Communication to ease campus tensions

By
February 16, 2009

Racial tensions..

. on our campus. Is your guard up? Blood moving? Good, now hear me out girlfriend, before you go and burn my newspaper down!

As a commentator, I wanted to share with you some advice I’ve learned to accept over the past couple years. This column actually refers to all campus tensions, including racial ones at Mills. When I first arrived here in 2005, I had just graduated from a rather wealthy-majority-white high school where people with my heritage could be counted on one hand. I always heard or got asked ridiculously sexist, homophobic, and racist questions. Once I arrived at Mills, students who reminded me of that old frustration unleashed in me a nasty defense mechanism. In my classes discussions, I might as well have been in a bloody battlefield!

But alas, something else was happening to me. People were putting me in check. Suddenly, I wasn’t the last voice of reason. I never was, and these are the lessons you learn with growth when you’re humbled by others. When you learn to listen. Learn to shut up and listen.

We ALL have those blindspots. It’s a term that I’ve just recently become acquainted with thanks to the Maynard Institute for Journalism in west Oakland. The institute stresses diversity among its reporters, methodology, and content. A blindspot is a faultline, like gender, race, class, geography, or generation, which we are rather unfamiliar with. Maybe you’re in the midst of undoing your blindspot and find the process painful, because your knowledge on transgendered people was non-existent before Mills. Or perhaps you had never shared a school with African American or West Indian American students. You’re discovering that this is your blindspot. Perhaps you’re afraid you’ll ask the “wrong question” in a group discussion on social class, and be scorned. Does any of this sound familiar?

Books, poems, essays, are all insightful and it’s what makes academia illuminating. But conversing with each other, now that’s the vessel to a deeper intellectual expansion. We use our speech to engage one another. In my opinion, maintaining a constant “political correctness” in our conversations is just plain unrealistic. Every single one of us is on a different level of enlightenment about a particular faultline identity. We must allow a safe space for questions and comments, and a safe space to listen to those who might know nothing of our faultline.

Does this mean always shut up and listen? Of course not, otherwise we would be arresting our development as a conscious people. We wouldn’t be the Bay Area. If a young man name Oscar Grant loses his life to a so-called “badge” of protection, then raise hell because a young man just lost his life. I’m not referring to the big stuff. I’m talking about the class discussions, or anywhere else where we learn and can make mistakes.

Know when you’re passing on the good word, or if you’re just being self-righteous. Like when I’m asked to leave the Solidarity Lounge because to some, I look white. In those frustrating times, I have to acknowledge that woman’s blindspot: not all Mexican Americans look alike.

Stand your ground, but don’t bash someone because they might not know where to plant their feet. Maybe they’re good people like you just trying to find out where the ground is. Fight a good fight, but don’t tear the white girl in the ethnic studies class a new one, because she’s never heard of Malcolm X (that happened my freshman year, and I was in a group that scorned her). Wake up tomorrow and try it out. If this is an old enlightenment, than tell others. So when the big stuff comes around, we’ll all be nice and ready together.

– Daniella Pineda, senior


Communication to ease campus tensions was published on February 16, 2009 in Opinions

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