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LKC Member Contribution: When you think you are so WOKE you are actually sleeping

Supporting the Profession Latinx/a/o
September 18, 2017 JD Castro

JD Castro is from small town in Texas an hour south of San Antonio. He studied Marketing & Advertising in college at The Ohio State University. From there he went on to pursue his passion in Student Affairs graduating from Western Illinois University with a masters in College Student Personnel. JD currently works at The University of Texas at Austin as a Complex Coordinator.

As a Student Affairs Professional, I have worked with many students and professional staff members that had diversity training and have felt that they have learned everything about diversity issues. This topic has been something that has been on my mind for the last few months due to the conversations that I was having with students and Student Affairs Professionals alike. This generation, I believe, is a hyperaware generation that is knowledgeable of news and information due to the internet being right at your fingertips. Tom Rosenstiel, the executive director of the American Press Institute conducted a survey to prove how informed millennials are and mentions, “My takeaway is that while these folks live a lot of their life connected on digital devices, they are interested in the world probably in pretty similar ways to previous generations, and maybe even more so” (Cass, 2015). Student Affairs Professionals have a heightened sense of awareness of the political climate due to it constantly affecting our campus climate and causing not only discourse with our students, but also action.

As a Complex Coordinator at The University of Texas at Austin, I have witnessed students who have become advocates for themselves and others. The students that I have worked with have become more aware of their own identities and how those identities affect them as they navigate through the world. As they learn and study how they deal interpersonally or the way they think about themselves in relation to others, they are conscious of how that reflects on their intrapersonal selves, meaning the way they think about themselves. Our students are some of the highest achieving and involved students that I have worked with and with that comes a sense of understanding that one of the most important issues to deal with are diversity issues.

During our staff meetings, I allow the students who I supervise to come up with topics of discussion to allow for developmental and transformational dialogue. I also contribute articles and videos that have caused controversy to have a discussion on how that affects us and the students that we interact with.  I have many students who identify with a marginalized identity and talk openly about their personal experiences and how they dealt with those interactions.

During one of my meetings, I had a Resident Advisor who wanted to facilitate a discussion on “why our university was not inclusive to people of color.” This student identified as a LGBT White male. I was surprised to see that he was interested in facilitating a conversation that focused on students of color when he came from a privileged identity. This student was known to be very vocal about equality issues in general and championed LGBT programs. Due to the sensitivity of the program, I asked if they were going to invite campus partners that dealt with diversity issues to be a support system. The student became defensive at the time and had an almost all-knowing demeanor because he had a marginalized identity he knew how other marginalized identities felt. He mentioned that he had put on diversity programs on his own before and did not need anyone’s help. I validated the experiences that he had dealing with hardship, but also provided a scenario where a student who would attend the program could identify that the university was inclusive. He then proceeded to mention that was not likely to happen and did not want to hear a different truth to what he already knew.

This mindset has become a difficult area to navigate as I recognize that while they have their stories and experiences for that identity, there are more stories and experiences that could have an alternative truth. The student has felt that they are so “woke,” or being aware, that anything that is offered as different is wrong. It becomes a dualistic view of “I am right and anything else could not be true.” William G. Perry mentions dualism as “a mode of meaning making in which the world is viewed dichotomously: good-bad, right-wrong, black-white” (Patton, 2010, p.86). This interaction then transcends into identifying their marginalized identity to feeling like they can relate to ALL marginalized identities even if they do not specifically relate to others as my student did when he could identify with the struggles that people of color faced. This has become problematic in terms of having a developmental dialogue when the student has felt that they have the ultimate source of truth and there is no other truths that are occurring simultaneously. What the student has done is make meaning based on what they have already learned by reflecting on the self or deutero learning (Kegan, 1997).  

Students are not the only group that have a hard time with this concept, but we as Student Affairs professionals also contribute to this mindset of all knowing. I have seen Student Affairs professionals wanting to explain diversity issues and putting students into boxes to share with them what they should be feeling and experiencing. Student Affairs professionals are talking above the student’s heads to explain developmental theories and how that experience is the same for all students when we should be facilitating more of a conversation on personal stories and experiences. I feel as though I can speak to the struggles that I faced coming from a large Hispanic population in Texas to a predominantly White institution in Ohio. Even with my story, I still am not able to speak on how all Hispanics transition from a similar situation as we were raised in different environments. My goal would be to have people find some connection with my story and want to open up and share theirs so that we can have a broader understanding of what it is like to face these challenges.

We all need to understand that there are no ultimate sources of knowledge on a given subject. Identities are complex and are constantly in flux with not only how the person identifies, but with the environment therefore concluding that there cannot be one truth on how identities are labeled or represented. The way that I identify with my identity of being Hispanic intersects with my identity of being a 26-year-old professional along with my religion, sexual orientation, gender, ability and social economic status and other identities that make up who I am. My story begins to unfold in a different direction even if I started at the same starting line as another individual who has the same identities due to different environments that we live in. 

We all need to start thinking with a multiplicity meaning making, which is described as “honoring diverse views when the right answers are not yet known” (Patton, 2010).  Patton (2010) also mentions that through multiplicity “peers become more legitimate sources of knowledge, and individuals are likely to improve their ability to think analytically.” What this may look like is to continue having open dialogue with others through social interactions, programs or events. I have tried to create this environment in my staff meetings with my students to inspire them to have those transformational conversations and validating others experiences. Continue to share your story with others while having an open mind about what others have been through. We all need to remain humble with our experiences and realize that we will never be done with learning. To start, we have to begin to train our minds to be conscious of when we are invalidating another’s experiences in our head and then start to remove the unconscious bias and categorization. It has to be a process that over time and with practice will hopefully allow you to become more about individuals rather than the stereotypes that we have been trained to know. We start viewing the world in not in an informational type of way but transformational (Kegan, 1997). The ego becomes a factor that clouds the possibility of another truth when we should continuously see ourselves as unfinished or constantly learning and at the same time remaining humble.

Cass, C. (2015, September 25). Millennials are more informed than you think. Retrieved June 26, 2017, from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/millennials-informed-think/

Kegan, R. (1997). In over our heads: the mental demands of modern life. Cambrigde: Harvard Univ. Press.

Patton, L. D., Renn, K. A., Guido, F. M., Quaye, S. J., Forney, D. S., & Evans, N. J. (2010). Student Development in College: Theory, Research, and Practice. Wiley.