Allies at MIIS

Allies at MIIS is an activist group but never have we been as challenged as we were this semester. Our challenges came primarily from trying to figure out how to best address the fallout from the cyberbullying incident on campus.

Our efforts included pressuring the administration to officially respond by reiterating institutional values. In particular, the group struggled with re-identifying our values and evaluating our approach and actions in this “crisis” period. We learnt a lot about ourselves and how we want to proceed in the future, beginning with selection of group members to established policies in terms of responses to campus needs.  We do take pride in what we achieved even though we did sweat blood in the process.

As the person leading the initiative, I am proud of the core group of students associated with this initiative for the courage they have shown in challenging both the administration and their peers. Below is a letter in which they address their peers on why it is important for all of us on this campus to focus more inwardly at what is going on in our backyard before rushing to solve global problems.

Changing our world before changing the world — a letter from your peers

Imagine you’re standing in a line and you see the barista being berated by a customer. Would you take a stand? What if you’re at a party with your friends and one of them starts making offensive or racist jokes? If everyone’s laughing, would you speak up? Most of us would like to think that we would take a stand in these situations, but in reality, statistics show that the average person only helps 20% of the time when others are around. This bystander effect leads us to believe others will take action, resulting in a failure to take action ourselves. It is scary to put ourselves into situations of discomfort by challenging an aggressor. However, remaining silent is to be complicit in the perpetuation of injustice. By doing so, we justify wrongful actions and make the statement that there are no consequences for bullying and discrimination.

Last semester, there was an incident of cyberbullying that took place in an unofficial MIIS Facebook page. Discriminatory comments were made by a member of our community. Many reacted to the post, but only one student challenged those comments. But without the support of allies, the single student who chose to stand up against bullying was silenced, the discriminatory comments were passed off as jokes, and the bullying comments remained. This incident could set a precedent that this kind of hate speech can go unquestioned and accepted within the MIIS community.

As members of Allies at MIIS, we too were silent—complacently remaining in our comfort zones rather than taking a hard stand when it was needed. By failing to act in the moment, we allowed those who were discriminated against to suffer alone. And while we carried on with our lives, unaffected, the targets of discrimination were left with a choice they should never have to make—advocate for themselves without support or resign themselves to passively accept the situation as it is. If we had taken a stand when we first noticed the discrimination happening, we could have prevented this choice from falling on their shoulders. In remaining bystanders, we failed to live up to our values as allies.

We were drawn to MIIS because of its mission to educate professionals to advance understanding, promote peace, and drive change in pursuit of a more just world. It is highlighted on our admittance folders – “Get Ready to Change the World”. But how are we supposed to change the world if we cannot recognize injustice in our own community and take a stand? We cannot make the world a better place without first making our community a better place.  

We have come to realize, through our involvement in the Center for Conflict Studies’ initiative Allies at MIIS, the importance of acting in the face of injustice, yet, in this instance, we still needed a push to act as it involved our campus community. We are grateful to Dr. Iyer for challenging us to act. And we stand even firmer in our values than ever before.

We want to challenge ourselves and our peers to demonstrate our true values through our actions and support one another in doing so. Next time we see such a situation, we must remember how our silence both worsens the pain felt by victims of bullying and discrimination and permits injustice to continue. We can and must do better.

We need to first focus on changing our world before we change the world.

Your peers and core members of Allies at MIIS,

Emily Day Hoang, Óscar Cejudo Corbalán, Gina Pham, Danika Robison

Contributions to an earlier draft made by: Peiyun (Clara) Xiang, Michael Robinson, Travon Varnado

Events to be held this semester

I am excited about the many events the Allies at MIIS initiative will host with generous support from the Office of the President, Provost and Vice-President (MIIS).

Tuesday, March 26: “R U Okay?: Mental Health Awareness in Higher Education”
6:30 PM – 8:30 PM, Irvine Auditorium
A thought-provoking lecture by consultant and author Nadine Vogel. Join us to learn from her experience about the necessity and results of integrating mental health services into higher education institutions.

Thursday, March 28: OPEN Discussion – Armchair Activism
12:15 PM – 1:50 PM, DLC Design Space

A discussion on the (in)action of posting on social media without ever doing anything to fight for the cause. Join us in this collaborative exercise to examine racial dynamics and equity on our campus.

Tuesday, April 2: The Gift of Our Wounds
6:30 PM – 8:30 PM, Irvine Auditorium

Come hear the story of Pardeep Kaleka and Arno Michaelis, two people whose book, The Gift of Our Wounds, examines the positive impact that can still come from violence. After losing his father to an attack on a Sikh temple by a white supremacy group, Pardeep reached out to a former leader of the group, Arno, and the two ended up discovering a lifelong friendship. Today, Pardeep and Arno’s organization Serve2Unite reaches thousands of students with peacebuilding programs. On Tuesday, April 2, Pardeep and Arno will share with us their story and their work.

Thursday, April 16: OPEN Discussion – Toxic Masculinity
12:15 PM – 1:50 PM, DLC Design Space

With the aim of sharing, listening, learning, and understanding, Allies at MIIS will host another dialogue event (part of our OPEN candid conversation series) on race among MIIS students, faculty, and staff. Join us in a collaborative exercise to examine racial dynamics and equity on our campus. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to join the discussion.

Monday, May 6: Reading Club Discussion Born on the Edge of Race and Gender
12:00 PM – 2:00 PM, DLC Design Space

Join Allies at MIIS to discuss visiting practitioner Willy Wilkinson’s book, Born on the Edge of Race and Gender, a discussion on the intersectionality of trans* people. The author, Willy Wilkinson, will also be joining the discussion, so don’t miss out on this unparalleled opportunity.

Tuesday, May 7: Reimagining Asian American Masculinity: A mixed trans perspective
6:30 PM – 8:30 PM, McGowan 100

What is masculinity? Who can be masculine? How do we redefine masculinity when claiming it has been denied us? What does it mean to live authentically? 
Join Allies at MIIS to hear from Willy Wilkinson – award-winning writer and transgender cultural competency trainer. This lecture will have us explore the intricacies of gender and how it affects us on an everyday basis. We look forward to having you join the discussion. 
This event is open to the public.