Amplified is the official journal and newsletter of the Office of Equity and Diversity at Washington State Vancouver. Through poetry and prose, the publication amplifies historically underrepresented voices, elevates inclusive spaces of equity, challenges systems of dominance, and promotes healing and love to affirm every human being.
I will leave the door open
By Elisha Hardekopf
Orange you going to let me in?
When I moved to Tennessee, I struggled to get a job. I struggled to get a job interview. In Phoenix, which was more than five times the population, I was solicited to work—I barely had to apply or interview, opportunities were suggested and available to me. After reading through my resume and cover letters, my husband leveled his eyes and said, “I think you should edit your name and resubmit your applications. I don’t think people here are used to a name like yours having that much education and experience.” I put E-l-i-s-h-a Hardekopf (not my legal name, not my nickname) on top of my applications and resume and re-sent them. I started work at my first choice exactly two weeks later. My supervisor offered to address me by a different name; I chose to continue with the one that was welcomed.
What are the spaces and places that doors automatically open for you? Can you name the aspects of your identity that welcome you into some areas? These are places where doors magically open (or just stay open) and people are happy to see you. They greet you with a smile. They trust you. They believe you matter and are worthy of space on the planet. In other spaces, the intersections of your identity—height, weight, disability, race, economic level, education, gender expression, who you love—keep you as an outsider, and no matter how much you knock knock, you are not as welcome, and folks don’t want to let you in. When you do enter, people look away. Their smiles are forced, thin lines and their bodies stiffen as if you are a personal attack on their space. You may be invisible. Whatever your corporeality, your resulting lived experience creates a positionality that is informed by all the unique intersections of your identity.
Water you asking so many questions for? Just open up!
Positionality, as explored by Susan Scott, author of “Fierce Conversations,” is “where you live” and “how you understand the world.” She offers the image of a beach ball with distinctively colored stripes. Depending on which strip you reside, your world view and understanding are colored based upon where you “live,” your positionality. If then, your world is blue, you eat blue, sleep blue and listen to blue, and so when someone talks about green, red or yellow experiences, it might not make sense to your blue sensibility. After all, the world is blue…until we wander to a different strip of the world, or gain insight that other, equally colored experiences happen every single day.
Jonathan Chase, author of “From Surviving to Thriving,” shares his experiences on the autism spectrum. His interaction with red balloons at Red Robin causes him to sweat, panic and possibly leave the restaurant. The potential “pop” of the balloon is such a painful sensory experience, that he’d rather flee than experience it. Rather than suffer through the chaos and assault of sounds and sensations, he modified the transition times for his high school classes to avoid the noise and contact with various bodies. These reactions may seem extreme to someone who doesn’t experience sensory overload and processing differences, but Jonathan’s corporeality necessitated these adjustments to function in a world not built to support him.
I, Elisha Hardekopf, also made adjustments, for similar reasons. Have you?
Butter let me in or I’ll freeze!
Implicit, unconscious bias occurs because of embedded systems and structures. In the United States, the structure of power values whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality, able-bodied-ness, Christian-ness, wealth and high levels of formal education among other things. Patricia Hills Collins outlines these characteristics that support many systems of education, power distribution and access to resources. These preferences dominate media (Who is the hero and who are the villains?); the marketplace (What color are flesh-colored Band-Aids? Who has defined what is “beautiful?”); and even education (Who wrote the “great works” and who are the “brilliant minds” that we study and celebrate? From whose perspective do we tell the story of this nation?)
Those with aspects of their identities that conform to Hill Collins’ named characteristics gain unmitigated access and credibility; it’s as if doors are just open and waiting to welcome them. People with “intersections” of their identities that don’t conform to whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality, able-bodied-ness, Christian-ness, wealth or high formal education, are excluded systematically. The doors that were wide open and welcoming for some are slammed and impenetrable for others, freezing, starving, sometimes choking out their ability to be.
Theodore was not open, that’s why I’m knocking!
I, Elisha Hardekopf, continually take stock of my unearned advantages, my privileges, and can identify ways that I benefit from a system that values certain facets of my being. The unearned benefits, according to Peggy McIntosh in “The Invisible Knapsack,” are not based in “merit” or hard work and occur based upon positionality, with an “invisible, weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.” I also have made further adjustments to attempt entry into spaces where other parts of my identity are not recognized or welcome. Suppose that you also decide to review your unearned advantages and identify benefits you hold because of your perceived value in the current power structure.
What should you or I do? Do we feel guilty? Do we shut down the talk about privilege by demanding that we are good people and shouldn’t feel bad because “that’s the way things are”? We could. I also advocate that we take that social currency and spend it where it will make a difference. I urge you and I to recognize when we have power to ask questions and challenge the status quo.
Adore is between us, so open up!
In her book, “The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias,” Dolly Chugh advocates that those who want to dismantle oppressive systems get past this notion of privilege as a red carpet rolled out for us at all times (it may or may not be). Instead, work to understand the ordinary, everyday ways that our lives have “tailwinds” pushing us along, versus “headwinds” which slow or stop differently situated people. She suggests that we activate a growth mindset where we are “good-ish works-in-progress” rather than the defensive, “premade good person” who primarily fights to defend a personal status of not racist, not sexist, not homophobic, not ableist and “good.”
By focusing on and being willingly aware of what propels and supports us from our positionality, we can engage the systems around us so that we are disruptive to the everyday forces that push out or knock down people with different positionality. We can rebuild “the way things are” so that instead of continuing to welcome and support a select few in the ways we hire, support, promote, engage and celebrate, we honor the diverse perspectives and ways of being that bring us together and make us stronger, smarter and more impactful.
November is Native American Heritage Month and Nov. 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance. Heritage months and significant days are recognized at WSU Vancouver to celebrate, reflect, learn, advocate and affirm the rich histories, lived experiences and resilience of fellow human beings and communities in the face of historical and systemic exclusion. Building a community of equity means we work for access, antiracism, inclusion and belonging for everyone on campus. I invite you to join us in brave, healing spaces of self-reflection and skill-building. You don’t need to knock; the door is open.
Chase, Jonathan. (2016). “From Surviving to Thriving: Classroom Accommodations for Students on the Autism Spectrum,” Portland, Oregon: Out of the Bubble Publishing
Chugh, Dolly. (2020). “The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias,” New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishers
Hill Collins, Patricia. (2000). “Black Feminist Womanist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment,” New York, New York: Routledge
Lascala, Marisa. (2022). “70 Funny Knock Knock Jokes for Kids with Hilarious Families”
McIntosh, Peggy. (1989) “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”
Scott, Susan (2017). “Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time,” New York, New York: Penguin Random House
Submit your affirmation
The Virtual Gallery of Affirmations is an ongoing project. WSU Vancouver students, faculty, staff, campus partners and neighbors are welcomed to submit works of affirmation (letters, messages, art, poetry, etc.) to appear in the virtual gallery. Send to Obie Ford III, firstname.lastname@example.org and Brenda Alling, email@example.com