Tag Archives: Privilege

Pomona College Resource Center Teaches Students Social Justice Buzzwords

On Thursday night, the REACH (Revolutionizing Education, Advancing Collaborative Hxstories [sic]) committee of the Asian American Resource Center (AARC) organized an event called “How //Not// to Talk Like an Activist” held at The Hive to teach students the definitions and usage of language used by social justice activists.

The event description states, “sometimes it’s impossible to figure out what students at the Claremont Colleges are talking about, even when we’re talking about things that everyone needs to understand. Join the AARC’s REACH committee to discuss how we can break down activist language.” The organizers added that the event will “explore key terms in describing social change and figure out how to make those terms accessible for ourselves and our communities,” and affirmed that “this event is open to students at the 7Cs and centers students of color and allies.” The event description also gave examples of what terms would be discussed: “Intersectionality. Cisheteropatriarchy. Toxic masculinity.”

According to its description, the AARC “works in collaboration with other ethnic groups, academic department and campus offices to sponsor a wide range of educational endeavors.”

The organizers started the event by stating that students sometimes “hear words tossed around and repeat them and sometimes we don’t stop to think what they mean or about how we’re using them to make our change-making ineffective or effective,” adding that the “goal of this event is to break these terms down,” referring to “commonly used buzzwords.” The organizers emphasized that “they are not buzzwords to elevate ourselves above others, but…ways to understand actual problems society has,” and further stated that “it’s not bad that these are being more popularized…but we want to use this event as a way to understand the historical roots of these terms.”

Attendees of the event then broke down into smaller groups to discuss definitions for the following words and phrases: intersectionality, identity politics, structural oppression, safe spaces, cisheteropatriarchy, toxic masculinity, white supremacy, and privilege. Participants tried defining those words in small groups before the actual definitions—drawn from Harvey Mudd College, Columbia University, the Catalyst Project, and the blog Decolonize All the Things (D.A.T.T.)— were revealed.

According to its website, the Catalyst Project believes “that racism is one of the fundamental forces keeping systemic injustice in place, and as white people we believe we have a strategic role to play in ending it.” The author of D.A.T.T., in a description of his ideology, states that he is “interested in the complete liberation of all peoples from white patriarchy, capitalism, oligarchy, colonialism, settlement, as well as orientalism.”

Examples of definitions included “a system of power based on the supremacy & dominance of cisheterosexual men through the exploitation & oppression of women and the LGBTQIA”—drawn from D.A.T.T—for “cisheteropatriarchy.” “Privilege” was defined as operating “on personal, interpersonal, cultural, and institutional levels and gives advantages, favors, and benefits to members of dominant groups at the expense of members of target groups”—based off a document from Harvey Mudd College’s Office of Institutional Diversity.

Samuel Breslow (PO ’18) told the Independent that he thought “the event did a really good job of helping us be more cognizant about carefully articulating what we mean with the terminology we use,” adding that “it can be hard for us, as progressives, to have constructive discourse with conservatives when the social justice concepts that we refer to have been distorted and caricatured by Fox News to the point where they mean something totally different. Using words that have widely agreed-upon definitions can help us communicate more clearly with each other and can help avoid misunderstandings.”


Image: Flickr



A World That Never Changes

Because world-changing ideas have to be brand new, they often come from people you wouldn’t peg as ‘world-changers.’ These new ideas aren’t going to be what most people think, so the person who comes up with them has to be a little outside the realm of most people – they have to be a little abnormal, just like their idea. If it was normal, then it wouldn’t alter the world. And if the person was completely normal, they would not have cause to question what’s commonly accepted.

Even if someone has an earth-shattering idea, the strength of majority opinion makes implementing it difficult; not only did Galileo have to conceive a new way of understanding the universe, but he also had to find a way to surmount the Italian Inquisition.

What’s worse is when the world-changer is written off even before they have a chance to speak simply because society considers them useless. Even after escaping slavery and developing himself into a literary genius, Frederick Douglass still needed to defeat the common assumption that the color of his skin made him inherently valueless.

The measures society accepts to rid itself of “undesirables” are truly disturbing.

Danish public opinion, for instance, considers Down syndrome a sign of worthlessness and 60% of Danes look forward to eliminating  Down syndrome in 2030 through subsidized abortions. Twelve years ago, the Danish government introduced free prenatal screenings. A year after the policy was enacted, the number of Danish babies born with Down syndrome halved. The Copenhagen Post now reports that “[i]f current health policies and trends continue, Denmark could be a country without a single citizen with Down syndrome in the not too distant future.”

As the Copenhagen Post observes, this is not an uncommon opinion in the US or the UK where 92% of all fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. In fact, there are whole groups dedicated to eliminating this and similar disorders in vivo. For example, the California Prenatal Screening Program’s primary goal is “to reduce the occurrence of birth defects and disability by offering prenatal screening and follow-up services to pregnant women in California.”

A similar practice is running rampant in India, where female babies are considered less valuable than males. Even after gender testing was outlawed, up to 4 million girls were aborted between 1991 and 2001, and a further 6 million by 2011, vastly outpacing the abortion of male fetuses. The ban is poorly enforced, and legal abortions make it possible for families to have sex-selective abortions. As in the case of Denmark, India is hardly alone in their behavior. According to Scientific American, sex-selective abortions were being considered as early as 1950.  Other societies which value women lower than men suffer from abortion-fed gender imbalances. In China, it has led to a spike in sex trafficking, notably of young girls.

All these nations fall into a larger pattern. There has never been a society in history without prejudices. So when it is legal to choose who deserves to live, society seems to inevitably target the marginalized and unwanted. This is why abortion has long been tied to eugenics in one form or another. Planned Parenthood was founded by a leading advocate of eugenics, Margaret Sanger, who believed it would be an integral part of the eradication of the “unfit,” and observed that, “Eugenics without Birth Control seems to us a house builded upon the sands. It is at the mercy of the rising stream of the unfit.”

And she was right that eugenics relies on birth control. Frederick Douglass faced terrible odds at birth, but he had a slim chance to prove mass opinion wrong. Through his perseverance, he was ultimately able to argue against the society that had devalued him and lived as irrefutable proof that they were wrong about his unworthiness. Aborted children have no such opportunity. If nearly every disabled child is aborted, they have no chance to prove their equal value and the incorrect assumption that they don’t deserve to exist endures.

Regardless of whether one thinks a fetus is human, the fact that abortion supports the elimination of the oppressed and helpless before they can even draw breath is sickening. Enacting such eugenics will prove detrimental to society—such a society won’t have many world changers. It will not include men like John Nash or Albert Einstein. No, their respective mental disorders would have cut their lives terribly short.

As genetic testing becomes more precise, where might this end? It is not difficult to imagine fetuses with ADD, dyslexia, anxiety, or bipolar disorder being systematically aborted. Even queer children could fall to the march of progress; scientists have long suggested that homosexuality can be linked to certain genetic markers. If these genetic markers can be identified before birth, might families choose to abort their queer or trans pregnancies before the child is born?

Surely, the resulting society would be a cold and callous one: one in which a person’s right to life depends on their social utility. Once put into place, it will likely stay that way.


Image Source: Flickr

The Rotten Core of Scripps’ “Core I”

The required Core I class at Scripps College is marketed both to current and prospective students as a course in “interdisciplinary learning,” promising to teach the bright young women who walk through Scripps’ gates how to think critically. As both citizens in a complex world and women grappling with future career demands, the ability to think critically about the information and many hidden agendas we face is one of the most crucial skills to learn in college. Sadly, in reality, Core I is only a vehicle for promoting an ideological agenda.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 4.42.43 PM
Time to break out the hammer and chisel? Or the hammer and sickle?

According to the description on the Scripps College website, the Core Curriculum’s goal is to “expose students to some of the major concepts and dialogues shaping modern intellectual thought and challenge them to investigate and debate those issues by drawing from multiple perspectives.” This could not be further from the truth. Instead of exposing students to “multiple perspectives” on contentious and important issues, 250 Scripps first years are bombarded on a weekly basis with radically progressive ideological indoctrination by professors who allow very little room for opinions that differ from mainstream liberal thought, lest one be accused of “marginalization” or labeled a “bigot.

Scripps' Core I, Rotten to the Core
Scripps’ Core I, Rotten to the Core

The course, generally made up of one lecture and two hour-long discussions per week, has thus far covered the topics of American slavery, the seizure of America from the Native Americans, a criticism of the American prison system focusing predominantly on how the system oppresses women and racial minorities, and a sexually graphic novel by Jean Genet entitled The Thief’s Journal.

One semester isn’t enough time to study these litanies of oppression in any real depth. As a result, we have been lectured only about the (obvious) injustices inherent in these actions and institutions. Not once have we examined statistics or economic analysis, or the complexities inherent in the historical context of even one of these topics. Instead, our professors have presented us with narrow criticisms of the vast majority of “structures of oppression” that they believe keep the first world running, and the rest of the globe oppressed. These watered down Marxist clichés may be worth hearing, but if the goal of a Scripps education is to produce intellectually sophisticated citizens, it would perhaps be worth hearing competing theories, like those held by at least half of Americans, too. In my Core discussion class, our highly emotional discussions have primarily focused on the claim that students who are white, and presumed to be wealthy, need to learn to “check their privilege.”

I attended a BeHeard forum at Scripps on the subject of “Marginalization on Campus” following the difficult conversations occurring in the Core I discussions. I went to raise the question of how a student with politically conservative views can participate in a Core discussion without immediately being attacked by the student body and professor. When asked how to combat some of the uncomfortable conversations going on in the Core I discussions, one student said that she believed most of the tension was stemming from “students being confronted with their privilege in a way that’s uncomfortable.” She went on to say that she felt totally okay with students feeling uncomfortable and picked on in class as long as they were the “rich, white students” because they have never felt oppressed before.

By her definition, it seems that the goal of Core I is not interdisciplinary learning or critical thinking, but instead some kind of twisted revenge fantasy where students who are assumed to have never encountered any kind of hardship are put in situations where they feel “oppressed, marginalized, uncomfortable, and violated.” In what world, I wonder, is a classroom fueled by such resentment and hostility toward a certain demographic of students conducive to an effective, let alone healthy, learning environment?

Later in this same forum, I asked how a student who has a different opinion about the merits and virtues of a particular “system of oppression,” such as capitalism or the American prison system, could respectfully express a different opinion. How can students with views that don’t share the liberal premises of the curriculum or professor be given a fair chance to express their opinions when it is instantly assumed that they are not just misguided, but actively perpetuate racism, sexism, and classism? My question was met by the inquiry of another student, who asked if I was saying “that I did not support equality” – apparently unaware of the comment’s irony. The student went on to assert that the discomfort I feel in a hostile classroom setting is not actually related to the suppression and distortion of political disagreement with the curriculum, but, rather, to my white guilt of having to confront my presumed privileges.

My argument had not just been dismissed as oppressive, but also irrelevant and unworthy of a thoughtful response, because it was actually just a manifestation of the guilt that I am supposed to feel in encountering such texts. When students can no longer see the difference between disagreements born out of reason and those born out of malice, they must believe that there is only one correct opinion – namely, theirs. And if having an opinion other than the correct one is oppressive, as is taught in Core I, then Core I is not so much about students critically examining their own thoughts and ideas, but instead about making sure everyone conforms to the same progressive ideology. Students are encouraged to verbally attack those who believe in individual liberty and personal responsibility, the pillars of thought upon which this country was built. It is clear in the Core I Curriculum that, while race, class, and gender marginalization are condemned, ideological marginalization is not only fair game, but encouraged.