I have been a university student for seven years now. I pride myself on the fact that I did most of my learning outside the classroom. (If we’re honest with ourselves, I’m sure we would all say the same). A lot of that “informal” education came from the jobs I had in my field. But more than that, I learned through student activism and volunteer work — from my colleagues, really, and our collective efforts. It’s not any course in women’s studies — I didn’t take any! — that brought me to feminism. It was those other wonderful experiences and relationships.
I just finished my first year of law school. Happy to be here, and happy with the decision to go to the school that I did — one that prides itself on its commitment to principles of social justice, even though it sometimes falls short of them.
Confronting privilege is nothing new for me. I’m a racial minority woman going to school in Ottawa, for crying out loud! At the same time, I’m in a position of privilege by virtue of that. Yet, as this year has shown, the extent to which some people have not yet had their privilege challenged never ceases to amaze me.
Yes, it’s law school. It’s disproportionately upper middle-class, and brings in a certain “kind” of individual. Still, it’s unnerving the number of highly-educated, well-traveled, seemingly well-rounded people who fail to think twice before complaining that there are more women than men in law school; that affirmative action is reverse discrimination; that listening to a panel of female professors is alienating; that there is no such thing as a poverty cycle in Canada; that whenever the issue of sexual assault comes up in class they, as men, feel victimized; that they’re sick of looking at courses from an aboriginal law perspective; that they’re unconcerned by racism, unless it’s toward a close personal friend; and that the law cannot and should not be a remedy for racial discrimination, because status quo, yo.
Let me say, I’m an open-minded person. I don’t just mean a “progressive” person. I’m also eager to debate and engage people with differing views. However, the reality is that bringing about the kinder, feminist, collectively-oriented, direct democracy I envision will require changing political culture, changing people’s thinking issue by issue and as a whole.
To the point: How do we get more people (especially young people) on board with progressive social change? If all these well-educated, interesting people, who have had every opportunity to be exposed to progressive ideas in so-called liberal arts programs, can unwittingly believe such problematic things, is there hope in reaching out to them?
I like my classmates. Few are malicious. Many are simply oblivious, but to my mind that’s just as harmful, especially given the authority our society grants those with law degrees, formally or informally.
So how do we effectively reach out to people with these viewpoints? Is there a point at which someone is a lost cause? I hope not!
It can be exhausting, feeling like you’re always on the defensive with a simple ultimate objective of creating a more accepting community. It’s easy to say “well, that’s not my job”, or “why should I have to take on so much when my classmates are blissful ignorant and working towards better grades because of it?” (I know, I’ve said it!)
The simple answer is, because that’s what got you here. Someone at some point took the time to reach out to you. A blogger, an author, a classmate, an activist, a professor – as difficult as it may be, it’s on you (us!) to pay it forward and work on reaching out to our classmates.
Two more years of law friendships certainly will not mean everyone will share my political views (how boring would that be!), but it should mean that they will respect them, and be critical and sensitive in theirs. I’m willing to take on that challenge, because a few uncomfortable conversations are better than biting your tongue and feeling marginalized.
If anyone calls you out on it, just say you’re “networking”. These discussions will surely pay off in your future career – and in theirs.
My hope for this blog space is to write about the best methods for doing outreach on campus. I’m of the “more flies with honey” school, and looking to inspire more genuine dialogue along those lines.