“We cannot begin to dismantle the legacy of dominance without first engaging Whites in a deep analysis of our own role in perpetuating injustice.” -Howard, 2006
My dissertation research was a narrative inquiry that sought to uncover the stories of white-identified social justice and anti-racism in student affairs educators. I wanted to understand others’ experiences to elevate my own sense of responsibility in addressing and interrupting the continuous injustices present in my environments. As I dug deeper into understanding my own adherence to the constructs, norms and practices that permeated my role as a practitioner, what I found was my own privilege staring me in the face time and time again. I had more questions than answers, most of them related to how I was going to become an active participant in this work. I reached out to Trina Tan after reading a blog she wrote about social justice bullying. I was intrigued by not only the content of her posts (found at trinastan.com) but the method she used to convey some simplistic yet poignant thoughts about her experience engaging in dialog with colleagues and comrades. Trina delivered the material in a venue with which I had little experience—her blog. Today, many articles and reader bytes are coming to us in short, concise, listed formats. Perhaps it’s all we have time for.
Leslie: Why is the topic of justice, social justice in higher education important to you?
Trina: (laughter) I can’t say I do a lot of this work
because I want to. A lot of my experience working in social justice often originates in survival and needing to search for meaning. I identify as a Filipina-American of an immigrant family, among other intersectionalities
of identity, and my desire to do this work is part of me wanting to be part of an institutional change that allows folks of marginalized identities to thrive in a system that isn’t historically made for them. I hope to turn my own painful experiences into something fruitful for my entire community.
Leslie: There were several overarching findings that came
from my study. One in particular was that race privilege is experienced and contrasted to understanding the “other.” I hope we have the opportunity through our dialogue to illuminate the need for the dominant population to reflect upon their privileges to better understand how those privileges play a role in their daily practice. Another finding from this study was that social justice has been hijacked in higher education in terms of how we talk about it, explore it, but ultimately do very little in our work to address injustice. One participant acknowledged the dissonance between her spheres of influence on a college campus in comparison to the work that is being done in the “trenches” so to speak (the community, society in general). What are your thoughts on this?
Trina: I believe social justice education is extremely valuable in providing opportunities such as retreats, workshops and dialogues on college campus. That said, as someone who has been on the higher education side of social justice education, as well as worked in the so called “trenches” of grassroots organizing within the community—if I want to put it in student affairs terms, this is a theory to practice equation. If there are folks who talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk—that doesn’t