Higher education should be a right. But instead, it is a privilege, and attending an elite institution like NYU is a huge privilege. As NYU students, we need to be conscious of this and all other privileges that we have. Doing this is a difficult and on-going process, but absolutely necessary if our intention is to create an anti-oppressive and inclusive student community.
As a woman of color I am subject to the systems of sexism and racism. However, I also have the responsibility to recognize and come to terms with certain privileges that I have. For example, I am an immigrant and I have never been undocumented. As I became more involved in the immigrant rights movement and became an active ally to undocumented students a few years ago, I faced guilt over the privileged nature of my own immigration experience. Yet, guilt is not a productive feeling. In fact staying stuck in guilt can hold us back from being allies to other groups. Everyday, I must own my privilege and my experience as a documented immigrant. Taking ownership of this identity allows me to see my place as an ally in the undocumented rights movement. My place is wherever the leaders of the movement–the undocumented youth–need (or don’t need) me to be (see Marco’s post on allyship in the undocumented youth movement).
In my opinion, a large part of being socially conscious is to be aware of the many identities and identity intersections that are present in our communities. I think that many of us do have this awareness. However, at the same time I think that it is missing from many of our classrooms and consequently limiting us from creating a space that is optimal to our learning. Take note of the identities that are in our classrooms…what are the identities that we can see? Think about what the possible identities that we can’t see (because they are not visible or because they are underrepresented in our student body, such as undocumented students). Think about the identities that intersect (e.g. race and gender) and what that means. Think about how minority identities (e.g. race, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs, etc.) are affected by the privileged identities of others in the class. Think about the language that we use on a day-to-day basis—language can be used to reinforce the oppressive nature of systems or it can be used to combat them and thus work to create a safe space in and out of the classroom (e.g. using the term “illegal immigrant” is dehumanizing, the preferred term is “undocumented”).
Together we should be making a safe space in all our classes, regardless of department. This includes holding our professors accountable for not being oppressive or apathetic towards our fellow students. Keeping professors accountable is hard for me; it is something that I continue to work on today. It can be scary to tell a professor that their actions (or inactions) contributed to an unsafe environment for students. But it is necessary if we are to treat each other with respect. Lastly, remember that impact carries more weight than intention. I have experienced this in classes in which my peers used racist language, yet the majority of the class and the professor brushed this off because the student was “well intentioned.” It didn’t matter that this student’s comment had created a racially hostile environment for me and the few other students of color in the class.
I know that many activist student groups on campus such as the DREAM Team are working to send a message of inclusion and respect. However, I’d like to see the spirit of activism that is present in our student groups in our classrooms. I’d like to be a part of a student body that challenges exclusivity, apathy, and combats normative systems of oppression. As individuals, student groups, and as a university community at large we need to channel the energy of activism into the classroom in order to spread solidarity and awareness to our NYU peers.
The opinions expressed in this blog post belong to the author alone and do not necessarily represent the views of the DREAM Team at NYU as an organization.
Maria-Monica Andia is a core member of the DREAM Team at NYU. She is a double major in Social Work and Social and Cultural Analysis, with a focus on Latino Studies. Born in La Paz, Bolivia, she is passionate about immigrant rights, community empowerment, and youth grassroots organizing.