Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Post-Election Reflection from a Scholar Activist

By: Susana Muñoz, PhD 
Assistant Professor of Higher Education, Colorado State University

To accurately describe my current state of mind post-election would require more text than this blog allows. I will say, I continue to feel anxious, fear, anger, and disappointment, and with every new appointment made to the President-elect’s cabinet, I feel that I am living in an alternate universe. Yes, a world where education and relevant work experiences are no longer necessary for key cabinet positions, where common sense loses to impulsive reactions, and where white supremacy ideologies are permissible under the guise of free speech (not hate speech) and white pride. When folks urge me to give our President-elect a chance or encourage me to wait and see what happens before I make any assumptions, I immediately think to myself, “It must be nice to sit with that kind of privilege”.   In fact, urging people with minoritized identities to push past our pain, you not only enact privilege by erasing our right to feel/exist, but you also uphold white supremacy. For those of us still struggling and grappling with our new political reality, it’s ok still to feel what you feel. For those who are watching us struggle, offer your love and support constantly.

As an immigrant Chicana scholar activist, who works with and for undocumented immigrant communities, the last few weeks have been laced with both moments of hope and moments of despair. Days after the election results, undocumented students on my college campus gathered in solidarity to publically disclose for the first time ever that they are “undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic.”  I beamed with pride and wondered if college campuses across the nation would show just as much courageous leadership in pushing the immigration discourse as the students on my campus demonstrated. I worry about the consequences our society will burden if colleges and universities remain silent on impending deportations, the elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order, and registry for Muslims. Let me be clear and state that our country has always endured the public health impacts of deportation, immigration raids, and family separation, our President-elect just happens to be much more forthright about deportation than his predecessors. I caution educators and administrators from solely focusing on college students as our central position of advocacy thus creating the “deserving and undeserving” immigrant binary. Our focus must also include families, those who have been detained in deportation centers for minor infringements. We need to advocate and fight for all immigrant and religious minoritized communities and not just a privileged few.

Most disconcerting are the more overt anti-immigration actions and violence inflicted by others. I was devastated to hear that a member of my own community was at a local convenience store at night when he felt someone tap his shoulder. He turned around only to find a white-identified man who asked him, “Are you Mexican?” He replied, “yes” and then felt the full force of a punch across his face. Because he fought back and because he was undocumented this incident went unreported. In fact, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 867 hate incidents have been reported since the election. For most undocumented students I work for and with, I see pure emotional exhaustion as they grip to any sense of normalcy all while trying to wrap their heads around how much will change and the impact this change will have on their families and their communities after the inauguration day. While I’m grateful that over 500 college presidents have signed the Pomona College petition to support DACA and sanctuary campuses are emerging across the nation, I know deep in my heart these actions are not enough.  

Audre Lorde has taught us, “when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” Colleges and universities can no longer be silent. Our education professional associations cannot be silent. We as individuals, cannot be silent. We need to mobilize and organize with our local communities. We need to take our knowledge and research to the streets. We need to engage with those who cannot access our conferences and classrooms. We need to stand up, demonstrate compassion, and speak out against these continued injustices happening in our communities and across the nation. I believe, in our current time, this is a character defining moment for higher education. If we fail to stand with the most vulnerable populations in our country than we need to ask ourselves, “what do we really stand for?”

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