Letters to the EditorOpinions

African American Studies’ Public Scholarship Class Presents: Articles about Race, Class, and the Puget Sound Experience

An Introduction:

At the beginning of the semester, our professor asked us to think about something we were discouraged by and were also eager to change. We mentioned various topics, but the area that we all continued to return to and focus on was one related to our own campus community. Despite being from varying backgrounds, we all were concerned about how race and class operated on our campus. We had been learning about the complexity and compoundedness of race and class in our African American Studies (AFAM) courses, but we struggled with how we could engage in conversations about it on our predominantly white and financially privileged campus. Nevertheless, the first weeks of class were filled with discussions about how not being white and financially secure impacts the college experience.

Some of our discussions included the following: If your textbooks are paid for by your parents, then going to the bookstore does not become something you dread — imagine having to decide between your language or chemistry textbooks. If you do not have to work while attending school, you have so much more time for classwork and socializing — the primary expectations of the college experience. Being financially privileged means you do not have to worry about dining dollars, and you probably will have more than enough at the end of the semester — imagine trying to study, play a non-scholarship sport or attend class on an empty stomach. Also, housing costs and options are probably of little concern so there is no need to be an RA which is one of the most intensive student jobs — have you ever paid attention to how much more diverse our RAs are compared to other spaces on campus? And as a class, when we realized that it seemed that our discussion was heavier on financial privilege than on race (and vice versa), we dug deeper and reflected on how underrepresented our small population of Students of Color was in the aforementioned examples of financial privilege.

In this African American Studies course, we continuously learned about each other and found a space where all of who we are was a part of our curricular engagement. Our collective hope is that all students find classes and spaces of belonging, like we have. We have gained so much from our individual and collective identities, confidences, comforts and discomforts as well. Engaging in this course with our own positionalities in mind as well as those of our peers has taught us so much. We are grateful that we can share some of it with you.

**Our articles are not meant to be inclusive of all ways race and class show up on our campus, but instead represent the areas we felt passionate about in this time and felt better informed to write about. Additional passions we shared included the following areas of focus: being a D3 student athlete, security on campus, the complexity of class within communities of color and the process of navigating the financial aid office.

How Privileged is your Lunch Tray?: Food Insecurity at Puget Sound

41% of college students struggle with food insecurity, meaning almost half of college students worry about their next meal. (Kett, E. M., & Welch). At Puget Sound, yes here, some students aren’t able to eat three meals a day. Could you imagine studying on an empty stomach? What if you were sitting in class hungry, and someone next to you was eating? For those of us not worried about our next meal, we have the privilege of food security. Privilege, as defined by Peggy McIntosh in her 1989 seminal text “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” is “…an invisible package of unearned assets which [one] can count on cashing in each day, but about which [one] was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.” Most of us students are dependent upon our parents, and thus what they have is what we have. For those students with unearned class privilege, take note that you cannot reject this privilege, but you can become aware of what this privilege does for you.

As a class, our growing knowledge about food insecurity reminds us how easily it could be overlooked — especially on a college campus, considering food is a basic human right: “All human beings…have the right to adequate food and the right to be free from hunger” (United Nations). In a similar style to McIntosh’s “Invisible Knapsack” article, we want to make our campus aware of several privileges that are held when someone has food security rather than the oppressions of food insecurity

You may have the privilege of food security if:

1. You do not need to pay attention to prices when making meal selections in the Diner.

2. You know you can have a meal at any time due to having access to funds outside of dining dollars (i.e. money to DoorDash a meal).

3. You don’t realize the allergy station is the most expensive station, allergies don’t just go away if you can’t afford them.

4. You complain about specialty items or general items not being “good enough” when other campus members around you might not be able to afford that meal.

5. You do not notice the increasing cost of protein options.

6. You are not aware of our dining dollars donation program.

7. You do not know about the food pantry. ***Recently the food pantry was relocated, however, the hours of access and privacy to access were greatly reduced.

8. You didn’t bat an eye when the cost of food items went up in the Diner and Cafes at the beginning of Spring 2023 semester. ***This changed the prices of food, but not the amount of money we receive in each plan.

If you are able to agree with multiple of these bullet points, then you may be immune from food insecurity. Food security at our university is a privilege not afforded to all. If you wish to support those facing food insecurity, then please consider what you can do for our community. You can donate dining dollars, you can donate to the food pantry, and you can share information about resources that are available. The food pantry is located in a blue house across from the SDC and next to the Yellow House. *By the time this article is published, swipe card access to the food pantry should be installed or almost installed, meaning students could have 24/7 access.

Advising at the Pre-Major Stage: Why faculty advising means more than you think

As students on this campus, we’ve seen first-hand how our advising system affects us. Many of us have shared our frustrations, and it’s been brought to our attention that despite the heavy role professors play in pre-major advising, they are not specifically trained in the process. Yes, professors are skilled at the intricacies of how to complete their department’s major/minor programs, but guiding students to meet general requirements is not simple. At 18, fresh in college, these advisee/advisor relationships are everything to us. How are students, and especially those with oppressed identities, supposed to speak up? All of our professors must know how to engage with students from varying backgrounds. But many of us have heard unfortunate stories about faculty advising or experienced it ourselves; in this article, we share two such stories.

Coming into our first semester, we are assigned an advisor from a field we’re interested in and often enroll in a class with them; this first-year advising experience is the focus of our first story. This student did not excel in this class, but not knowing all their options, they did not drop the class either. Their professor/advisor consistently commented on their lack of skills in the classroom during advising sessions; thus, they set up a class plan for improvement. Despite being a first-year and first-generation student, the professor/advisor did not follow through on their end. This student felt stuck. This led them to question their major and place within the university. Who were they supposed to go to if the person they were having trouble with was the person they were supposed to confide in?

This student stuck it out and found a professor they felt comfortable with within the same department. Switching advisors was one of the most anxiety-ridden moments this student has had on campus — they are now a junior. They didn’t know how often and how normal this situation was. Because of how this situation affected them, this student still feels they must avoid classes with this professor, who teaches in their major.

Another student shared their narrative about transferring to UPS from a community college. During their first week of classes, they realized that the major they originally transferred with would take longer than two years to complete, because several courses did not count in the major. They reached out to several professors in the department they would major in, and were assigned an advisor. With the goal of finishing their degree in two years, they changed classes quickly based on the guidance of their new advisor, who they were very grateful for. Already having a hard transition, they asked if they had to take four classes to be full time and accurately, their advisor said no. You only need three classes to be full time. Additionally, the professor confirmed that if the student took three classes both semesters that year and four each the next year, they would have the required credits to graduate. This was ideal for them.

Later on, when planning out what the student thought would be their final year here, they found out that despite having the potential 32 units to graduate, they would not be graduating. Did you know that we need to take at least 16 residency units here at UPS to graduate? At least half of the credits you are required to complete must be done at UPS. This student didn’t know that, and their faculty advisor unfortunately missed it when reviewing the graduation requirements. This student now has to stay beyond their expected date to graduate, a main reason why they altered their original major. This student went to community college to save money but is ending up having to continue to pay more due to this crucial mistake.

On behalf of all students, our class requests that our professors be better prepared and supported as pre-major and transfer advisors. For some of us, especially firstgen students, you are the first and often only resource we have at the beginning of our journey towards earning our degrees. From our eyes, faculty advisors hold our future in their hands, and we need them to think about how their positionality holds power over students. We request humility in moments of uncertainty about advising. In order to make a more accessible environment for all UPS students, sometimes it is okay to say, “I’m not certain but let me check with someone who would know.”

Dear SOAN Ethnographers: Join the Fight

Dear SOAN Faculty,

You teach us that Sociology and Anthropology are fields that require the ability to think critically: To analyze the way we talk, enter spaces and discuss topics regarding race and different positionalities. Unfortunately, we are also aware that many Students of Color have witnessed that not all SOAN professors practice what they preach — or rather, what they teach. Some of you position critical thinking by decolonizing fields like Anthropology and Sociology, yet despite such interrogation, we continue to miss the foundational conundrum: how can you truly decolonize Anthropology when the field was literally a tool of Colonization? And although Sociology is a newer field, with a different social lens, it is still built from the effects of Colonization. So, how can we decolonize two fields of study that were essentially born from Colonization itself? Just as Audre Lorde said, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” (Lorde, 1984).

The 2012 article “Decolonization is not a metaphor,” by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, explains why “Decolonizing” gets thrown around without consequence, and most often, as it seems to be in SOAN, becomes a metaphor for ‘racial justice’ work. Tuck and Yang interrogate: “One trend we have noticed, with growing apprehension, is the ease with which the language of decolonization has been superficially adopted into education and other social sciences, supplanting prior ways of talking about social justice, critical methodologies, or approaches which decenter settler perspectives,” (Tuck and Yang, 2012, p. 2). Tuck and Yang define decolonization as “the repatriation of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools,” (Tuck and Yang, 2012, p. 1). Based on Tuck and Yang’s critical engagement and analysis of the ill-informed efforts of many of us to use the concept of decolonization, the approach that SOAN is attempting is best defined as social and racial justice work. Unfortunately, it feels like many of us Students of Color in SOAN are the ones doing all of this work.

Our AFAM class is writing this public letter to express the level of harm many Students of Color have shared both privately and publicly regarding your department. This harm comes from Students of Color feeling devalued and dismissed within SOAN. One example occurred when a professor asked a Brown man from LA if he knew “all about the bloods and the crips” during class and in front of his white peers. The student felt racially profiled, criminalized, and like an outsider, but he simply replied: “no.” To this day he thinks about what would have happened if he had asked the professor or classmate to “please, explain.” Statements like this make Students of Color feel like their only value is if their experiences and trauma is used to educate their white peers instead of feeling like they too belong as students in these spaces. So how are they supposed to feel valued? Some Students of Color have shared that going into your SOAN classes makes them feel threatened, and puts them in a fight or flight mode every day. For many of us, we feel as if there is no space for diverse experiences and diverse ideas in these classrooms unless we force our fight instead of flight mode. Even then, we often feel unheard.

Students of Color in SOAN actively engage in what these disciplines require: They are critical and analyze the way they talk, the way they enter spaces, and the topics being discussed. For many of us, we are unable to navigate campus spaces without awareness and processing of our positionalities; it is what prepares us for our fight mode, and yet it is also what informs us of the potential of our flight mode. SOAN faculty, we share a quote by Sociologist Patricia Hill-Collins, as a note of how much of a benefit it is to have Students of Color in your classrooms, in a fight mode, who are pushing against the “hegemonic ideologies concerning race, class, gender, sexuality, and nation [which] are often so pervasive that it is difficult to conceptualize alternatives to them, let alone ways of resisting the social practices that they justify,” (Collins, Page 284). Your goals for SOAN are their goals too. Join the fight.

A Student of Color Response To White Invasion and “Advocacy”: Give us Some Space!

Imagine you’re chilling at home with your family, and suddenly, people who you’ve never seen before gather outside, peek through your windows, then sneak in to watch you.

Scary, right?

This sounds like a weird horror story, but eerily enough, it’s the experience of many students of color on this campus.

As a class, we’ve heard about this trend on campus of white students asking racial identity-based clubs if they can come to meetings to “learn.” These clubs are spaces where students come to be in community with each other; spaces to chill, to feel at home, not a “TED talk” space where Students of Color (SOC) teach white students about the SOC campus experience.

We understand the desire that white people have to understand SOC. There can be no progress if we can’t be understood. But please consider that the methods some folks are using to “understand” and “advocate” for students of color are inappropriate. Most of our white peers have not yet learned how to show up for their peers of color.

This issue is both social and institutional in nature. Notably — we have heard about the Sociology and Anthropology department encouraging students to observe identity-based organizations for ethnographic studies. Again, we understand that there is a lot of value that can be gained from understanding the experiences of SOC, but we are not zoo animals that you can watch (despite the fact that for some of us, this was a reality for our ancestors — e.g., the Bronx Zoo in 1906).

On the topic of erasure, sometimes we feel that our own voices of advocacy are erased by our well-meaning white peers. This is most prominent in the ways that white students participate in activism on our campus — Activism which often is supposed to support SOC.

White students can show up in spaces of advocacy without the same amount of concern for consequences. Think about the posters that were going up in relation to the town hall: A poster saying “Stop Crawford’s Cuts” with a drawing of red crab claws. Students of Color had to call and educate the creators of the poster in order to stop this dehumanizing poster from being shared. As students of color, we must navigate spaces of advocacy delicately. The university shows no fear in persecuting us unjustly (The UPS 3, for example). We know that you all may desire to show up for SOC in ways that we cannot for ourselves, but actually, it reminds us of the racism we constantly have to navigate. It silences us. It makes us invisible. It makes us feel powerless. It becomes a racist act instead of the intended anti-racist one

To our white peers, please consider the way you take up space.

As you, and all of us, reflect on this article, we want to encourage white campus community members to bear witness to the fact that People of Color rarely, if ever, get space to themselves. For a lot of SOC, identity-based clubs are the closest spaces to home on this campus. Feeling at home is where we all can find belonging.

Students of Color will never find belonging if the places they consider home continue to be sites of invasion.

Fully Funded doesn’t mean Free: TPS scholarship misleading to Tacoma Community

It is stated on our university website that the goal of the TPS commitment scholarship (TPS-CS) is to provide a financial aid package that meets the full demonstrated financial needs of Tacoma Public Schools’ graduates, but we have found in conversations with our peers that many recipients of this scholarship do not feel that this is the outcome. Recipients of the scholarship must be graduates from a Tacoma public high school which they attended for at least three years; additionally, they typically seem to be students of color, lower income families, and first-generation students. Considering how these populations experience compounded inequities, our class asks the question: Is the language used to describe how this scholarship works accessible to these students and their families? Or are we perpetuating inequity?

The language used to promote and engage students to apply for the TPS-CS is misguiding. “You might be eligible for a FULLY-FUNDED EDUCATION at Puget Sound!” could definitely be misinterpreted as a free ride, or a scholarship that requires no out-ofpocket costs for attendance. When misinterpreted, it can feel like a betrayal for some students and their families when they realize their unanticipated financial responsibility. Our class understands that there are other guidelines to meet when determining and meeting a student’s financial needs, such as the families’ EFC (expected family contribution), but the highlight made by the university to promote the scholarship does not provide easily understood clarity for any reader.

For those who seem to be targeted for this scholarship; first-generation students, students of color, and lower-income families, it could easily sound as if college will be fully paid for if this scholarship is granted. Why? Because navigating the college financial aid process has been found to be more difficult for these populations. This is partly the case because colleges use “inconsistent terminology and jargon, [and] do not include information on the cost that the institution is charging, and [they] group different types of financial aid, like grants, Federal Work-Study, and loans together. These practices make it difficult for students to understand and compare aid offers when deciding on which school best suits their financial needs and increases the chance of a student attending a school based on inaccurate financial information” (U.S Department of Education, 2021). Our TPS-CS peers have shared these stories, and despite more details about how ‘financial need’ is met on the website, the most prominent wording is like “click bait.” It is misleading, especially as TPS-CS is promoted as showing commitment to our Tacoma community.

If the Tacoma public schools’ commitment scholarship is going to continue to promote an opportunity seemingly targeted toward lower income families, first-generation students and students of color, we ask that the language be made accessible to prospective students and their families, and that the appropriate resources and spaces are created to help students break down and understand the award they are receiving prior to and throughout enrollment.

Dear fellow white students, Ask yourself: what don’t you have to think about?

As a class, my peers and I wanted this letter to be a bit different; we wanted one voice in particular to be clearly heard, the voice of a white middle class student. As a majority white and middle class campus, it is important that those who do hold these privileges understand how they affect our own day-to-day lives and how not having them may affect the lives of others. Being one of this majority, I am writing this piece to encourage you to interrogate how you show up on campus, as I am still doing.

When I was applying to colleges, I was privileged enough to only focus on student life and academics, and currently they remain my primary focus. Thankfully, AFAM courses have increased my understanding of the many things non-white and non-economically advantaged students must manage. I never had to worry about getting a local scholarship, I always have extra dining dollars, I never have to worry if someone is watching because of my race and I am never targeted in class discussions as the ethnographic experiment. This doesn’t mean that I’m immune to everything, but these are some of the things I didn’t and don’t have to think about as a student at the University of Puget Sound. Ask yourself: what don’t you have to think about?

I am neither a first-generation college student nor a student of color, and what I’ve learned about their journey has been uncomfortable to sit with at times because of our privileges. “Nearly 1 in 3 college students (30%) are both first-generation college students and racial minorities, possessing the intersectional identity of first-generation student(s) of color (FGSOC)” (U.S. Department of Education). If one or both of our parents attended college, then we have the advantages of having help with the application process, navigating the cost of college and understanding how to navigate the systems (which were built for us by us) once we enroll. Of course, it is not simple for us, but it does not compare to our FGSOC peers.

We must decenter ourselves and remain in our discomfort. My classmates have shared the fatigue they experience when some of us desire to feel oppressed in a comparative way. When we do not understand how to deal with white privilege and white guilt, then we rely on our other marginalized identities to help us feel like the victim rather than an oppressor. As a white queer person, I understand the desire to hold onto that marginalization because we are discriminated against as well, but the racial and financial privileges many of us hold do more for us than we often understand and admit.

As white students, we need to understand and admit that we do not have to worry about the social and institutional consequences of our political actions and activism. As white people, our activism is often temporary and situational because we do it because we want to, while people of color do it because they have to. Their lives often depend on it. Additionally, we know the differing levels of consequence for SOC. Perhaps this lack of consequence is why sometimes our activism is performative. Performative activism is not the same as being an ally. The true test of an ally is when those we fight alongside refer to us as one. We cannot title ourselves in these fights — it’s appropriative.

Part of knowing ourselves is actively navigating the impacts of our privileges. I am not silenced if I do not elevate my own oppressions over a peer’s. I can, and we must, recognize that some of our identities are more impactful than others. Focusing on our privileged identities does not take away from our oppressed ones.

Concluding thoughts:

As a class we want to thank you for engaging with our Public Scholarship project. It is not easy to publicly speak or write on issues that are often points of contention depending on people’s positionalities in life. Nevertheless, we are all a part of this campus community; if we remain silent, we cannot expect contention to depart, but rather for it to gain traction. In sharing these narratives publicly, we hope they become tools for discussion: a way to begin those conversations required in order to become a community where everyone feels they belong.

African American Studies 399 | Public Scholarship | Spring 2023

Each year, this class presents a public project focused on an area of concern most urgent to them. Made up of 6 students, each participant holds unique positionalities which promote continual learning of self and others in a space built for community. Below you will learn more about who co-wrote these articles.

● Josh Carrillo ‘23: Sociology and Anthropology; Chicano, He/Him.

● Kellen Hagans ‘24: African American Studies and Environmental Policy and Decision Making, Mixed Black and white; He/Him, and Queer.

● Rebecca Levine ‘24: African American Studies and Religious Studies; white, They/Them, and Queer.

● Riley Ofrecio ‘24: African American Studies and Politics and Government; Mixed Filipino and white, He/Him, and Queer.

● Chloe Pargmann ‘24: Communication and African American Studies; Mixed Black and white, She/Her and Queer.

● Kimora Phillips ‘24: African American Studies; Black & Asian, She/Her.

● Dr. LaToya Brackett: Assistant Professor of African American Studies, Leadership Team Member of the Race & Pedagogy Institute; African American, She/Her

***A note from the course professor, LaToya Brackett, PhD, African American Studies and Race & Pedagogy Institute: On behalf of AFAM 399, I first want to thank The Trail for making space for my students’ voices. Second, I want to state that these articles were built out of their journeys here at Puget Sound, and I am simply grateful to have been able to create the space from which they were envisioned. Because this course is one centered on public pedagogy, we intentionally worked as a collective in composing these articles. I am a part of this collective and I fully support what my students have desired to present with our campus community.