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Coronavirus COVID-19 Greek Life Higher Ed Higher Education Social Justice Student Affairs Uncategorized

Don’t be like black Greeks. Take social distancing seriously.

Originally written on March 15, 2020

BG4BLgroup (1)
Black Greek for Black Lives an initiative that promotes black Greek commitment to uplifting the black community through social change work. Learn more and shop products at  http://www.blackgreeksforblacklives.com, and follow @blackgreeksforblacklives.

The world has stopped. This time a week ago, most of us would not have imagined that our lives would literally be shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 7, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) re-defined social distancing to mean “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.” From there, we saw events and conferences cancelled, even staple conferences like SXSW. We also began to see colleges and universities suspend in-person classes and transition to online learning. Then, the NBA cancelled the remainder of its season, followed by the NCAA, MLB, MHL, and many more sports organizations cancelling or postponing in various ways. Mayors and governors of various cities and states also began to mandate that no “large gatherings” be held, with the primary goal of preventing COVID-19 from spreading rapidly, and the biggest fear being an overwhelmed healthcare system.

So, on Wednesday March 11, the night before my sorority’s regional conference was scheduled to begin, I didn’t worry about packing. I was certain that I would receive an email any minute saying that …out of care for our sorors and greater society, we have made the decision to cancel/postpone our regional conferences. While this is disappointing to us all, this is the right and necessary decision. But, that email never came (prior to the conference starting).

This specific regional conference, as well as multiple other Black Greek-Letter Organization (BGLO) regional conferences (with two being held in the same city) moved forward according to schedule. Thousands of sorority and fraternity members traveled to the respective hosting cities, despite social distancing being urged from government organizations and leaders; despite the precedent that had been set by many other organizations prior to the start of the regional conferences.

So why didn’t BGLO leaders cancel? What made us think we were exempt from taking the same precautions?

I am not certain of the ultimate answer but I can’t help but wonder if BGLO leadership was more concerned about money (loss) than the safety of our members and fellow citizens. Various actions taken by the organization leaders lead me to this thought. For example, prior to one of the conferences being cancelled, allegedly, undergraduate members were told they would not receive registration refunds, even though they could no longer attend due to their university prohibiting all student organization travel. Additionally, one organization sent out an email to its members postponing an upcoming national service initiative due to COVID-19, but did not postpone their regional conference that was happening at that exact moment. And, after ending their conference early, one organization (that I am aware of) kept the vendor area open for members to patronize. Maybe it’s just me but the theme seems clear and consistent.

While I appreciate that some of the conferences were cancelled on the second day, the cancellation was too late. By this point, thousands of members had come in contact with thousands of other people through travel, restaurants, shopping, hotels, conference luncheons, conference meetings/receptions, hugs, handshakes, coughs, and so much more. These interactions and points of contact impacted not only the conference attendees but also the citizens of the hosting cities. So even though the conferences were eventually cancelled, the damage was already done. The risk that would have been mitigated by social distancing was already activated, and even though the thousands of members (possibly) headed home early, they were already exponentially more likely to carry the virus as they dispersed to cities all over the country, putting themselves, as well as their loved ones, co-workers, friends, neighbors, and community members more at risk. And for the BGLOs that did not cancel and executed their regional conferences in their entirety…well…that could be an entirely separate op ed.

This social distancing thing is no joke. If we look to other countries, we can see what happens if we don’t practice it. Italy experienced a 20 percent increase of new virus cases in one day, and “they cited irresponsible behavior by many citizens, who despite the earlier warnings not to gather in large numbers, headed to beaches or ski resorts, and hung out together in town squares, especially after the closure of schools.” Gathering in large numbers exponentially increases the risk of the virus not only spreading, but spreading quickly. So, it was completely irresponsible for our organizations to move forward with hosting regional conferences. If someone who attended any of these regional conferences ends up testing positive for COVID-19, trying to pinpoint all who that person has come in contact with (and all who those individuals have come in contact with, and so on) would be essentially impossible; and the responsibility of the virus spreading at a faster rate, and any health complications that those people experience from the virus, would be on us.

It is disappointing and upsetting to see our BGLO leadership miss the mark here. We pride ourselves on being leaders in our communities; people who show others the way. Instead, of leading the way and modeling a commitment to social distancing, we contributed to the idea that social distancing and the spread of COVID-19 are not to be taken seriously. Instead of modeling decision making for the greater good of our society, we modeled selfish decision making, and we may now be part of the reason that the virus continues to spread rapidly. 

People making selfish decisions like ours will lead to us essentially being on complete lock down. Social distancing recommendations have been made but like us, many are ignoring the recommendations, still hosting large events and gatherings; still going out to clubs and other social venues; still traveling. This has caused the recommended number of people gathered to continue to decrease, with the CDC now recommending no events over 50 people for the next 8 weeksIf we do not voluntarily consent to these recommendations, we will be forced to follow mandates that are even more strict than the initial recommendations, causing us to sacrifice and lose even more than we already have.

We are organizations with a mission to serve our communities. It is important that we center that value at all times and above all else. There will never be a welcome reception, luncheon, business meeting, gala, step show, chapter member selfie, conference bag, vendor exhibit, or registration fee that is more important than the safety and well-being of our society; more important than us doing our part to be responsible citizens. Unfortunately, it looks like this may only be the beginning of this pandemic in the US, and I am hopeful that naming this misstep now will help us to be the servant leaders that our communities will need us to be as we continue to combat this pandemic.

 

20171116-IMG_8832Aleidra Allen is a social entrepreneur and founder of Purpose In Everything (PIE), an online retailer of ethically made products that adds purpose to purchases by donating 5 percent of the net sales to social change work. She is also the creator of Black Greek for Black Lives, an initiative that promotes black Greek commitment to uplifting the black community through social change work. Aleidra has a background in diversity education and facilitates diversity workshops and trainings, and gives keynotes. Learn more and shop products at http://www.piemovement.com and http://www.blackgreeksforblacklives.com, or follow @piemovement and @blackgreeksforblacklives.

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HBCU Higher Ed Higher Education PWI Race Student Affairs

I Admit It: My PWI Experience Doesn’t Compare to an HBCU

A friend of mine shared the article, I went to a PWI and still had a black college experience. I read through the comments (on his post) and saw a lot of predominately white Institutions (PWI) graduates defending and affirming the author’s perspective. But I have a different one. Here’s the (slightly edited) comment  that I left:

As someone who attended PWIs, I had GREAT experiences and I LOVE my schools. However, I won’t compare my experience to that of an HBCU. Yes, at many PWIs, black people come together and make our own community within the greater university. But I acknowledge that that “black experience” is not comparable to an HBCU. To make the comparison that it is similar is to minimize the HBCU experience. Even this article does so by equating the HBCU experience to their “black experience” of social events with chicken, etc.

The HBCU experience (and I’m speaking more from my knowledge as a higher ed professional, not as an attendee) is much more than the social piece, but unfortunately, that’s often the only piece we discuss; the soul food and the swag surfing, and that’s not right.

HBCUs provide students with support and community that cannot be compared to PWIs. There is much value to being in a space that is full of black people…faculty, students, and staff. That type of environment doesn’t just make school “fun” but it impacts retention and academic success because it’s free of (anti-black) racial bias. And as people who attended PWIs (and just living in America), we can acknowledge that racial bias is very real at our schools and manifests in many ways: microagressions like people asking you bizarre questions about culture, people not wanting to work with you in groups, roommate issues, professors already counting you out, financial aid counselors not doing all they can to help you, being the only black person in a class/major, very few scholarship opportunities, poorly staffed “diversity” offices, a struggle to get funding and support for black initiatives and events, every institutional aspect being shaped from a white lens…I could go on and on. And while some of us made it through and graduated (shout out to us!), so many people didn’t, or never even had the chance to be admitted or attend because of these biases. So we HAVE to acknowledge and appreciate HBCUs for providing an opportunity and experience free from (anti-black) racism.

We need to ask ourselves why we feel the need to prove that we had “a black experience?” We went to white schools…its okay. We knew what we were getting into and we still found community with other black students. Great! But why do we feel we need to prove “a black experience?”

The root issue behind this article and repetitious conversation is the debate (among black people) on attending PWIs or HBCUs. As black people, we continue to argue about this and it needs to stop. PWI attendees feel like we have to defend and prove that we are still black and love blackness to HBCU attendees who condemn us for attending PWIs. And HBCU attendees feel like they have to defend their institutions as being “good enough” to PWI attendees that feel like their (white) schools are better. This is the real issue.

You can go to a PWI and still love your blackness. You can go to a an HBCU and still be successful.

The debate is nothing more than divisive because as with most things in life, there are pros and cons to both experiences. There’s no wrong or right answer. If we would just support all black people getting educated, regardless of the racial make up of the school, articles and conversations like this wouldn’t even be necessary.

I went to a PWI but I will be the first to support HBCUs and HBCU grads. And the opposite should be true for HBCU attendees. It’s possible for us to be proud of and support both.

Categories
Cultural Appropriation Greek Life Higher Ed Higher Education Social Justice Student Affairs

3 Ways to Share Our Stepping & Strolling Traditions without Giving Away Our Culture

Aleidra’s piece is featured on watchtheyard.com.

Should Black Greek-Letter Organizations (BGLOs) teach white, non-BGLO people how to step? This is an ongoing question and debate within the BGLO community, and honestly, I understand all the various perspectives.

With that, I understand that teaching stepping and strolling to non-BGLO members has become a popular collegiate norm. So for our members that are partaking in this new college tradition, here’s my piece,  3 Ways to Share Our Stepping & Strolling Traditions without Giving Away Our Culture, to help you do so in a meaningful way.

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#BlackGirlMagic #BlackLivesMatter #EverydayBlackHistory Black History Black History Month Higher Ed Race Social Justice Student Affairs Women

#EverydayBlackHistory Day 3- Mary Jane Patterson

MJPToday, many Black women make the decision
to continue their education at institutions
of higher learning. Whether attending a historically black college or university (HBCU) or a predominately white institution (PWI), countless black women are succeeding, and sprinkling #BlackGirlMagic all around campus. But who did this first?

Mary Jane Patterson was the first Black women to receive a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree. She received her degree from Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio in 1862.

While it is not certain, it is believed that Mary Jane Patterson was born into slavery in Raleigh, NC in 1840, moving to Oberlin as a teenager. She completed college preparatory courses at Oberlin College in 1857. But when it was time for her to attend college, Mary Jane Patterson chose not to enroll in the college’s two-year program for women and enrolled in the “gentlemen’s course,” which was a four-year program. She graduated with her B.A. degree with high honors in 1862.

At the age of 22, Mary Jane Patterson moved to Philadelphia, PA. There, she was a teacher at the Institute for Colored Youth for five years. In 1869, she moved to Washington, D.C. and taught at the new Preparatory High School for Colored Youth, the first public high school in Washington D.C.

In 1871, Mary Jane Patterson became the principal of the school until she resigned in 1884. Under her leadership, the school developed a prestigious reputation.

Mary Jane Patterson was also active in women’s rights and assisted in founding the Colored Women’s League of Washington, D.C.

Today, we remember Mary Jane Patterson for paving the way for black women (and people) in higher education, even in a time when slavery still existed and women were extremely marginalized. We thank her for being an early demonstration of black girl magic.

#EverydayBlackHistory

 

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#BlackLivesMatter Cosmetics Higher Ed Race Sally Hansen Social Justice Student Affairs

NOT My Birthday Suit: An Open Letter to Sally Hansen® on Racist Nail Color Name

Dear Sally Hansen®:

FullSizeRender (5)I was in a wedding and in need of a neutral nail polish. I came across your Miracle Gel color, Birthday Suit. I was initially drawn to it because it was just what I was looking for, but when I read the name of the color, I was taken aback. I thought it was interesting that someone would choose this name, even though everyone’s “birthday suit” is not that color. Birthday Suit is not the color of my “birthday suit.”

I am a program coordinator for multicultural education at a university. As we teach our students about diversity and inclusion, and strive to develop their multicultural competence, we often talk about microaggressions. Naming this polish Birthday Suit is a microaggression.

Psychologist and Columbia professor, Derald Wing Sue, Ph.D., defines microaggressions as “everyday slights, indignities, put downs, and insults that people of color, women, LGBT populations, or those who are marginalized experience in their day to day interactions with people.” Microaggressions are often perpetrated by members of dominant groups and done so unconsciously, without negative intention or ill will. Microaggressions can (amongst multiple effects) make the dominate group seem “normal” while making anyone outside of that seem abnormal or as the “other.” Well, that is how I felt when I read the name Birthday Suit. I thought to myself, surely, they know this is NOT the color of all of their consumer’s birthday suits. It was frustrating and disappointing, but not shocking, because unfortunately, I have been dealing with this type of subtle racism my entire life.

The cosmetic and fashion industries are infamous for using “nude” to describe colors similar to Birthday Suit; so much so that some people think of “nude” as a color, without actually realizing that it is the nude color of a dominant group, white people. For decades, despite its discriminatory nature, brands and companies continue to use “nude” to describe their products (shout out to Nubian Skin for countering this and providing women of color with “a different kind of nude”). It is even more disturbing to know that until just two months ago (thanks to the Nude Awakening Campaign), Merriam-Webster defined the word nude as, “having the color of a white person’s skin.” So you see, there is already an issue here.  That is why it is so disappointing and frustrating to see a color named Birthday Suit in 2015. Instead of fixing this issue that has long existed, Birthday Suit reinforces the problem AND diminishes another commonly used term (as done with nude), that everyone could once relate to, to now only describe the color of white people’s skin.

I understand that your company may not have intended to make me feel excluded or offended. That is often the case with microaggressions. However, I do not want this to be an instance where you explain how this was not your intention and we move on. Why? Because this is not just about nail polish; it is about addressing a type of bias that happens every single day that many are unaware of or ignore. It is important that we as a society start acknowledging the reality of microaggressions and their effects, and do something about it. This is a chance to do something; our chance to do something.

While we do not experience as much broad, overt racism as we once did, there is still subtle racism (often in the form of microaggressions) that can do just as much (if not more) harm. In today’s day and age, most people consider themselves to be “good people” who are well intended, fair, and do not discriminate. However, this situation is a prime example of how good people can be unaware of their bias, act in a discriminatory manner, and hurt people of color. People think we ended racism when we stopped overt racism (slavery, Jim Crow laws, etc.) but that was only a part of the battle. We will not see race relations improve again until we become aware of and acknowledge the subtle biases possessed within our hearts and minds; the subtle biases that still cause discrimination.

I ask that you use this as a teachable moment and educate your organization on microaggressions through diversity trainings. I also ask that you change the name of the Birthday Suit color. And finally, I ask that your organization launch a campaign going against the idea of “nude” or “birthday suit” being one skin tone and leading the way for change in the cosmetic and fashion industries. I am more than willing to continue this conversation and be a part of these solutions. Please let me know how I can help. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you for your time.FullSizeRender (5)

Sincerely,

Aleidra R. Allen, M.A.