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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Inclusion + Diversity = Tolerance + Aggression

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Who are we? What do we want?

FSAOW (Faculty and Staff Anti-Oppression Workshops) stemmed from conversations among a few students of color about classroom and workplace dynamics at Carleton, from which they realized that systems of oppression (racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, etc.) are not only overt in those spaces but also work in insidious, normalized ways. Since then, a collective of students has tried to tackle this issue, despite receiving a lukewarm response from the administration.

Essentially, FSAOW represents a group of students who are concerned about classroom and workplace climates that further marginalize students with diverse, underrepresented identities. Through conversation with our peers from various campus communities, we have found that different academic and student life spaces, from classrooms, to professor’s office hours, intercultural events, residential life arrangements, etc. in their current state can actually hinder many students’ ability to learn. As Carleton’s policy indicates, it was only in recent years that the school has mandated that its new faculty and staff members enroll in “diversity” training, indicating a huge knowledge gap among faculty and staff members on how to address and tackle issues of oppression and equality in their work spaces. Therefore, FSAOW is asking that all faculty and staff members, old or new, participate in mandatory anti-oppression training periodically.

“Stop feeling attacked and blaming the world for your personal problems. There’s no oppression at Carleton. Everyone’s safe.”

Let us begin by recognizing that Carleton as an institution is not immune to systems of oppression dominating the “outside” world. Rather, this school is part of the problem. We recognize that not all professors or staff members share these problems on the same level, and the population we seem to be “accusing” is not homogenous. Many faculty and staff with marginalized identities also experience biases on a daily basis.

With this in mind, we suggest that the particular power hierarchy in student/faculty, student/ staff relationship exacerbates acts of oppression.

On this campus, people seem to be more comfortable using the term “micro-aggression.” Our question is, what is so “micro” about these acts of aggression? The use of this term seems to trivialize and excuse acts with severe consequences that happen every day in classrooms and workplaces. Since last fall, FSAOW has been working on collecting student stories involving offensive incidents that are biased in nature. These stories show that students have often become disengaged from classes or work, quit classes or work, and, on occasion, even left Carleton temporarily or permanently. When a professor comments on an ESL student’s presentation, “they speak kind of funny sometimes,” it is hard to imagine a positive, engaged learning environment as Carleton promises its classroom to be.

Instead of “micro-aggression,” we choose to use the term, “micro-oppression.” These acts, to their core, are parts of systems of oppression inflicted on an interpersonal scale, leaving permanent scars on our students. For clarification, FSAOW as a group is not advocating for absolutely “safe” spaces as we recognize that students need challenging and stimulating environments to learn. What we are advocating for is an environment where faculty and staff are better equipped to deal with systemic inequities, and so do not hinder student learning and personal development.

“What do you mean by anti-oppression? Isn’t it just diversity training?”

Diversity is an end-all-be-all buzzword that obscures our understanding of how systemic violence (racism, sexism, able- ism, etc.) is insidiously at work on Carleton’s campus. It has become an empty, symbolic promise from an institution unable to address the core of these problems. The word, diversity, itself distracts us from other terms such as “oppression,” “justice,” or “equality.”

We act as though a single “diversity training” can cleanse us of problems of “diversity.” We fail to acknowledge that oppression is at work before and after that training session, and that recognizing these problems is not the same as actively working against oppression. Thus, FSAOW works towards “anti-oppression,” not “diversity.” It is our sincere hope that the institution recognizes as we do these problems affecting student learning and development, and work with, among, and for us on combating systemic oppression at Carleton.

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