People of Ability

So what’s your typical morning routine like? Maybe you grumble at the alarm clock before lazily getting out of bed, and then make your way to the shower. After a quick breakfast or a sip of coffee you’re on your way to the bus or your car for a lovely morning commute. And after spending that amazing hour stuck in traffic you get to park at Cal State L.A., or the bus drops you off about a half mile from where you might actually want to be. And of course the California weather has your back, because it’ll either be hot enough to make pancakes on the sidewalk, gloomy and windy enough to inspire you to write a blue’s song, or raining hard enough that you consider wearing swimming goggles. And if this morning hasn’t been the best yet, you still have all those lovely stairs to climb before starting your day!

But pause for a minute and think about how your morning would be if you couldn’t walk or if you couldn’t see. Disability creates a world that is different from the one we typically see. There are mountains that people with disabilities have to climb over every day; mountains that the privileged only perceive to be inconvenient and annoying. By critically examining the environment we can see how the physical structure is adapted to provide access to those that are physically disabled. However, if we examine the social environment, can we reach the same conclusion? And what about the individuals with psychological disabilities? How do people treat those with Down syndrome, attention deficit disorder, or obsessive compulsive personality disorder?

There’s something called a “social model of disability,” which explains that people think of the human body as a machine, and should the machine ever “break” there is a need to fix it so the machine can still function properly. But there’s the notion that the machine has to be fixed in order to be accepted by society. It is in this sense that, although a tragic accident may have caused a disability, it is society that keeps a person disabled.

So I’m going to leave you with a challenge: critically examine how we interact with people with disabilities. Are we accommodating? Are we supportive? Do we patronize? Disability is a culture, lest we forget. It is the path that some people take; it is not the destination or the outcome. It’s important to treat everyone as human beings, whether they be in a wheelchair, unable to hear, of a different religion, or a different color. We’re all human, so we all have the right to be treated with respect.

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Prop 8 & DOMA: Are We Equal Yet?

Today is a monumental day! Hooray!

The Supreme Court has allowed a lower court ruling striking down Prop 8 to stand, which means same-sex marriages may resume in California, but no word yet on when exactly. The Court has also invalidated provisions of the Defense against Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. This means that legally married same-sex couples will receive all the same legal protections, rights, privileges, and responsibilities as opposite-sex couples.

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I do not by any means want to take away from these amazing steps toward marriage equality. By far these are points of hope especially when considering that a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, preventing implementation of discriminatory voting procedures, has been invalidated and Texas is currently embroiled in a bitter battle over women’s access to reproductive health care.

This is one battle, hard-fought and rightfully won, but still just one battle in a larger struggle not just for marriage equality but for LGBTQ+ rights country wide. And let’s not forget that people of color and women among others have not achieved equality either.

I am grateful to finally be allowed to get married in California, but if I moved to a state that does not recognize my marriage then I will forfeit all my federal marriage benefits. This is something opposite-sex couples do not have to worry about. The Supreme Court could have set a lot of important precedents supporting the gay rights movement, but they chose not to. I understand the political considerations involved and am not surprised at the outcome, but still I am a bit disappointed.

More than anything I don’t want these rulings to suggest that the LGTBQ+ community have been elevated out of second class citizen status. What about same-sex marriages including a foreign national? What about support for transgender individuals and access to facilities? What about LGBTQ bullying, violence, and suicide? So much remains to be done.

Let us celebrate this victory and prepare to continue the fight tomorrow, because this is a launching point for the gay rights movement, not an ending point, not by a long shot.

Microaggressions: It’s the Little Things

Microaggressions are defined as “demeaning implications and other subtle insults against minorities.” The truly sinister thing about microaggressions is that both perpetrators and victims are often completely unaware when they use them or are targeted by them. In fact, on the surface they often appear to be compliments until you grasp the assumptions behind them, they can be based on gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, class, and any other traditionally marginalized group.

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Personal Examples:

“Where are you from…no, like originally?”
“I thought Asians were supposed to be good at math.”
“When are you going to marry a nice man and have children?”
“Which one of you is the man in the relationship?”
“You speak English very well!”

Individually, they may seem harmless enough but overtime they can seriously impact one’s self-esteem and general feelings of self-worth. Targets of microaggressions usually don’t call people out on their ignorance because they don’t want to seem overly sensitive or combative and sometimes they aren’t certain they were even insulted at all.

But it’s important to speak up even though it may be difficult because microaggression perpetrators typically are not being purposefully malicious and while some may become defensive and offended those that truly wish to learn will and those who are apologetic will make amends. It isn’t easy having to think critically about the things we say and the things we hear. It takes courage and an open mind to live consciously in this manner. However, to create a more inclusive, respectful society we all have to be willing to critique others and be willing to get critiqued.

Lemonade for Peace

On a sunny day a little girl decided to sell lemonade for $1 to raise money for peace. She set up shop on her lawn, across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church. So naturally, the people from such a church had a few words to say (words of which I am not fond of and will not type, but are easy to search for after you finish reading this blog). Their behavior is representative of what happens too often: when religion is used as a tool for oppression. Surprising to most, the religious aren’t the only ones judging; those who aren’t affiliated with a religion often automatically judge those that do identify with a belief system. When I say religion, I refer to the most popularly known: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

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What I’m proposing is to be critical and think about the fact that we are human. Our religion may influence us greatly, but we cannot allow that to oppress us in a way that makes us look like a chained dog ready to attack anyone our owner says is bad. When we stop seeing people for what they have on the outside, we see humanity in its purest form.

So here’s a hard challenge: Whenever we meet people who have strong negative opinions about us or others, try not to do what they do. Do not judge or hate the people who commit these acts. It’s the institutions they’re caught up in that have misconstrued their views and have forced them to be what shouldn’t be. It’s within my firmest belief that religion was not created to be a tool for oppression, and there is much good in religion.

Christianity, Judaism, and Islamic religions give a moral compass, but it is up to the individual to think critically so that this compass doesn’t become a navigation system that will lead you to oppressionvile or to the front steps of the Westboro Church.
I’ve let go of the strong emotions I feel towards the Westboro Church members. In fact, I pity them. Being lost in such a hateful institution is a horrible place to be in, and I only hope that they realize what they’re doing. I have confidence that people in any religion with strong doctrines will began to think what they’re doing and ultimately value the fact that we’re all simply human. Maybe one day they can purchase a dollar’s worth of lemonade for peace.

*Doctrine: a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government.

Dear Class of 2013

To those of you graduating soon (like today or tomorrow soon, whoa) congratulations! You made it! No matter how long it took, no matter how many obstacles you faced getting here, YOU ARE HERE! Take a breath and bask in the glory.

Only 30% of Americans possess Bachelor’s degrees and 8% have Master’s degrees, so your hard work has made you the crème de la crème!

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I know it’s a hectic, crazy, changing world we’re headed into, but please take some downtime, treat yourself, you’ve earned it. Reflect on your journey to this point, what you’ve learned, and what you want to take away. Spend some time with family and friends who, like you, may be leaving to pursue their dreams in other places. Its post-finals time so crawl out from your dark study cave and get some fresh air, mmkay?

Be good to yourself. This has not been a walk in the park but that’s a positive because your efforts have molded your character and strengthened your will. You are not the same person you were when you started at CSULA, whether you can see the difference or not. And it’s important to take everything you have gained in and out of the classroom and use it to make the world a better place. I really wish that for you.

And that’s the charge I’m giving to myself and to all of you, to do as much good as possible whenever possible and minimize harm. I’m charging to stand up for yourself and those that cannot do the same for themselves. I’m asking you to be aware and active about the social and political issues affecting your communities and the world at large. Most of all I am asking you to never forget that everyone and I mean every one of us is in this together for better or for worse, so let’s make it for better. Be kind and be understanding to all those you happen to meet, we have all struggled to get to where we are. There is always common ground if you look hard enough.

While we’ve been in school I’m sure we have all been thinking about our place in the big picture. Well, it’s finally our turn to create the change we’ve always wanted to see, we’re the ones that are going to be in the offices, in the schools, in the hospitals, in the laboratories, on the stage, behind the camera etc. Think about the impact you can make and the legacy you want to leave behind.

And of course CONGRATULATIONS CSULA CLASS OF 2013!

The Involved Path to Academic Success

College can be one of the most exciting and thrilling times of our lives. For many, it is the first opportunity where we’re exploring our independence by setting our own schedule and taking the classes we want. However, we can’t ignore the growing drop-out rate. We know that college can be stressful, but there are two ways to look at college: as a threat, or as a challenge. If we see it as a threat, we’re more likely to become overstressed and suffer academic consequences (bad grades, flunking, or possibly dropping out). If we see it as a challenge we are more likely to accomplish the goals we set as freshman. This is the motivation we feel when we know we’re going to pass our classes, and when we can see ourselves with a degree in our hand.

So here’s the problem as I see it: “how do we motivate people?” How can we change the thought of “having” to go to school into the desire to “want” to go to school? My proposed idea is: make school feel like a home.

“Oh! It’s so simple though!”

I get it, over simplification, yea. But I truly believe that involvement is a pathway to academic success. Being involved isn’t JUST joining a club; being involved creates a relationship with your campus. There’s an emotion aspect (where you feel you want to join an organization because you truly believe in what the club stands for) and a doing aspect (where you physically do something and invest your time). When you meet people who think like you do, there’s this exchange of similar ideas that reinforces the passion for knowledge. When you meet people with dissimilar views, there’s a moment where your ideas will be strengthened through being challenged.

Most importantly, being involved spins a web of social support from peers. Meeting people with common ideas and similar passion creates an instant connection. There’s a special and strong bond that forms when you meet another person that’s struggling to win the same battle you’re fighting for. Not only will they understand you, but they won’t let you fall behind. In a system where everyone wants to see each other achieve, your peer support will not allow you to even think about dropping out. These amazing, supportive, loving people become your family, and you’ll soon start to see school as another home.

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So it’s through the support of the people you will find while getting involved that will foster your academic and individual growth. These groups of people are the ones you’ll find yourself running to when academic stress gets too high, when you’re feeling like you don’t belong, and when you just want some praise and love. And I have to mention that this isn’t just a blog full of assumptions and ideas. I once heard “studies have shown that being involved will lead to greater academic success and those that are involved are more likely to graduate.” And when I looked for this research, well, it was scarce and not what I wanted. So I made my own study. And I can say that involved students ARE more likely to graduate. Being involved won’t magically boost your GPA, but it will boost the amount of confidence you have about being able to handle all the obstacles that college and put in front of you.

Sticks & Stones May Break Our Bones but Words May Always Oppress Us

Today, we’re talking about reclaiming language. There have been incidents in the CCC recently that have made me think hard about the words that we use. Specifically I’m talking about slurs, traditionally used to oppress certain minority groups that are being used casually by people NOT of that minority group.

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Is this ok? Is it ok if these individuals do not mean to call on the negative historical context of the term? Is it even possible to separate such terms from their oppressive roots?

The issue becomes even more complicated when considering whether people who are from the oppressed minority can reclaim slurs formerly used against them? Can the terms continue to be harmful even when used to empower?
These are not easy questions and there are a bevy of differing opinions but there certainly are merits to them.

On the one hand, the oppressed minority is entitled to take back those terms, to remove them from their negative connotations and bring them into the modern context as terms of solidarity, identity, and strength. However, it is generally agreed that people outside of that culture cannot use those terms just because they hear it being used in a reclaimed manner. Essentially, we cannot divorce words from their full meaning, at least not universally.

So, what happens when some members of a minority reclaim the term and use it while other similarly situated members consider them to be vulgar, distasteful, or just generally offensive? Can the term ever be fully reclaimed then?

In the above case, does anyone have to stop using a term simply because some find it offensive? Is this a slippery slope whereby all charged language is whitewashed?
How do we even begin to police the use of language? Should we try to police them at all?
Perhaps people are allowed to say whatever they want. Others may disagree and make it clear that the term is offensive.

So I suppose the only distinct answer is that people are allowed to use the terms as they see fit and everyone is allowed to feel good or bad about it respectively.

Maybe there are no hard and fast answers here. What do you think?