The Chemist: Allyship at a PWI
Hey everyone. There has truly been a lot going on lately. We really cannot catch a break. I hope you all are holding up as best as you can. Remember to unplug every once in a while, your mental health is important. In light of all of the murders of Black people at the hands of the police, and since everyone is *finally* ready to help us out, we decided to talk about what allyship SHOULD look like in our respective environments. My post is going to focus on academia and how non-Black POC and white people can be better allies.
Disclaimer: this is NOT an exhaustive list and it will NOT give you the blueprint to acing allyship. It will point you in the right direction though. I just don’t want you reading this thinking I’m going to do the work for you. That’s not happening. These are just suggestions.
Okay. Let me set the stage. I’ve attended PWI’s for undergrad and grad school and in both cases I’ve been one out of many. That’s hard to navigate alone as a Black woman, so finding good allies has been important for the progression in my academic career. Now my Alma mater and current university are not perfect and there are structural practices that have to be addressed, but for my post I’m going to focus on student-to-student/colleague-to-colleague practices - some of which can be used in student-faculty relationships.
Here we go.
Do your homework.
I really cannot stress this enough. You can’t be an effective ally if you don’t fully understand the severity of Black issues. Your help will be performative and no one has time for that. Show you care by doing the leg work and researching the disparities between Black people and everyone else, where they came from, what they look like now, etc. Once YOU understand what’s going on, you can actually help change it. I also must mention that is not my job (or any other Black person’s job) to help you with this. WE live this every day. It’s traumatic. You’re privileged because you get to read about it. Always remember that.
Once you know better, you can help others know better too. Call out everyone. No one should be safe from these conversations. Your family, friends, labmates, everyone needs to be working to understand these issues. White people don't listen to Black people soooooo that’s where YOU come in. Don’t keep all that knowledge to yourself, share it.
Listen to us. Amplify our voices.
Remember how I said I’m always one out of many? And then how I said white people don’t listen to Black people? What do you think your job is then? You guessed it. YOU listen to me. YOU amplify my voice. It won’t be a lot of Black students at PWI’s so our voices get drowned out and silenced often and easily. But you in the majority? You can help. You can listen to my concerns and help me voice them. They’ll listen to you.
Recognize your privilege and leverage it.
This is a two part suggestion. It first requires you to take a good look at yourself and acknowledge your privilege. Are the opportunities the same? What about the funding? How about awards/recognition? Who is the programming geared towards? These are just some of the ways you’re privileged and once you see them, use them for Black people. That’s the second part. If you know a Black person that’s doing amazing work, nominate them for that award they may not have known about. Gotten access to information before other people (this is a huge one and also a post for another time)? Share those resources. Your department only inviting white speakers for seminars? Suggest a Black one. Whatever access you are granted because of your whiteness, be sure to use it to help Black students.
My last suggestion for you is to practice. You’re not going to be a good ally overnight. There’s no final level to reach. You have to continually work at it and the work never stops. You have to be intentional about it and you have to be fine making people uncomfortable. Black people have been uncomfortable for hundreds of years, white people will live. I promise. Get involved with organizations that cater to Black students. Spread the word about them to their target demographic too. Continue to create dialogue with your peers and administrators. Donate your time and money. It’s hard work, but it goes a long way and can bring about true change. We can’t do this alone so buckle up for the ride.
Just make sure you don’t stop practicing allyship because I can’t stop being Black.