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Social justice is not ‘one-size-fits-all’

Posted November 4th, 2011 by UHDS News

My experience in the world of social justice, diversity, and inclusion has evolved greatly over the past year and a half that I have been a Community Relations Facilitator (CRF). Before coming to college, I went to Sherwood High School which is in a suburb of Portland that is very much predominantly White.

In fact, my school’s population was 95 percent White, and my mother, step father, and brother are all White as well. The demographics of my high school were coupled with a lack of awareness on topics of social justice and inclusion.  When I first came to Oregon State University (OSU), I was shell-shocked by the relative racial and ethnic diversity of the campus. I had never been around so many people from so many different cultures or backgrounds in my life. It was at this moment I realized I had the option to choose how I would to react to this new environment.

As a first-year student, I was a person who was “color-blind”, “gender-blind”, etc. I did not want to identify the differences between people or notice the institutionalized oppression that was occurring around me. I just wanted everyone to be treated “the same”.

As a result, a problem started to form. There is a big difference between equality and equity. I started to realize if I treated people equally, I would have to treat everyone the same despite their differences. In my attempt to make sense of this concept I found it helpful to think of analogies. Treating everyone the same would mean that if I were to buy shoes for everyone in the world, I would have to buy everyone the same sized shoe. I would not account for differences or identities; the idea seemed ridiculous to me in this context I realized that if I were to want to treat people with respect, it would require me to notice difference.

In other words, I would have to understand that different shoe sizes would be a necessity to create equity. Instead of helping make change for identities that are oppressed and targeted, I was reinforcing the same institutionalized sexism, able-ism, etc. that I sought to resist by going with the status quo.

After recognizing my ignorance towards the differences between people, I started addressing these topics through a different lens. The next phase of my progression involved the idea of owning my privilege; this was about the time that I started working as a CRF. I started to realize that there is a significant difference between people based on their identities. These differences sometimes result in a societal advantage or disadvantage regarding access to resources.

A resource refers to job opportunities, money, living situations, tax breaks, and many other things. One example of advantages and disadvantages can be based on gender. Men are institutionally privileged in society compared to women, people who are transgender, and gender queer.

Take this brief example: As of 2010, men make $1.28 for every dollar a woman makes with the same credentials, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Understanding the world in this new lens allowed me to notice other differences in my own life. When I walk on campus at night, I never feel worried about my safety, yet I know many women on campus who do. Some of those women are very aware of their surroundings in an effort to protect themselves from sexual assault; something I am never challenged to think about in my daily life.

While I am grateful that I am more aware of my identities and difference, I know I have much more learning in my future. I am still working towards building more inclusive environments for all identities. I work and collaborate with the people of various underrepresented social groups to make Oregon State University a better place not just for them, but also for myself. The fact of the matter is that although OSU is much more diverse than my hometown, there is still a lot to be done to make this university more accepting and inclusive of its diverse population. Having different identities on campus is simply not enough. As I continue to work towards my personal commitments to social justice, I challenge you to think how you can start to do the same.

One great way to become more aware of diversity, inclusion and social justice is by connecting with the CRF Program! We are always here to help create space for exploration and learning through workshop facilitations and dialogues. CRFs host many events throughout the year specifically for UHDS residents. Look out for our event fliers, emails, and Facebook posts. Please visit our CRF website to learn more about the CRF Program and how to get involved.

Kameron Beeks, Community Relations Facilitator


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