensitivity though, in my own interpretation about the human experience, but more about compassion. This world does a lot to make people think “Well, I suffered through stuff so you should too!” or “Just grow a thick skin!” But, I can’t help but think that the only harder challenge than the nature of struggle that this world throws at us, is the personal challenge to not create more struggle for ourselves and others. That is what I feel is the distinct difference between generations that comes into conflict. We aren’t just in control of ourselves…but also everyone else. We now live in a world where every identity needs to be acknowledged and given space, and if you don’t do that then the future will call you out.
As a group, we are currently working on figuring who we will need to be working towards convincing and engaging on this campus. Gregg Muravchick, who is in charge of DPS, would be the primary stakeholder in this effort. I couldn’t find any information linking me to who he reports to, and so he will be the primary contact for now. Connected to him, in my professional opinion, would most likely be Ashley Hill, given that many of the issues my group are raising has to do with cases of sexual assault. Ashley Hill also has a consistent amount of contact with Gregg and his staff. Ashley would thus be wonderful resource to express these concerns to, as she might have the ability to articulate ways of helping us reach our goals when communicating with DPS.
When bringing up this issue to these stakeholders, Mrs. Ashley Hill will most likely be very understanding. She deals with, and understands, the nuances of sexual assault and communicating with the diverse transy population. I can only assume from rumors that Gregg Muravchick will be very indifferent towards the issues we will bring up as a group. I am told that in the past, when students express their concerns to him, he has had little motivation to use those claims to help alter the actions of his staff when they interact with students. The stakeholders currently don’t have anything to lose but their own personal biases. However, given past interactions from students, this could be something they absolutely do not want to do.
By attempting to address my groups issues, and by engaging the stakeholders we located, I am indeed putting myself in a significant amount of professional and personal risk. As an R.A., and a recently promoted Area Coordinator, I work with DPS in a very intimate manner almost every single day. I also take the time to get to know as many of them as possible as regular people. I have always hoped to create the change that my group is working towards, so approaching them with the developed points of improvement might be particularly hurtful coming from me. It also might create a less firm foundation of trust going forward in my working relationship with them during my final year at Transy. I’ve already spoken to Oliver, my close friend and collaborator on this project, and we have an understanding that if at any point I feel uncomfortable then I can remove myself from certain aspects of the assignment.
As a current resident advisor (R.A.) at Transylvania, part of my job includes keeping an eye on my residents to make sure they are in a condition suitable to succeed academically and socially. When my residents aren’t in the best condition, I am usually one of the first people to recognize it. R.A.’s are trained on how to notice observable behaviors that suggest mental health issues and how to engage in those conversations with at risk peers in the hopes of eventually forwarding them to on campus services like the counseling office. The services provided by the counseling office aren’t always available, however, and R.A.’s are also advised to have a few outside resources on hand in the very likely scenario that Trancy’s offices are closed or all booked up. Often, when I have to refer my peers to on campus services, a small part of me inside is always unsure if just looking for off campus help immediately would be a better way to avoid wasting time. As an employee of this University, a friend to my residents, and a member of this college community, I want everyone to have access to care the second they need it. I feel the staff structure of our current counseling office is currently not up to the task. Below are are a few ways in which the current staff structure doesn’t serve our student body well:
A.) As of right now, there are only three trained staff members for our entire campus. The likelihood that one would feel comfortable talking to one of these three staff members is slim given the need to build trust and safety. These are hard qualities to find in anyone regardless of their expertise and every student has different responses to different people. I have been told on numerous occasions from peers that the conversations had with counseling staff led them to feel that the office just didn’t have “the right fit” for them.
B.) If you have a dire emergency, they will see you immediately, but it does potentially push other people down the list. In my experience, the office is usually completely booked and so any minor change in plans can be inconvenient for many people involved. In an extra dire situation, one may be sent to speak to Ashley Hill, as I was on one occasion, even though she isn’t “necessarily on staff to do that”, as I was told. In an ideal situation, we would have enough trained staff members that would allow for both emergency and scheduled appointments.
C.)At the very least, off campus services aren’t even promoted all that well. Right now, we have a plain print out that has been taped across campus meant to supply preemptive information for any students in need. Unfortunately I see that this information has already been torn down or just placed in ways that aren’t as engaging as other posters and flyers Transy has produced that are less useful and vague in terms of intended purpose.
As an employee of this university, I understand the financial constraints our campus is dealing with. However, I still believe our mental health is the most important thing, and if Transy intends to acquire a good 1500 students by 2020 then they need to already start growing the counseling staff in terms of numbers and hours to meet the needs of our future student body. I am asking for an additional part time hire to the counseling staff. This is a huge thing to ask, but it is a small start to an eventual comprehensive solution. It is a great start to actually being there for students. Transy is accustomed to extensive staff changes happening during the Summer, and so the possibility that they would open a search for an additional counseling professional during the Summer if persuaded enough during May Term might be an actual feasible.
I believe students should support this idea because it is a direct investment back into the social fabric of our campus. Transy has spent tons of money working on making the physical structures around us new and improved. What about the social structures? What good is a pretty campus with students who don’t feel comfortable here? Ask around. Most of us have someone who has tried to contact the counseling office only to be discouraged because they don’t have the staffing to help students in a way that feels immediate, accessible, and comfortable.
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