Dr. Liz Cannon
Director of LGBTQ+ Resource Center, Lecturer in Women and Gender Studies, LGBT Studies Certificate Coordinator
I lead a study abroad with a colleague to Tanzania, and we probably took students there six to eight times. There was a situation where we were at a… what is the best way to describe it…it was run by Pete and Charlotte O’Neal, who were a part of the Black Panther Movement. And they are now…Pete is now exiled from the U.S… Charlotte is not. But they had developed this wonderful community compound in Tanzania and were serving the area around them. And they often had study abroad groups come stay with them partly to raise more revenue but also connect with us, and connect us with different communities. They did this thing called a youth forum; where they would have youth from the area join our students. It was interesting because, culturally, one culture is going to do things that another culture doesn’t support and the other culture is going to do things that the other culture doesn’t support. They were questioning our students about homosexuality and in the U.S., in their eyes of this. They were pretty much downgrading it. It was interesting because there were several of us queer on that trip, and both my colleague and the other students, who were not Queer, who were allies, sort of took the floor and supported us at that moment; that agreement was ‘we would agree to disagree and move on.’ And, we were able to do that, and then we were able to have a good conversation the rest of the time. But I certainly remember that.
When you talk about inclusion, you often are talking about people being invited to participate. But that means somebody is doing the inviting. And I’m always trying to figure out ‘How do we de-center power?’ And really have a space that is open for all individuals to come, all voices to be weighted the same. And if you’re really going to have a conversation, you’ve got to have voices represent all of our identities.
I know in a lot of ways a lot of change happens from the bottom up. But if it’s really going to happen on this campus, it’s really important to get sort of that top-down…because, reality is…that is where the power is.
We have to try to stop being so sensitive, and… we have to change our language from feeling like we are being called out if somebody suggests we made an error that slips into a microaggression. And instead, we have to realize that we are being called in. The reaction shouldn’t be one of embarrassment or shame, but one of “oh yeah, we are working on this together!”