Words Can Lose Their Meaning

Diversity and Inclusion…
I recognize I have privilege…
Check your privilege at the door…
I really want to be an ally…
Let’s acknowledge whose voices are not at the table…

Without a doubt, we have all used these phrases and heard others use them. Within the field of Student Affairs, these words and phrases are tossed around and used with decreasing meaning behind them. If these words were a stock, their value would be plummeting and someone would advise you to sell them. Within Student Affairs, there is an assumption of a shared importance and values with having an understanding of systems of oppression and how they are manifested in the world and within the field. Unfortunately, these words have continued to lose their integrity and have turned into an acceptable social script to seem knowledgeable and get by without having to truly address oneself and their identities. I believe this culture, which is ingrained within the field I love, is steeped in and is perpetuating white privilege, and continuing to support and reinforce the white supremacist system.

In my year and a half living in Iowa city as a graduate student in the Higher Education Student Affairs Program at The University of Iowa, I have experienced the degradation of these words and felt the emptiness behind them when they are said. In the classroom, we talk so much about how power, privilege and oppression impacts the work we do. In the beginning of my program there were many times in which I heard people proclaim, as though this is their biggest accomplishment, that they are now aware they have privilege. I sit there as people acknowledge and “check their privilege at the door” which usually became a precursor to do or say something ignorant or expecting a free pass on continuing to not take action outside of acknowledging one’s privilege.This inherent privilege to have the ability to input minimal effort to feel satisfied in the work you have done and accepted in the field that espouses these values as important but often replicates the same cycle is one only certain professionals, typically of privileged identities,  in the field can do. As this complacency is lauded as enough, what does this actually communicate?  To me, it communicates that learning to say the right thing while not taking action is enough, that’s all you need to. I don’t only see this in my time in the classroom, it is also rampant in every aspect of the campus culture of student affairs practitioners on my campus. This is difficult to constantly encounter, as a Black woman in this white world, and very white city.  

The most eye opening and painful example of the disconnect from the words and meaning behind them not being translated into action on has been revealed within my time working in my assistantship. The first week I was on campus during training for our student leaders I was told there is a diversity training component, but because we know how the word diversity can scare students or have them check out the session is called inclusive leadership training.  The first message I received coming into a predominately white school, working with a group of predominantly white students is that I, a Black woman, would have to make these students more comfortable with dialogue around diversity and inclusion. This message has persisted within the position, and on campus with the trainings centering information sharing, and the students, mainly the white students continuing to communicate trainings are useful or helpful. I am then instructed it is important our student leaders know and understand this information to successfully support all students and yet I hear these student leaders use non-inclusive language and continue to take no action. Our ways of being are accepted as the way it will be and change doesn’t come. I sit with this uncomfortable feeling as this makes sense in this setting, and it is hurtful. This cycle has set me up for my expectations of my time at Iowa and it has stayed true; we start conversations around these topics as essential but do not following through with actual change. Everyone is “Iowa nice” or what I have taken from this phrase is, well meaning white people who won’t be openly racist to your face. These words within our field of student affairs, coupled with a town that boasts its liberalism in relationship to other surrounding cities is a recipe for continued white supremacy.
 
We all have to work against white supremacy and not become complacent in a culture that Student Affairs has created to make the majority feel comfortable where as long as you say the right things,display artifacts, and use language that makes you seem as though you are have the shared values, you are good. We have to think about how these words’ value is decreasing and how to no longer make the words the priority but the actions behind the words the priority. My father always said, “Words don’t mean shit unless you have the stuff to back it up.” What we are missing and desperately need to find is the action to back our words up.  

Pronouns– She/her/hers
Twitter– @dominiquejanice

Dominique Kincaid was born in Chicago and raised in northwest Indiana with her parents and five other siblings. Dominique is an alumna of Loyola University Chicago’s Class of 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. In her time at Loyola, she participated in and worked for three years with the Bridge to Loyola Program, a conditional admittance, college preparation program. The Bridge to Loyola Program sparked her interest in student affairs work and supporting students within their college transition. Dominique worked for three years before applying to graduate school for Higher Education Student Affairs. She is currently a second year master’s student at the University of Iowa in their HESA program. Dominique’s assistantship is with the office Academic Support & Retention.  Along with her assistantship, in her time at the University of Iowa Dominique has worked in the Undergraduate Programs Office, working with global programming, within the Tippie College of Business. This past summer Dominique worked with the Gateway Program, a program for underrepresented high school students interested in business, as a graduate assistant. Also, Dominique is in her second year of participating as an ACPA Student Ambassador. She will be graduating from the University of Iowa in May of 2018 with a Master of Arts in Higher Education and Student Affairs. Dominique’s focus areas are academic advising, Bridge programs, first-year experience, and multicultural programming. Dominique works to dismantle white supremacy within her spheres of influence and being well dressed while doing so.

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