on activism & making noise

Some background: my friends at OU started a hashtag called #yOUrbad to draw attention to discrimination that has not been addressed on campus, despite a recent (and I would say undeserved) diversity & inclusion award that the university received last week. These are some of my feelings about that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means, in (student) activism, to be a noisemaker and a rabble-rouser. Honestly in a university setting–at least in my experience, and when you’ve got a very conservative, bureaucratic administration on your hands–often the most effective thing you can do is make noise and draw attention to problems. Half the work is breaking the silence and refusing to shut up, you know?

And something that’s been on my mind too is that there are a great many people working on these issues who are more entrenched in the institution that the students doing the rabble-rousing. OU’s community office (read: diversity office, but we can’t call it that because it might alert the donors!!) is run by two men of color that I respect a lot. And I know they’re dealing with some tricky issues re: budget cuts, conservative donors, the convoluted university system, etc. I know that when we point out that diversity efforts are behind schedule or not robust enough or whatever it reflects on them. I know that.

My respect for them–and all the people pushing for change in spheres that I cannot or do not want to be in–is real. But I can’t let that respect (and fondness! Some of these folks are my friends and I love them a lot!) eclipse the goal of constantly pressuring institutions at large to be better, deliver on their promises, and pat themselves on the back a little less. They’re not going to do it on their own. Institutions do not respond to politeness and restraint, in my experience, even if there are individuals midway down that hierarchy may see our point.

Making noise just feels so essential…I can’t count the number of times, just in the last two years, I have seen people within the university shrug their shoulders and say, “well, the students are upset…” and then suddenly something gets changed. I don’t know. This all feels very activism-101 to me and it’s not like respectability politics don’t affect students (they definitely do!) or other kinds of activism are not possible (community information-gathering, y’all!) but I hate being told to sit down and shut up when it’s just so obvious that being loud gets shit done.

 

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