Alpha Chi’s Role in Fighting for Racial Equity

“To be silent on the tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and the violent shooting of Jacob Blake, among too many others before and since, would be unacceptable for an honor society founded on the tenets of Truth and Character. Alpha Chi stands united with those facilitating change and denouncing racism and discrimination of all kinds. The pursuit of truth requires us to study and listen to understand; character compels the work needed to break down barriers of structural racism wherever they are found. Working toward “justice for all” by dismantling centuries-old systems of racial inequality, inequity, white supremacy, and violence against people of color is the work of each of us until the work is done.

– Statement from Lara Noah, Executive Director, and David Jones, National Council President

“… and Justice for All”

Racism is an uncomfortable topic for many people. However, for many people of color, it is the reality and the lens through which they live their experiences. By keeping the conversations around racism open, we allow ourselves the space to grow and learn. Alpha Chi’s spring national conference theme, “… and Justice for All” is central to the event series in the upcoming months.

We hope you join us for these virtual events Alpha Chi has planned, led by a diverse group of speakers:

Racial equity links and resources can be found on our “Seeking Racial Equity” page.

What follows is a recap of our November 12, 2020 virtual anti-racism workshop led by Jennifer Spellazza, the Coordinator for Lindenwood University’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion. A speaker for timely and important topics, she also led the development of the Linden Ally Project, designed to promote LGBTQ+ allyship among employees and students in Lindenwood University’s physical and virtual campus spaces.

An Introduction from Lara Noah

Lara began the session by acknowledging that this was a discussion about race led by a white person. White people are not the targets of racism, and white people cannot understand what it feels like to be black. She recognized that the responsibility of racism education and eradication should not be placed entirely on communities of color.

“Racism is a problem created by white people, and white people should bear the responsibility of educating ourselves and ending white supremacy. Today’s discussion falls into the category of white people taking responsibility for their own education.”

Race Isn’t Real: The Myth of Race and U.S. Politics

Jennifer transitioned into her presentation with a Vox Explains video aptly titled, “The myth of race, debunked in 3 minutes.” The crux of it is this: Even though race drives a lot of political, social, and economic outcomes, the concept of categorizing humans by “race” was first developed around 1776 by German scientist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. 

According to historians, Americans of white European descent bought into this idea right around the same time in order help them reconcile the practice of slavery to the idea of one’s natural right to freedom. However, the concept of race is so nebulous and subjective, and changes with the priorities of that time. Take the following example:

  • In 1929, if you were of Mexican ancestry or birth, you were considered “white.”
  • In 1930, you were considered “non-white” because the government needed to limit immigration. 
  • When the U.S. needed to increase its workforce for World War II, it again switched its definition back to “white.”
  • The government even tried to define what it means to be “black” by tracing one’s ancestry and descent. 

Then, in 2000, the U.S. Census introduced a “multi-racial” option, which further confused many Americans. All of this leads to the idea that “race” was, and is, a human or person-made concept that is highly complex and nuanced. However, in order to be anti-racist, we must understand what “race” actually means and recognize how unclear it can be.

Becoming Anti-Racist: Getting to the Growth Zone

Jen asked the audience where they think they fell in the chart below. As a lesbian cisgender-woman, she recognizes what it is to be marginalized, but acknowledged her own privilege as a white person who has never felt the impact of racism in her own life. Her black coworkers at Lindenwood challenged her last year to step up to the plate – to rise up to the challenges that faced BIPOC populations at Lindenwood University. It wasn’t enough for her to say, “I am not racist,” she was spurred to come forward as a white ally and create the space to allow for these conversations to happen.

Jen’s coworkers pointed out that the chart above is not necessarily a fixed concept. Ideally, everyone would be in the learning and the growth zone, but the reality is that where you are can fluctuate at any given moment.

Defining Racist vs. Antiracist

Below, the audience’s definitions of racist and antiracist were varied but similar:

Dr. Ibram X. Kendis’s book “How to Be An Antiracist” offers the following definitions:

  • Racist – one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.
  • Antiracist – one who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.

The harms of racism include:

  • Dehumanization
  • Exploitation
  • Assimilation
  • Oppression
  • Marginalization
  • Enslavement
  • Cultural erasure/whitewashing
  • Cultural appropriation
  • Historical and intergenerational pain, grief, trauma
  • Unearned power/privilege
  • Environmental injustice
  • Death/genocide

Defining Colonization vs. Decolonization

According to Jen, teaching decolonization at higher ed institutions is extremely important. Colonization and racism are tied closely together and go hand-in-hand, but each deserves its own space to be explored. She offered up the following definitions to help clarify the terms used in her presentation:

The harms of colonization include:

  • Dehumanization
  • Segregation
  • Unearned power/privilege
  • Oppression
  • Marginalization
  • Enslavement
  • Historical and intergenerational pain, grief, trauma
  • Educational achievement gaps
  • Mass incarceration
  • Health disparities
  • Social justice inequities
  • Death

Knowing Racism Exists Isn’t Enough; We Must Commit to Taking Action Against It

Ultimately, we are all called to take some form of action against institutional racism, and it starts with having a conversation and to continue showing up to these conversations, as hard as they can be. Jen suggested creating a mission statement on how one can be actively anti-racist, like the note she keeps on her desk:

“As a white ally, I see your color and I honor you and your experiences. I commit to hold space for your pain, your grief, and your trauma. I commit to antiracist thoughts, behaviors, and to supporting/creating antiracist policy. And I will create space for your voice and experiences.”

In addition to a mission statement, she advises continuously being mindful of these questions in our everyday experiences:

  • Who writes the stories/theories/policies?
  • Who benefits from the stories/theories/policies?
  • Who is missing from the stories/theories/policies?
  • Do we have the full breadth (of experiences and perspectives) at the table?
  • How might our implicit biases, attitudes, assumptions be playing out?
  • How might this decision advantage some and disadvantage others?
  • How can we make this process, program, policy, story, or theory more inclusive?

Further, she encourages everyone to take a look at your own institution and reflect on whether it has the following resources in place:

  • A DEI Statement (Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity)
  • A non-discrimination policy
  • Language in the student handbook that actively promotes antiracism
  • Bias incident reporting
  • Offices with CSAs (Campus Security Authority)
  • Student advocates who create safe spaces for students to be able to speak the truth of their experiences into existence so they can start dismantling racism

Spellazza also encourages following the chart below to keep the conversations around racism as open and productive as possible:

If you’re seeking to learn more, Alpha Chi’s page also offers racial equity resources, which you can find here. We encourage you to take part in the conversation and to join us for further virtual events in this series on February 6 and February 20, 2021.