National Random Acts of Kindness Day

Author: Ashley Benedict

Today is National Random Acts of Kindness Day.

Though we should engage in acts of kindness 365 days a year, the reality is that most of us don’t. We don’t buy lunch for our friends, donate blood, or donate to charity every day. Today, however, is a day we can use as an excuse to show some kindness towards the people in our life (or, even better, those who aren’t). It’s always nice to be on the receiving end of someone else’s kindness, but it also feels good to be the one giving. Here are some things you can do to brighten someone’s day and show some kindness today (and every day):

1. Smile at a stranger.

This is the simplest – and perhaps most awkward – thing you can do. But hey, you never know if they’ll smile back, or if your smile will end up making their day just a little bit better.

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2. Give a genuine compliment.

Tell someone you like their shirt, or pants, or shoes. Tell your friends how great they look. Tell your coworkers how rockin’ they look every day. Shower your significant other with compliments. I know I always feel good when people compliment me. Spread the love.

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3. Offer to buy lunch for a friend

Obviously, if you’re tight on cash, don’t feel obligated to show kindness through purchases. But if you have plans with a friend today, perhaps offer to cover them, and maybe they’ll return the favor someday. Kindness is contagious. Even better, reach out to your local homeless community and buy hot meal or two. Even a small coffee would likely be appreciated.

4. Make a donation

Most organizations love and life off of donations. Check in with some local non-profits to see what kind of items they look for and often need. Here on GVSU’s campus, Replenish is a great place to start if you find yourself wanting to donate.

Replenish hours of operation: Monday through Thursday 1 p.m. – 6 p.m. and Friday 1 p.m. -3 p.m.; Kirkhof Center room 0074-lower level

Donations are accepted on site at Replenish or at the Women’s Center during open hours. Off-campus entities can request someone pick up their donations by contacting the Women’s Center at 616-331-2748 or womenctr@gvsu.edu. Donations may be in the form of perishable and non-perishable food items, gift cards to local grocery stores, or a monetary donation. Donations are tax-deductible and the donor will be provided with a receipt from University Development reflecting their contribution. Some of the items that are most popular include laundry detergent, pasta sauce, cereal, peanut butter, canned chicken/tuna, pasta, soup, granola bars, and feminine hygiene products.

5. Donate blood

If you find you have an extra few hours today, perhaps drop by a local blood bank and offer to donate blood. There is a national need for blood donations every day (every 2 seconds, actually), and knowing that you’ll be helping someone out there and potentially saving a life is as good enough a reason as any to go out and take the time to donate. Blood banks often run out of type O and B blood. Do you have one of those blood types? Your donation would be especially appreciated. Go to http://www.miblood.org/ to find some donation centers or blood drives near you. GVSU also has multiple blood drives coming up, so be sure to check those out!

6. Hold the door or elevator open for someone

For most of us, this is a common courtesy we do subconsciously every day. However, try to do it every time you open a door or ride an elevator today. Those around you will appreciate it, and it often leads to them doing the same for other people! If the person is super far away though, things may get awkward. Hold the door open at your own risk of becoming a door stop.

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7. Pay it forward.

Like previously stated, don’t feel obligated to do this if you’re tight on money. But it’s always a nice surprise to find that someone has paid for your coffee or movie, and again, it often leads to a chain of people doing the same.

8. Call a loved one

A lot of students live on campus, and may not be able to see their loved ones as often as they would like. If you’re one of those students, try to set aside some time today to call up some family members and let them know how much you care about and appreciate them. They won’t be expecting it, and I guarantee it’ll make their day to hear from you.

9. Ask if you can help

If you see someone on or off campus struggling with something, it can never hurt to ask whether or not they would like some help. Most people will probably appreciate the extended offer, and if they take it, it’ll feel nice to know that you’ve done something for another person with no external reward.

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10. Volunteer

Perhaps the most important thing you can do, if you have the time, is volunteer. Come to the Women’s Center and ask about organizations we work with, and how/when you can help. Call up some local non-profits and see when they need volunteers and the kinds of duties they complete. A lot of organizations tend to rely on volunteers, and it’s always nice for them to see people taking an interest in their work.

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The great thing about all of these ideas are that they are small things you can do any day of the year. Make a habit out of extending kindness to others and engaging in random acts of kindness. If we all tried to focus on those around us a bit more, I think our society could be a lot more empathetic and compassionate. Find more information on the website: https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/

What kind of random acts of kindness do you do on the daily? Which ones do you plan to do in the future? How do you feel when you do something kind for others? Or when others do something kind for you? Let us know! Submit personal stories, essays, and more to gvsufeministvoices@gmail.com.

 

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Author: Ashley Benedict

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Along with Black History Month, February is also Teen Dating Violence Awareness month. Approximately 1.5 million high school students in the U.S. experience physical abuse from their partner. 3 in 4 parents have never talked to their children about domestic violence. It is due to these numbers that abuse in teen relationships is such an important conversation.

What is teen dating violence?

Teen dating violence is “defined as a pattern of abuse or threat of abuse against teenaged dating partners, occurring in different forms, including verbal, emotional, physical, sexual and digital. TDV occurs across diverse groups and cultures.” Though this definition is essentially the same as domestic violence in adult relationships, teen dating violence is different in the forms it can take as well as the experiences of the victims. It’s also far more challenging to seek resources as well as provide them in situations such as this.

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Let’s Talk About Privilege

AUTHOR: Ashley Benedict

I know what you’re thinking: Privilege? Isn’t that topic a little worn out by now?

But really, is it? In my opinion, privilege isn’t discussed enough. Especially in light of recent events. For some reason, it’s become a dirty word. Whenever the word comes out of my mouth during a conversation, I often receive nothing but wide-eyed stares and scrunched noses. Nobody who has privilege wants to talk about their privilege. Why is that? Why do we work so hard to ignore this simple truth? This blog post works to examine what “privilege” is, who has it, why it’s important to acknowledge it, and how to move forward once you do.

What is privilege?

Definition: a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.

Privilege is essentially the opposite of oppression.

I’ll admit right now that when I first got into social justice, it took me some time to realize what privilege means. It upset me, because I knew that my life wasn’t hard, but it wasn’t easy either. To suggest that I had privilege was outrageous in my mind, despite the fact that, for the most part, I’m pretty darn privileged.

The word “privilege” can be broken down into many subcategories:

  • Socio-economic privilege
  • White privilege
  • Gender privilege (male privilege)
  • Gender identity privilege (cisgender privilege)
  • Christian privilege
  • Heterosexual privilege
  • Ableist privilege
  • Passing privilege
  • Education privilege

And so much more. You may have one or more of these, but you may not be sure (or willing to admit) which one applies to you. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to find out:

  • Do you (or did you, growing up) live comfortably? – In this context, let’s keep it simple by defining “comfortable” in the financial sense
  • Do you feel relatively safe when you see your local police officers driving around town?
  • Do you feel comfortable wearing what you want in public? (This can have both gendered, cultural, and religious connotations.)
  • Did you grow up without questioning your identity?

These are simply a few questions that one should ask themselves when attempting to figure out whether they have some form of privilege. If you answered ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, congratulations! You have some amount of privilege.

Now, defining what kind of privilege you have is much simpler. For example, if you answered ‘no’ to the question “Do you (or did you, growing up) live comfortably?” then you probably didn’t have the luxury of living in a very financially stable household. You probably faced some amount of food and financial insecurity during your childhood, and because of this, you may not be as financially privileged as others you know. If you answered ‘yes’ to the question “Did you grow up without questioning your identity?” then it’s safe to assume that you are quite privileged in terms of gender and sexuality. Many LGBTQIA+ individuals have gone through struggles that you may have never faced.

As a white woman, I can say that I have never experienced racism, so I am privileged due to my race. As a woman, however, I have experienced sexism. I am not as privileged as a man. As a non-straight individual, I have less privilege than those who identify as heterosexual. I am cisgender, so I have more privilege than those who identify as non-binary or trans. I live in a financially stable household, so I have more privilege than those who aren’t as financially well off as my family. I don’t suffer from any physical disabilities, so I am more privileged than those who have physical disabilities. I do live with anxiety, so I don’t have the same amount of privilege as those who don’t live with a mental disorder.

It’s important to note that saying that one is privileged doesn’t necessarily equate with dismissing the hardships someone may face. It’s not saying that anyone’s life is easy. What privilege tries to address is the fact that, due to our identities and how society perceives certain social groups, many people do have more privilege than others. All that you’re being asked to do is recognize how your social status (which you most likely didn’t ask to have) may provide you with benefits that someone with a different social status may not have.

Why is it important to acknowledge your privilege?

I think it’s important to first emphasize – again – that acknowledging your privilege doesn’t mean that you don’t face hardships in life. I think that’s where a lot of confusion comes from for most people. When your privilege is pointed out to you, nobody is saying that you live an easy life. You may live a very difficult life. And, you may be privileged in one way, but underprivileged in another. It is important to recognize the difference.

When you acknowledge your privilege, you are essentially having a conversation with yourself. If you are white, yes, you have white privilege. And it may take a while to acknowledge, but the truth remains the same. This simply means that you will never face discrimination because you are white. You will never face the same magnitude of discrimination that other races experience, such as the black community. If you are a man, you have male privilege, meaning, you will never face discrimination because of your sex or gender, whether it be in the workforce or in your everyday life. You will never be forced to endure society’s misandristic ideals (because they hardly exist), like women are forced to endure misogyny. If you are cisgender, you are privileged that you fall within society’s binary expectations of what gender is. You will never face the amount of discrimination that trans and non-binary individuals deal with in their every day lives.

Like previously said, this does not mean that you don’t face hardships. In the scope of privilege, it simply means that certain kinds of hardships will never affect you. It’s important to acknowledge this, because distinguishing where you have privilege and where you may not will ultimately help you form a better understanding of the world. Not only that, but acknowledging your privilege is a crucial step in recognizing the discrimination that other marginalized groups face and joining to fight against it. Those of us who have certain privileges should use that privilege for good and try to change these existing social structures that are damaging to our fellow citizens.

What do you do once this privilege is acknowledged?

First of all, here’s what not to do:

  1. Don’t defend yourself. No one is attacking you. No one is blaming you for having these privileges. Yes, you may have had a difficult life, but this is not the time to bring that up. Don’t ignore the hardships that other people may face just because you yourself have also faced hardships. Take this as an opportunity to stop and listen. Show compassion and empathy to your peers.
  2. Don’t force them to spill their life story to you. Not only is this rude and overstepping boundaries, but it seems as though you are trying to compare their struggles to yours. If they want to educate you, that’s fine, but don’t try and force them to. Your education and willingness to learn is up to you.
  3. Feeling guilty doesn’t help anyone. And when someone points out your privilege to you, their intentions aren’t to make you feel bad. In order to fix the problems of oppression and injustice, it is crucial that people be made aware of all components of the system. This includes privilege. You can acknowledge your guilt and examine why it is you feel guilty – this can only lead to a better understanding of yourself and the privileges you hold as opposed to others. However, guilt has a way of festering. Don’t let it fester.

Once you acknowledge your privilege, it is imperative that you first do your research. Educate yourself on how your privilege impacts yourself and others. Ask yourself questions that will help you reflect on your experiences, and how others’ experiences may be different than yours. For example, if you are a white man, you probably feel pretty safe if you’re walking alone at night. Stop and ask yourself why that is, and why women often feel a sense of fear in this same situation. Ask yourself why it is that women are taught to hold their keys in case of being attacked, or why we often call someone to pick us up, or why we tend to walk in groups.

It’s also crucial that you take this as an opportunity to stop and listen.  This is probably one of the hardest steps. It’s only natural for us to get defensive and want to compare struggles when people challenge us and ask us to check our privilege. Fight against that instinct. Take the time to listen to your peers and hear them out. This is a great opportunity to listen to perspectives that may vary greatly from your own. Giving yourself the capacity to listen to what others have to say is a great skill to learn, and will only help broaden your worldview and ultimately make you a more compassionate person. Being aware of the differences that exist between us will allow us to appreciate them. Listen to your black friends, and your Latinx friends, and anyone else who doesn’t share your identity. There is so much you can learn from others who live outside of your privileged bubble.

After you’ve educated yourself on each type of privilege you hold, it’s important to help bring awareness. By this, I don’t mean bragging to everyone you know about how much privilege you have and how awesome it is to be privileged. No. What I mean is that, as a society, we need to address these social structures that exist and we need to call them out. Stop for a moment and think about what makes you privileged. Are you white? Use your privilege to speak out against racism. Are you a man? Use your privilege to speak out against misogyny. And so on. Call out the fact that these privileges aren’t earned, but are instead a result of prejudices that revolve around those who are considered “outgroups” or “other” or “lesser” in society.

Next: Do something about it. Knowing that your privilege exists is good and all, but if you remain stagnant and do nothing with this knowledge that you’ve gained, what’s the point? In fact, that almost makes it worse. To be aware of your privilege is to take on a responsibility for using your privilege to better the world around you. And it’s not that hard. If you see someone behaving in a racist manner, why wouldn’t you want to step in and tell them that ‘hey, that’s not cool’? In my opinion, that’s simply being a decent human being. We are living in a time where it is crucial for everyone to take an active part in our communities. You are not an exception. Use your knowledge, and ask people how you can help.

Far too often, we (as a society) drown out the voices of marginalized groups. We have historically fought against the fundamental rights of these groups. Using your privilege to join these marginalized voices will, in turn, only strengthen this collective force. We are all different. And like I said, being aware of these differences is not a way to divide us (like so many tend to think). In fact, it’s quite the opposite. In order to achieve equality, we must recognize that we’re not the same and be okay with that fact. If we were to all take the time to research, listen, advocate, and do something when it comes to privilege, I think the world could be a much better place.

Don’t be one of the voices that drowns others out. Be a voice that advocates; be a voice that defends; be a voice that protects against prejudice. Use your privilege for good.

**If you are still unsure about privilege and what it means to have privilege, check out this short comic that does a great job of explaining/defining the difference.**

Women’s March: What Comes Next?

AUTHOR: Ashley Benedict

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Yesterday was a truly phenomenal occurrence. All over the world, across countries and continents, people marched as one for a worldwide Women’s March. This march was an effort to show solidarity and unity between people of all genders, sexualities, races, ethnicities, religions, classes, abilities, and backgrounds. It celebrated the power of women and the role that we have had throughout history. It called to action the disparities that still exist in women’s rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, racial rights, education, and so much more. It is the largest recorded inaugural protest in U.S. history.

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Source: Common Dreams (hyperlink attached to picture)

Yesterday made me proud to be an activist. It made me hopeful for the future. But at the same time, I have this nagging question in the back of my mind: what happens now? For most of us every day activists, the fight continues. We go on with our lives and try to make a difference through our words and actions. We try to educate and advocate. We do what we have always done. But then there are the people who attended these marches, who are unused to organized protests and every day activism. What will they do? Will they continue on in this everlasting battle? Or will they go on with their lives today as though nothing ever happened?

This question haunts me. And I do believe that if we are to truly effect change in this country – in this world – we need to see everyone who participated take a stand, not just for a day, but every day.

So what comes next?

I found this handy dandy list from this source, and I thought that they were some great ideas for those who are unsure what to do now.

  • What will you commit to doing after the marches?
  • Which organizations get funded and which ones don’t? Why?
  • When you donate, how is the money being spent?
  • Can you identify the body of work being produced?
  • What types of people are given opportunities to speak? People from that community or people OUTSIDE of that community? (I will discuss what “privilege” means in another post.)
  • How and why do certain issues become top priorities for who and why?
  • Which strategies worked and didn’t work in the past?

These are just a few questions that all activists should ask themselves. It is important that we have these conversations, not only with ourselves, but with other people as well. “Activism is not about how many panel discussions you can do. It’s about centering the stories and voices of people who are MOST affected.

After you ask yourself these questions, it’s important to focus on both REACTION and then ACTION. Allow yourself to sort through your emotions on these issues, as well as your own personal beliefs. But don’t allow yourself to remain focused on the negatives, because in the end, it will make you feel hopeless. Instead, turn your initial feelings into ACTION. Don’t simply think to yourself, “Wow, this is a horrible thing that needs to change.” If you take initiative to become an active part of your community, you can be apart of the effort to create change. Join a grassroots organization – put in the work. Use your voice to speak up against injustice. Direct the spotlight onto the people who are most affected by these oppressive institutions. And more than anything: organize.

Marching is a tool, not a goal. If you have no plan before and after the march, it will not be sustainable. It will merely just be a memory and that won’t be powerful enough to overcome ANY racist administration.

I really do hope that the massive turnout across the world yesterday will be a sign that people are ready to fight for the rights of not only themselves, but for everyone else as well. Preaching equal rights is one thing, but actively fighting for equal rights across the board is another. If we are to hope for any sort of change at all, these conversations have to continue, and so do these massive events. However, we cannot organize with no true goals in mind. Otherwise, we are filling the streets with nothing more than dreams – and dreams are fine and all, but fulfilling those dreams would taste even sweeter, I imagine.

I have learned a lot about activism in the years I’ve been an activist, and I’m still learning. I know there’s more that I could do, and that’s my own personal goal: to do more. Get more involved in my community. Research grassroots organizations and ask them what I can do to help. Use my own privilege to bolster the voices of those less privileged. Move into action.

What will you do?

What I Really Really Want…

 

Author: Ashley Benedict

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Source: The Global Goals. #WhatIReallyReallyWant is a video that promotes global gender justice (Click the image for the video)

 

This video is a gem I came across a while back and it miraculously appeared in my Facebook feed again today. I thought I would share this for those who haven’t had the opportunity to watch!

A few gender justice goals promoted in the video include:

  • End violence against girls
  • Quality education for all girls
  • End child marriage
  • Equal pay for equal work

A really short video, but powerful all the same (and quite entertaining!)

What do you really really want for gender justice?

To learn more about The Global Goals, click here.

#2017TheYearToVolunteer

AUTHOR: Erin Sharrow

I had a friend that posted his criticisms of the trending “new year, new me….this year i’m going to focus on me…” etc., and it got me thinking:

I’m never going to tell you not to focus on you, because you’re not doing your part in the world if you’re not growing and trying to better yourself. However, I think we should all find that helping others is to help ourselves as well.

So this year, let us get physically & mentally healthier, but also let’s get out to volunteer more. #2017theyeartovolunteer

 

Like Martin Luther King Jr., I Have A Dream

AUTHOR: Ashley Benedict

This coming Monday, January 16, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Here on GVSU’s campus, we are taking an entire week to commemorate MLK – both his memory and legacy. The theme of the week is “Engaging and Empowering Community,” and will include social justice workshops, the annual campus lunch and silent march, two keynote presentations, and the MLK Jr. Day of Service and Solidarity. For the second time, this year’s commemoration will also include GVSU’s fourth annual Teach-In entitled Power, Privilege and Difficult Dialogues. This is a day-long event in which students and staff come together to speak about issues that are important and pertinent to social justice issues today. Some events include, “Understanding the Significance of Stereotype Threat,” “Survivor Behavior: Navigating a Culture of Blame,” “Difficult Conversations: Examining the Systemic Discrimination in the US Criminal Justice System,” “Power, Privilege, and Allyship in the LGBTQIA+ Community,” and so many more.

I feel rather lucky to go to a university where these kinds of events even exist. I feel even luckier that the faculty across campus are so willing to engage in these difficult conversations with their students.

Martin Luther King Jr. spent his life working towards justice and peace. He dreamed of a world where it doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is (or, presumably, any other factor that you can be discriminated against for), but the content of your character. I think that including events that bring awareness to the still-existing social injustices that occur within our society is the first step to reaching true equality for all. In order to accept and be accepted, we must first educate ourselves and others. It is our job to finish what he started all those years ago.

Like Martin Luther King Jr., I have a dream. I dream that one day, we will move beyond the imaginary lines that divide us and we will work together towards a better tomorrow. Let us not keep this as a pipedream. Let us make this our reality.

I highly recommend attending at least one of these events. You may find that your worldview changes – or, if you’re already aware of these issues, you may just learn something about the world you hadn’t known before.

 

To learn more about GVSU’s MLK Commemoration Week, click here.

For more information on GVSU’s annual Teach-In, click here.