Taking Hopeful Action: How Counselors Can Turn Privilege Into Positive Change
In the past several days, I have searched for words to address the utterly appalling murders of black Americans which weigh heavily on my heart. I am sad. I am angry. I feel helpless. As a woman of white privilege, I cannot imagine the toll that systemic institutional racism has on my students and colleagues of color and their families. I don’t understand a system that has oppressed an entire population for over 400 years! But as the Dalai Lama once said, “It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act.” As the days have moved forward, while my anger, sadness, and guilt have not been erased, my feelings of hopelessness and helplessness have waned. I have watched as everyday Americans have taken to the streets, joined arm in arm with others from all races and experiences. I have watched as the rest of the world has joined in protesting the atrocities being perpetuated in America. I have watched people publicly acknowledge their mistakes and apologize. And I have watched as those who were once silent lend their voices to the collective cry. I want to believe that the time is now.
I certainly do not have the answers nor eloquent words, I am committed to taking action to be part of the solution. While there are many things that are out of our control, our profession’s ethical standards, competencies, position statements and mindsets & behaviors documents make it very clear there is no shortage of social justice work that can and MUST be done. I have to wrestle with my own discomfort and make more of an effort to make a difference. These are some of the steps I encourage all school counselors to consider.
Self-Reflection: The first step in taking meaningful action is self-reflection. Each of us has implicit biases in one area or another, despite our best of intentions. We are human and must acknowledge our personal shortcomings. Taking a deeply reflective inventory of our own privilege, beliefs, and experiences helps us to formulate a better response to social justice issues. If you’ve ever felt the need to say “I’m not a racist”, it’s time to check yourself. Humble yourself and acknowledge the mistakes you have made and will still make in this work. Apologize for them and learn from them.
Education/PD: Engage in chat groups or social media posts of trusted colleagues. Study common microaggressions and be prepared to identify them. Read books and articles and turn your social circles into discussion groups. Seek formal professional development by viewing webinars, enrolling in graduate coursework, or taking advantage of an offering by your state or national association. All of these groups have stepped up with a myriad of resources. Have conversations with students, families, and colleagues. Ask them their stories and listen to learn without judgement or defensiveness.
Advocacy: Speak out passionately, but also constructively. It is critical that our students hear from us and know that we will advocate for them. Walk with them and hold their hands! Take what you have learned through self-reflection and education and begin a dialogue with colleagues. If you are not good with conflict/confrontation, take a page from the counseling strategies playbook and rehearse your response when you witness racism in any form. Contact your legislators to share your experiences and concerns. Be sure to vote in every election and support others in doing the same. If your school policy is inadequate, talk with your principal, superintendent, or school board. If your district has not issued a statement encourage them to do so. If you feel your education did not prepare you to address this issue, share that concern with counselor education programs and their accrediting bodies as well as the professional development committee of your professional associations. Likewise, when powerful positive work is being done, recognize it publicly and share best practices. Talk with your school’s media specialist to ensure books and media represent people of color and do so positively. Encourage your teachers to consider their curriculum and how accurately it depicts minorities (if at all). While the concepts of advocacy are universal, the conversations may be unique to your situation. For example, in a school with a small minority demographic, some may feel this issue does not directly impact them. I would argue (loudly) that we must be preparing our students for a global economy and they must be ready to interact with individuals from all backgrounds to be successful in the workplace.
Service: If you have ideas and background in this area, please share your knowledge with others! Write a blog/article. Post to a social media group. Lead a discussion. Submit a proposal to present at annual conference. Run for a position on the Board of Directors or volunteer to serve on a committee of your professional association(s). Use your gifts! The more we share our knowledge, the more we all know!
“Be the change you want to see in the world!” ~Mahatma Gandhi