Unfortunately, 'inclusion' and 'diversity of thought' sometimes become mere buzzwords in mission statements, rather than concrete actions towards meaningful change.
Giving a voice to the concerns and struggles of marginalized groups and agreeing to discuss issues are needed to make incremental and impactful changes on an institutional level. Positive change happens when we are willing to have difficult conversations and use our privilege to make a difference.
This year, the Office of Multicultural Affairs hosted its 19th annual social justice retreat, Colors of KU. The retreat is an exemplary initiative towards an unwavering effort of cultivating social justice on campus. “Everyone should go to Colors of KU — administrative staff, teaching staff and students. Everyone who has the power to create change should attend," Student Body President Tiara Floyd said.
This weekend-long social justice retreat focuses on educating participants about foundational concepts of privilege and oppression, spurring them to think critically about their experiences. The retreat also helps identify ways they can advance equity and explore liberation.
“We must respect experiences, and validate experiences. The end goal of social justice is safety, but the process is painful and not pretty,” Floyd said. Colors of KU creates a safe space for its participants to share personal struggles and encourages peer support to embrace everyone’s identities. This sparks deeper and more intimate conversations about issues that students might have otherwise felt hesitant to talk about.
With the support of leadership from the OMA and volunteer facilitators, participants feel heard and are encouraged to deliberate how they can change the status quo for the better. They create a great platform for inter-community conversations between different coexisting identities. A varied array of identities of gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, race, nationality, ability and religion were represented.
An activity that simulated a divided society with different levels of privileges helped formulate some key takeaways. Students realized that a lack of privilege feels like an unfair hindrance to progress and success. On the other hand, having privilege feels effortless. They remarked that in today’s society, the benefits of privilege seem to outweigh the efforts needed to address concerns of the underprivileged. A formal definition of privilege discussed in the retreat’s curriculum aligns with this epiphany. It describes privileges as unearned, unasked for and often invisible benefits and advantages not available to members of targeted groups.
Precious Porras, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs said the goal of the retreat was “to create a community where students can engage in social justice conversations, learn foundational items that they did not know before and talk about how their identities show up on campus." Porras added that she hopes students have been challenged to think critically and to think about how they are situated in the systems that we perpetuate on campus.
There is always room for discovery and progress in the realm of social justice. Learn to listen to other’s voices rather than reacting without thought. Confront biases that perpetuate stereotypes and help others unlearn these injustices. Speak up when you are a victim or a bystander to microaggressions because not speaking up serves as encouragement to the perpetrator. Educate yourself about different identities and social justice movements around the world.
Make use of the resources at the OMA to engage in conversations, learn new things and hold each other accountable in this responsibility. It is our role to be proactive citizens to help the University of Kansas' campus and the world take important steps towards the goal of achieving social justice as a community.
Archana Ramakrishnan is a junior from Chennai, India studying Computer Science.