Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Voice For The Silenced

**This post was submitted and published by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Women In Student Affairs (WISA) Blog**

Over the past few months I have been fortunate enough to be in spaces where my passions have been discussed. I have always been a person who enjoyed talking about oppression, privilege, dominance, and social issues. Even more so, I enjoyed being that voice for those who were not present. As a child, I was always seen as the weird one. I was too “Pro-Black” in high school because I found enjoyment in speaking the lessons I had learned about the Black community in America and was the “feminist” in college because I voiced my concerns regarding women equality. I was raised to be aware of my identity (black and female) while being aware of the society in which I lived in. One thing out of many that I contribute to my career choice has been being taught to appreciate difference by my parents. I was always encouraged to know who I was and what my historical context had been as a racial group in the United States; but I was always taught to appreciate others who contributed to our history as U.S. citizens. Because of this appreciation and awareness, I somehow found ways to insert my voice for others in settings where they were not present.

In the beginning of my career, I started out at a Historically Black University (HBCU) where I found myself speaking out for the LGBTQA+ students. It was not until I was approached by a few students who identified as LGBTQA+ that I actually noticed that I had become one of their biggest supporters. Being that they were able to see me as someone who could understand their experiences gave me great interest in being their voice on the administration side. During my time there, I became the advisor for the student LGBTQA+ organization which prompted me to find the courage to share publicly that I too identified within the LGBTQA+ spectrum. For that environment, it was challenging to be the voice. Many did not understand the experiences of the students or why the students wanted something that spoke to them.

After spending eleven years at what were both my Alma Mater and my employer, I chose to expand my horizons. I decided to try my hand at Predominately White Institutions (PWIs). When I did this, I was one hundred percent nervous. For a large part of my life, I can recall messages from the media or society telling me what I should or should not be or do; as a woman, you shouldn’t be too outspoken; as a Black woman make sure you smile more; don’t be a product of your environment if you are from the “hood”. All these messages I took with me to my new home. And low and behold, some of these messages began to ring true.

During my time, I have been celebrated and shunned for being outspoken. I have been told that I do not smile enough and that it made some individuals uncomfortable. And I have been ignored from conversations that concerned my office and possibly collaboration opportunities where I was told that they would prefer to speak to my director, who later forwarded me the opportunity. Or that someone who identified as White and Lesbian was the overarching voice of the LGBTQA+ community since they had knowledge of the legalities that affects the LGBTQA+ community; and the fact that I did not identify my experiences with theirs for we show up in society completely different. On all occasions, I learned that I was now speaking my own voice. Prior to these experiences, I found myself speaking for others and with little emphasis, adding my voice to the equation. I realized that it was now my turn to be un-silenced. Being an introvert, Black, female, queer identified and single, and in my 30’s has been some of ways in which I have felt oppressed and silenced.

There had been times where I was told to be careful how I engage certain colleagues because of who they knew. Or that I did not want to be seen as the ‘Angry Black Woman’; which was a great conversation after a workshop during NASPA 2013 in Orlando. Either way, I interpreted these messages as “play nice” or “try not to stir up mischief”. And ironically, these were from other women of color. I was not quite sure how to digest what I was hearing. Being encouraged to speak up was how I was raised. I was taught to speak up for myself because no one else would. I was taught that to be seen, you have to have a voice. But now I am being told that being vocal is not acceptable if you want to make friends in the field.
I write this blog in hopes that someone finds courage and strength in my words and actions. Understanding that we all have experiences and many of us look to create allies, it first begins with accepting one another. Share your voice. Be present in that space. If I have not learned anything from my eight years in Higher Education, I have learned that being vocal can be a gift and a curse. Proudly, I accept it as both. I spend a large portion of my life sharing awareness around Multiculturalism, Diversity and Inclusion. For me to be silenced would be like sitting in the back of a crowded room. I would be able to see the environment around me, but no one would have the pleasure of getting to know me.

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