Becoming a better ally at Next Step

Guest column by Lauren Gardner, sophomore business major.    

Two weekends ago, I participated in the most meaningful experience of my Chapman career, so far at least.

I was fortunate enough to be one of about 70 attendees of the Next Step social justice retreat in Mentone, Calif., near Big Bear. It changed my life, and that’s not a phrase I use lightly. I learned not only to be a better ally for social justice, but also a better member of the Chapman community, and I think everyone on our campus could benefit from the same lessons.

Going into the retreat, I thought I knew what to expect. I’d learn ways to combat racism, oppression against the LGBTQIA community and so forth. To be honest, I thought I’d have little to learn, since I had friends in these subordinated groups.

As a white, heterosexual, middle class young woman born and raised in a largely homogenous community, it turns out I had a lot to learn. Shocking, I know.

In all seriousness, I was fascinated by how much I didn’t know about these communities I already considered myself an ally for. At Next Step, I got to evaluate some of the root causes for the maladroit, prejudiced perception of the dominant (read: white, heterosexual) and subordinated (read: people of color, LGBTQIA) groups in American society. Even though I have two jobs and struggle to pay some of my bills, I can still be considered privileged because of my Casper-toned skin.

What’s more, I saw how difficult it can be for members of the LGBTQIA community to feel safe on campus. As a woman, I worry when I have to walk the two blocks from campus to my house after my night lecture class. Factor in the string of hate incidents that racked our campus last semester, and imagine how it must feel to be a young lesbian or transgender student placed in the same situation.

I think everyone on our campus should participate in this retreat, particularly our faculty members. In my retreat small group, we discussed what an impact it would have on campus if top administrators like Dean Price, Chancellor Struppa and President Doti participated in Next Step just once. We as a school proclaim a message of inclusiveness, but I think we’d all be able to practice what we preach much better if we were more educated about what it means to be a social justice ally.

I plan on getting Safe Space certified and hoping to attend more Queer/Straight Alliance (QSA) and Black Student Union (BSU) events on campus. I’m going to use my voice to stand up for others who don’t have my privileges.

I still have a lot to learn, but I can’t think of a more noble cause to devote my time to. I challenge you to do the same. Apply for Next Step next spring. Educate yourself. Join the growing chorus of voices standing up for equity.


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