25 to Life

Written by: Aaron Futrell

I was 13 in 1992 when the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) decided to descend on the neighborhood where I grew up. They chose to hold an event on MLK Day, which drew the national media to my neighborhood, way before James Holmes stepped into Century 16. I was 13 and had no clue how much of an impact that this one event would have on my life, as well as how it would shape my interactions with other people. I grew up being mesmerized by the stories of Harriet Tubman, Langston Hughes, W.E.B  Dubois, Emmitt Till, and for the most part, I celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. as my hero.

Twenty-five years later on Aug 12, 2017, eight years after the United States elected the first African American President, we have now come to a crossroads with much divisive rhetoric still dominating the media. The KKK also still exists, even though their branding and recruitment efforts have changed to mask their identity, calling themselves White Nationalists or the Alt-Right. These groups claim discrimination. Caucasians will soon be a minority in the U.S. since America has become a melting pot of diverse cultures, and they would like to see a return to the origins of our country.

I remember the first time I heard someone call a friend “a nigger”; this surprised me, as the person who spewed this hateful and painful word was a member of my Scout Troop, and though I did not always get along with this person, it stung. I still had to have interactions afterwards with that person as we shared many classes together.

Another time, two years ago, I was in a small farming town in Colorado. My family and I were walking back to the bed and breakfast, after the fireworks show ended; a young child said, “Nigger, go back home – you monkey.” I left shocked and disgusted by the hate and vile things that came from this young person.

The recent events on the campus in Charlottesville, VA was not about keeping statues that celebrated the heritage of the university. It actually was a racist organization trying to stoke the fires of hate and fear and recruit new members in the name of Southern heritage and preservation of their history. This provided a platform for the world to see the new faces of the KKK, who have taken the hoods off in an attempt to reclaim their identity.

As an adult, I see people standing up against hate and prejudice and want to join in uniting the world instead of dividing it. The names I mentioned earlier all were African-American Civil rights icons in the same vein that Susan B. Anthony was. We can now add to the list of civil rights defenders the civilian protester who was killed when an Alt-Right sympathizer drove into the crowd, mowing her down, and ending her life.

We as students can learn a lot from the events in Virginia, on campuses that promote diversity through various ways; whether it be lectures, guest speakers, or student organizations.  Our colleges remain one of best places when it comes to unity.

Virginia showed us what a broken community looks like when evil creeps in and destroys what once was a beautiful city. We will reach a turning point as the monuments of America’s racist past are falling. America cannot turn back, and we will leave our racist past where it belongs, and look toward future.

Don’t Touch My Crown

Written By: Tristen Johnson

*This post was originally published on www.naspa.org on March 6, 2017*

Braids. My natural hair. Wigs. A sew-in. A head wrap. There are limitless ways I choose to style and wear my hair. Besides my clothing, my hair is one of the ways I enjoy expressing myself. My hair is a symbol of creativity and patience but also a symbol of love for myself.  Growing up, I did not have a sense of pride in my hair because of the ridicule I faced from the kids I went to school with. They laughed because my hair was too short. They laughed because I wore mini-braids. I could not catch a break. It was not until graduate school that I began loving who I was and every state that my hair was in.

Image of Tirsten Johnson, an african american woman, in three seperate with photos displaying the different ways she can wear her hair.I started experimenting with various styles during my first year of grad school and that is when colleagues started commenting on my hair. If I wore a wig I heard, “Oh! Your hair is so big, today!” If I decided to wear my natural hair, “Wow! Your hair is so short!” If I walked in with 18 inches of weave, “How did you get it in there? It’s so long!” It got to the point where some professionals at my graduate institution decided how I should wear my hair to interview for professional jobs.

I had a meeting with one of the white supervisors at my graduate institution and I mentioned that I was contemplating my hair style for my upcoming job interviews at The Placement Exchange:

Tristen: I’m not sure if I should wear my natural hair or a sew-in. I’m trying to decide if I have enough time to do my hair every day or not.

Supervisor: I think you should wear your sew-ins. It’s straight and it looks more professional.

Not feeling comfortable enough to tell her that her statement was microaggressive, I moved on with the conversation. I ultimately interviewed with a sew-in and every day before my interviews, I looked in the mirror and felt my hair was “more professional”.

Navigating my hair through the professional world is often challenging. I have students who do not recognize me when I wear a new style – or do not take me seriously. I have had colleagues in the past who have questioned my professionalism because I chose to wear long braids. There was a point in time where I began questioning my own meaning in the workplace because of how I wore my hair.

I recommend that professionals who supervise people of color try to gauge understanding about our hair and why certain styles are necessary.  Sometimes we change our hair because it makes us feel good. Sometimes we change it because the weather outside is too harsh on our real hair. Whatever the case, critiquing a person’s work ethic based on their hairstyle is not a productive way to encourage supervisees and professionals.

I recognize, now, that the way I style my hair has nothing to do with my performance as a professional or how I serve the students who depend on me daily.  My hair expression is just a small portion of who I am but it is something that I value as a professional in Student Affairs.


NASPA logo - NASPA - New Professionals and Graduate Students Knowledge CommunityTristen Johnson is currently a Residence Hall Director at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a second-year doctoral student Illinois State University.

Passing the Torch

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”         -Martin Luther King Jr.

Written by: Kylie Henson

With MLK Jr.’s Birthday occurring this last Monday, we observe who he was and recognize the legacy he left behind. He fought and died for something he believed was right, and his legacy still lives on, purely because we are still fighting for his dreams to come true. As many participants did in the MLK Jr. Marade on Monday morning, we must accept the torch that is being passed from Mr. King to any human who strives for solidarity.

I wanted to share a quote with all of you that could accurately represent the feeling that many of us have right now due to political issues. In the end, this quote still holds true today and is something the American people are struggling with right now. Many people are trying to use hate and darkness to combat other hate and darkness, although that solves absolutely nothing. It isn’t until we can utilize love and light that our problems and struggles will be resolved.

Solidarity is defined as the unity or agreement of feelings/actions. Mr. King marched to find solidarity and even to create it & I challenge you to look for solidarity in your personal life, your work life, and even in our world.

Utilizing Technology to Promote Diversity

Written By: Kylie Henson

As our society continues to indulge in technology, it can be difficult to have a positive outlook on the utilization of technology. Many people have said that technology is taking over our lives, which in some perspectives can be true, although technology is surely making our lives less complicated. Furthermore, the access that is at our fingertips can be utilized to help leaders, educators, and professionals to internationally promote diversity by the touch of a button. This access opens a new door full of possibilities for outreach farther than our local communities, past our state borders, and even overseas.

So you might be thinking, well this is all a grand idea, but how can this be executed? Well, it is simpler than you think. Using your own creative brain and technology the possibilities are endless. All you have to do is try, and if everything fails, you can always try something new since technology is still growing and changing as we speak.

For instance, you can start a blog or a feature. Creating a blog with the purpose of promoting diversity cultivates a platform to share ideas or discuss pressing issues. Since technology has become accessible to most people, a blog can be seen and read by millions of viewers across the globe. By using such a rich resource, the internet, you can quickly and efficiently extend your reach to share the ideas that can motivate people to be more inclusive and more diverse as a whole.

With attention to the utilization of technology, another form to promote diversity would be through webinars. For those of you who do not know, a webinar is a seminar that is conducted over the internet. Through webinars, you could conduct a variety of different seminars that relate to diversity. The topics can pertain to something specific such as “Bullying” or even something as broad as “Diversity on College Campuses”. By creating a webinar you can expand your audience to maximize the impact of your message.

If you can utilize these resources, the boundaries for promoting diversity can be broken.

What is next for diversity & technology? Leave a comment below with your ideas!