by Daniel Crumbley
“I am not a bitch. I am not a fag. I am human.”
Last spring, when the participants in the Student Success Fair at Estrella Mountain Community College produced an art project called the “I Will Graduate…” vision wall, in which students posted their handwritten motivations to graduate, none would have guessed that it would come to be publicly defaced with malicious words of intolerance and discrimination.
When one student, a campus leader who had posted notes on advocating for the transgender community, saw the word “fag” scrawled above their post along with “f**k bitches get money” on another side, they knew action had be taken.
Along with fellow students, from clubs such as the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, employees, and faculty alike, the “I Am Human” project was launched. Dr. Olga Tsoudis, professor of sociology at Estrella and “I Am Human” participant, explains, “Derogatory language is quite common in society. It is a way for individuals to attempt to control other individuals by putting them down.
Unfortunately, it happens everywhere. This project demonstrates that EMCC is committed to putting an end to this language. When the students came together, Administration and the EMCC Diversity Committee were 100% in agreement with the students. The staff including faculty participated to make this happen.”
With the new school year, “I Am Human” has now grown into a multimedia campaign using components such as posters, web pages, presentations, and even videos, “…[increasing] awareness of derogatory and degrading language on and off campus” to create environments where individuals are lifted up instead of dehumanized with hurtful or prejudicial words.
So far, the most powerful component of their progress and mission is a short introductory video. The video contains personal anecdotes and information from those on campus detailing the impactful power of words when they come in the form of hate.
Finding that such prejudice and hatred would exist within the diverse community of Maricopa colleges might be shocking for some according to student and faculty profiles.
Based on data from the Maricopa Community College and Estrella Mountain Community College sites, there are record numbers of typical minorities and liberals being the majority: 56 percent are women, 49 percent are non-Anglo, 41 percent are 25 years of age or older, 31.5 percent list themselves as non-traditional, and 92 percent of full-time faculty at Estrella are minorities as of 2010.
However, when paired with past events and academic opinions, the reality of progress and acceptance becomes all too real.
Just six years ago, the case of Kastl V. Maricopa County College District was affirmed as dismissed after years of deliberation; an adjunct instructor from Estrella was terminated after filing a complaint of discrimination when forced to prove genital reassignment in order to use the bathroom in 2000.
In addition, one student reports shocking numbers of perceived discrimination in a proposal from their EMCC Culture in Diversity course: in a class setting of 23, 30 percent felt discriminated against on campus and 50 percent felt they witnessed discrimination in an academic setting whether through action or language.
Even with progressive changes to non-policy discriminations for Maricopa Community Colleges in 2011, these similar stories and reports insist that there is a much-needed place for a project like “I Am Human” to create social change within EMCC and the entire district. Michael A. Bartley, program coordinator for Estrella and the “I Am Human” campaign, expresses his optimism, “…I hope this campaign helps further unite the community of Estrella Mountain and beyond.
We may all identify in different ways, but it is our diversity that strengthens us as humans.”
The real question is how long it will take before the entire district includes more projects and campaigns that tells people that just like everyone else they are simply human.