Let me start by saying this: I love where I went to school.
I attended The University of Arizona, which means that out here in Philly, I don’t often find myself surrounded by fellow alumni.
So when I opened my mailbox last week to find a mailer from the UA Honors College, from which I graduated, I was excited to see a little piece of my alma mater in my adopted city.
I flipped through a few pages. Smiled when I recognized some names and places.
Then I saw this.
The heading reads, “What it means to be a leader,” and it’s followed by six pictures of men. All men. Just guys being dudes.
Needless to say, I felt very <thinking face emoji>.
So what did I do about it? I yelled about it on social media, that’s what. I didn’t write my senior honors thesis about feminist theory for nothin’. What else did they expect from me?
— Valerie Hoke (@valperiepal) January 17, 2017
Twitter was a good start, but the Honors College, bless them, is not very active on the platform. To Facebook I went.
Good old Mountain Time meant that back in the desert, the folks at the Honors College were still getting ready to close up shop. I received a response fairly quickly. (Spoiler alert: It was, to quote our new POTUS, “Bad!”)
Now look. My goal here isn’t to talk trash about my beloved alma mater here on the ChatterBlast blog. But I feel the need to address this common habit of deflecting any and all social media criticism thrown at an organization without admitting any fault.
Saying, “We once had a female dean!” does not disqualify you from ever being discriminatory toward women. Saying, “The women we asked didn’t respond :(” does not clear you from the responsibility of taking representation into account before publishing an all-male feature.
I—and Blaster-In-Chief Matt Ray—responded as such. (Shoutout to Team CBM for having my back on this one. Those likes are probably 75 percent Blasters.)
The Honors College hasn’t made another peep in the thread since, which is also disappointing. I was glad to note, though, that I wasn’t the only one to share their disappointment over the feature.
Still, there’s a larger issue at bay here—one that goes way beyond social media. It’s the issue of representation.
Living in a digital world means that the voices of the people are louder, more powerful and more visible than ever before. When organizations fail to recognize the vast array of people they represent and serve—a.k.a. people who are largely not white and not male—they run into problems.
Representation shouldn’t be something an organization cares about in order to cover their tracks and avoid being called out. It should be something they care about because it’s the right thing to do. Because it’s among the most basic of responsibilities we have as human beings.
Not convinced? Just check the #representationmatters hashtag on Twitter. It’s an ongoing thread of personal experiences describing what it means to see the proper representation of people of all genders, races and sexual orientations in everything from film castings to staff directories.
— ESSENCE (@Essence) January 20, 2017
90% of the black girls who tlk to me @ the stage door cry telling me what it means to them to see me on stage #RepresentationMatters ????????????
— Denée Benton (@DeneeBenton) January 15, 2017
— GeekGirlCon (@GeekGirlCon) January 10, 2017
— Superhero Of Steel???? (@SuperheroSteel) January 4, 2017
When a person, organization or brand fails to represent more than just those with the most systemic power—i.e. white people and men—it’s our job to tell them.
Call ‘em out. Let ‘em know.
And do it in a way that is civil and constructive, of course, because that’s how people learn.
Holding people and things you care about to respectable standards is one of the most important ways for us to show we care.
I love you, UA Honors College. And that’s why I need you to do better.