Response: Inclusivity positions could be utilized by everyone
December 16, 2015
Editor’s note: The Student Voice’s final issue of last semester included an article by columnist Molly Kinney, who posits that UW-River Falls would benefit as a campus by reinstating UWRF’s inclusivity director position as Student Senate had proposed. Kinney wrote that she was “sadly unsurprised” when the first two Senate members to comment and express opposition to the proposal in its original state were white men, who, Kinney said, “have less insight on what experiences the less privileged have, and why they might feel insecure talking to administration about their problems.” Here, the senator Kinney argues against writes his own response. For full context, read Kinney’s article at http://uwrfvoice.com/viewpoints/15667.
Being the subject of Molly Kinney’s complaints, I feel I should offer my point of view on this matter. I must begin by stating that I am in favor of such a position. However, I am not in favor of the scope of the position. I believe that if we are going to have a full-time hired “inclusivity” position on our campus, it should indeed include all people on our campus. My line of inquisition in the Senate meeting that night was derived from this belief.
Any single person can feel marginalized in this world regardless of their gender and skin color. It doesn’t matter what demographic you come from. Context matters. Women can have it hard, LGBT communities have it hard, Muslims have it hard, any race other than white have it hard in this country, but just because I am a straight white male does not mean that I had a free pass. In fact, I would argue that I had it far harder than any single person who feels that their only obstacle is their gender, ethnicity, religion, etc.
I come from poverty. I come from a poverty that includes living without electricity, no hot water, going days eating old lettuce on rock hard hot dog buns with expired mayonnaise because we didn’t have money for food, or cutting the mold out of the cheese because that’s all we had to eat. I experienced abuse that no person should ever have to experience. I experienced and witnessed domestic violence that even Hollywood couldn’t dream up. I was a four-sport athlete and an honor student and the oldest sibling of five that had to spend his nights and weekends after school and practice working at the local restaurant at the age of 12 to put food on the table. My home had so many interactions with the local police department and the county sheriff, we knew every member by name. As a child I would be left in charge of all of my siblings, unaware of where my mother was or when she would return, sometimes going days without contact and still having to make sure everyone was fed and off to school or whatever activities were scheduled. I witnessed death, drug abuse, and cried stoically through a phone at the man in a county supplied orange jumpsuit on the other side of the glass, silently begging him to help me make it all better at the age of 11. My only way out of that life was to graduate high school early and join the Marine Corps. I put in more work before the age of 15 simply just to survive than most people will put in throughout their entire careers. I may be a white male, but I did not have anything handed to me because of it. And to say in a sweeping statement that I and my brothers, who have seen and experienced things that to many people serve as fodder for their fiction novels, are somehow better off and are responsible for you feeling marginalized simply because we are white males couldn’t be more offensive.
In fact, being a white male has worked distinctly to my disadvantage. It is assumed that I as a white male just had everything handed to me, that I inherently have some kind of advantage over everyone else. Well I haven’t seen a dime of that advantage. This advantage never put food in my stomach when I was hungry or turned the heat on when I was cold. I watch women, people of other ethnicity or different sexuality than me stand up and say that they inherently deserve to be handed something they didn’t work for because they aren’t in the right demographic. They ask for it simply based on the merit that they are not a straight white male. They ask for these reasons, they receive for these reasons and it is wrong. Many of these people come from homes and situations where they had the family and financial support that protected them from ever having to be exposed to the idea that people could potentially grow up the way that I did, but I am still the bad guy.
We are proposing to create a position to help those who can’t or don’t know how to help themselves. A position that will hold their hand, ask them what they need, tell them everything is going to be alright and go to bat for them. Anybody can benefit from this so long as they aren’t a straight white male. This angers me. This offends me. This hurts me. I am a straight white male and I too have the right to feel these things.
This is a university. A university is meant to be a place where people come to grow, to learn about themselves and prepare for the world and life ahead of them. People are going to be offended. The world is offensive. Life is offensive. We would be failing ourselves and our students if we spent all of our energy trying not to offend. If you don’t ever feel offended on a college campus, then you were never challenged to learn and grow as a person. The university is indeed a sanctuary, a safe place, but safe from what? How do we determine whose speech and philosophy is correct and should be the basis of our “political correctness?” We must do what we can to help make all feel welcomed and give everyone the best opportunity to learn, but we should not do so with the agenda of creating cookie cutter humans who all think alike and speak alike. This philosophy of censorship and avoidance is in direct contrast to the mission and purpose of the centuries old liberal arts education.
However, I do recognize that these are real problems in our society, but I refuse to let them be defined in broad vague strokes when there is so much context necessary to understand each individual case. I do not believe that creating a position that specifically caters to any gender, ethnicity, sexual identity or religion in the name of inclusivity sends the correct message. The day we arrive on a college campus is the day we all step onto the same platform in life regardless of demographics. We are all provided with the same opportunity to succeed. If a student is then faced with a person or university staff member that withholds opportunities or specifically goes out of their way to make threats of harm to someone, or attack their personal character, or are purposefully excluded because they are different, then that issue should be dealt with. No one should feel unsafe or feel excluded from participating in the educational process provided by the university and this position should be used to address these type of problems. These types of scenarios do not fall under “being offended,” they fall under hatred, bigotry and lack of civil common sense.
If a black student, or any race, has to drop out of college because they have true financial hardships then we should help them, or if a black student drops out because they had been attacked in the ways stated above, then it is common sense that we help them. But if a black student simply decides to drop out of college and we bend over backwards to put him back into college entirely due to the idea that we need more black people on college campuses and nothing else, that is wrong. If a group of women says they feel underrepresented in positions of leadership, and therefore demands that it be required and mandated that more women be hired simply on the merit that they are women, that becomes a real problem. If I encountered a group of people from beginnings such as mine, or worse, protesting and demanding that they be given the opportunity to attend college I would be right there with them. It makes sense that everyone have the right to an education. But if they then said that they want to see more people from humble beginnings in positions of leadership because they feel underrepresented, I would tell them to go home because they have to earn those positions.
If we create a position that can be used by a group to demand that they receive tangible benefits and programs in the name of “equality” because they were “offended” or feel marginalized and underrepresented, then we will have created a position that is furthering the problem by creating more institutional and structural segregation by giving benefits to undeserving groups because they pounded their chest loud enough in proclamation that their feelings were hurt. Those who whine loudly enough, though on equal footing, will then receive “additional equality.” Is this the message we want to send?
If this position were to have the impact we hope it would, it would be necessary and most important for this person to interact closely with those people that could be considered as doing the marginalization. Just because someone is saying or doing something that is offensive to another person doesn’t mean that they are somehow inherently doing something wrong. We need to learn to understand and accept our differences, and in doing so, by virtue, work together with those that may offend us, because you may learn that we can agree upon and accomplish far more when we civilly disagree and move forward than if we spend all of our time focusing on our differences and trying to censor one another. My solution is to create an Inclusivity Department which has staff members who specialize in these specific areas and who are to be utilized to address these problems and then collaborate to help educate all people understand and cope with the differences in the world. We need to learn to look past and understand all of these differences and work together to overcome our current problems, not create more avenues that encourage us to self-segregate.
In direct response to the sentiments expressed in the column, I as a white man have my concerns heard because I stand up, find the avenues through which to work, and don’t back down no matter how afraid I am. It isn’t because I am white; it is because I am willing to track down the leads and tenaciously fight for my charge. These are things that I have learned through self-education, not something that was entrusted to me the day I was born as a white male. And as far as, “those who have historically held control of positions of power have to start agreeing to letting [sic] some of their power go...” This is really not the right message to send. Nobody should receive anything by virtue of it being simply handed to them because they demanded it. If anybody attains a position of power through hard work and dedication they should never be forced to give up the fruits of their labor of which they have so deservedly earned. If a person wants power they have to earn it. They have to put in the blood, sweat, tears required to climb the mountain and maintain that position. If you want something, go get it; don’t stand there and whine about it until we all get annoyed and give it to you.
Roderick Babilius is a student at UW-River Falls.