2016 and onward: DAI AWARENESS DOCUMENT
What is this?
This is a living document co-written by DAI students* who have a common interest of supporting the DAI community in becoming a space that cultivates awareness. In 2015, a small group of us started discussing ways we, as currently enrolled students and alumni, could contribute to the development of mindful and heartfelt feminist, de-colonial politics, where we can learn and grow as a community. With this document, we aim to bring forth tools for each member of the DAI community to engage respectfully and productively with each other. We aim to foster a learning environment where assumptions are the exception, not the norm, where positions of privilege and oppression are acknowledged, not ignored, and where a space for cultural differentiation, entanglement and mutual respect is created.
A note on education and labor
This document is a starting point for each of us to look at the situated positions we occupy within this institution, the classes we join and the groups we take part in. We know that each person has multiple community identifications, and that each identity has the potential to be a site of privilege or oppression. We invite everyone to proactively educate themselves about the power structures that define their position, and not rely on those who experience oppression to take on that role. Education is labor: it is time- and energy- consuming, and since internet is readily accessible there are no obstacles to self-education We hope these resources will support action and concrete changes in our discussions, practices and lives.
A note on language
We acknowledge that the use of English as a common language at the DAI is, in part, a result of colonialism and cultural imperialism. Be aware that everyone’s comfort level with English is different, and allow space for different Englishes. Be patient and tolerant with people who have English as a second (third or fourth) language, and ask for clarification when you sense a misunderstanding. Also, resist the urge to clique around people who speak only the language you speak.
Living together (consent and boundaries)
It is everyone’s responsibility to get consent if they want to engage in any activity with another person, including conversations. Remember that everyone has different physical, mental and emotional boundaries – something that may not seem inappropriate or like a boundary crossing for one person still may be one for someone else. Everyone’s boundaries are completely legitimate and not up for debate. No one has a right to make another person feel ‘too sensitive’ or ‘uncool’ because their boundaries are different than theirs. We grow up in societies that teach us to act and think in ways that are transphobic, sexist, racist, homophobic, etc., and learning how to change this is a long process. If someone points out that you said something exotifying or misgendering, listen to them. Apologize for what you said and reflect on your behavior rather than arguing.
Fostering better communication and respect
In a learning environment it is important to be aware of other people’s boundaries and comfort levels. Most of this awareness comes from listening. Cultivate listening skills and know the difference between hearing and listening. When trying to be respectful, consider that each person’s body and feeling-state are their own. With this in mind consider asking a person if they want to be touched. It’s also important to be curious, meaning that it is better to ask clarifying questions if you don’t understand something than to make assumptions. Should you make a mistake, try to be aware of the impacts of your own behavior by taking responsibility for what you say and do and being open to being approached about your mistake. It is human to make mistakes, but being accountable helps everyone. We want to acknowledge that particularly in the English language a gender bias is present. This means that at times we are forced to use pronouns that don’t always agree with the genders we know. In this document we have been using the singular third person neutral ‘they’ instead of ‘he or she’ because it is accepted and grammatically correct, it also minimizes the risk of misgendering.
Self care vs. communal care
The DAI is an educational community that strives for balance between individual autonomy and a healthy community. This means that it is up to you to find balance for yourself between your own autonomy vs community engagement. Learning, eating, and sleeping together can at times be overwhelming so it is important to know when to focus on the self. Self-care is care directed towards, initiated by and regulated by one’s self. Communal care is a collective care effort where individuals work together to maintain a sustainable healthy community. It’s important to understand that communal care is initiated by members of the same community, and that within that community (in this case the DAI) a certain level of trust, intimacy and reciprocity are needed. We want to encourage you to practice self-care by checking in with yourself frequently and know what you need to cope with the DAI’s dense academic and social environment. Privacy is part of communal care. If someone tells you something in confidence, try not to disclose confidential information or personal information about others without the person’s consent. Within our community, know that everyone’s body and feeling state are their own. Try to manage your own feelings and know that everyone is responsible for taking care of their own feelings. If you need support, ask for it or look for other healthy ways of getting your desires or needs met.
Understanding systemic oppression
We aim to have an oppression-free space. While we have this as a common goal, we acknowledge that this takes work. Some of the work has to do with, speaking up, developing language and deepening analyses of how systemic oppression operates, which allows us to better understand how we can change ourselves and our communities for the better. To do that, it is important to have tools to help us recognize when and how systems like white supremacy, patriarchy, classism, homo- and transphobia, ableism, etc. influence and affect our day-to-day interactions as well as educational practices.
Working towards and anti-oppressive learning environment
At the DAI our aim is to recognize and value diversity, including but not limited to differences in ethnicity, gender identity, ancestry, place of origin, color, citizenship, religion/spirituality, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status, HIV status, class backgrounds, political affiliation and ability. We aim to acknowledge that members from these communities are not treated equally and often encounter barriers which hinder equal access. We can all take part in trying to diversify our environment by making suggestions at roundtables, or to tutors and staff. It is also important to actively work against discrimination by calling people out when you hear or see something sexist, racist, transphobic etc. This may seem difficult but it is important to speak up because remaining silent often re-enforcing the discriminating behavior. It is also important to act in solidarity with those who experience oppression, knowing that in order to be a good ally one must first acknowledge their own position in relation to privilege and oppression.
What is white supremacy? When we think of white supremacy, most of us think of men in pointy white hats and robes, or Neo-Nazi skinheads. Yet when we talk about white supremacy, what we are really talking about is a broad and complex worldview of systematic preference, privilege, dominance and control. Supremacy is a hierarchically-structured worldview that is which emphasizes which species, race, gender, sexuality, social class, age, religion, ideology, culture or nation is superior to other variations of these traits in order to dominate, control and subjugate those who are not preferred.
We are all affected by white supremacy. Some of us come from or live in more than one culture. Looking at the global distribution of wealth, higher education, resources and religion, particularly in Northern and Western Europe or North America, who benefits the most and what are their demographics? Which cultures benefit the most?
To stop and prevent the perpetuation of white supremacy, deepen your political analysis of racism and oppression so you have a strong understanding of how your personal experience and feelings fit into a larger picture. Think about who makes what decisions, and know your own level of responsibility and authority in any organization or community you are a part of. Finally, make sure that people who are (potentially and actively) affected negatively by decisions within this system of power are included in decision-making processes.
A note on cultural appropriation
What is cultural appropriation? Cultural appropriation is the taking or using the “intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expression’s or artifacts from someone else’s cultural without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It is most harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways, or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. “sacred objects”. Appreciating another culture is different from appropriating one, and looks like cultural exchange: you would have consent to participate in someone else’s culture, and both sides would mutually benefit and gain understanding of each other. If you buy Indigenous art or products, for example, find out if the items are made by Indigenous people who belong to the cultures being represented. If not, you are likely buying something that has been culturally appropriated. When we speak for/about the suffering of another race or culture (even to bring awareness to their struggle) we must also acknowledge our own privilege and the history of colonialism. Let those who you are speaking to know what your background or position is in order to better contextualize your relationship to the subject and people affected. Part of the history of colonialism is speaking for and/or silencing by controlling information.
Sexism and anti-feminism
While the DAI is a fem-lead space (meaning many of the staff, support staff and faculty are female), and we are proud of that, it is an exception in the wider contexts of academia and contemporary art. The invisible labor provided by female workers often goes largely unrecognized or undervalued, contributing to unequal power distribution in terms of decision-making. If you are in charge of choosing guests, authors, artists, etc. for a panel discussion, an exhibition or a presentation, pay attention to the gender (im)balance in your selection. Be proactive rather than reactive, don’t leave it to women to do the work of increasing diversity.
The classroom is also a site where gender hierarchies and stereotypes get perpetuated, sometimes in subtle ways. Don’t let under-recognized tasks (taking notes, getting coffee, cleaning up, etc.) fall to women, even if they tend to volunteer (thanks to social conditioning). Take notice when you find yourself or others interrupting or talking over your female colleagues, and if the discussion gets heated, avoid dismissing them as angry or emotional. Discourses that reinforce these hierarchies are deeply engrained in many of our cultures. While not all arguments perceived as such are intentionally offensive, especially when touching directly on sexism and misogyny, remember that some reactions are a direct result of a long history of incidents, big and small.
Gender and sexuality
The DAI as an institution, thanks to its staff and faculty, is a generally safe and welcoming space when it comes to gender and sexuality. However, among students and when dealing with the other institutions that make our studies in the Netherlands possible (ArtEZ, the Dutch government, consulates of the countries where we travel to, etc.), we often face people and policies with narrower views on gender and sexuality. Heteronormativity is a system that works to normalize behaviors and societal expectations that are tied to the presumption of heterosexuality and an adherence to a strict gender binary. Even if you don’t feel concerned because you fit comfortably within the frame of heteronormativity, looking at your own gender and sexuality from a critical perspective contributes to fighting the exclusion of those who don’t fit comfortably.
In order to make it easier for your LGBTQIA+ colleagues, avoid making assumptions about their identity, experiences and/or histories: a person’s gender identity and sexuality is not something you can assume, it is something that each person moves through on their own. Both are also fluid and can change and change again. While the need to publicize and politicize questions around gender and sexuality is there, identity and preferences remain personal: don’t approach someone to discuss their sexuality or gender identity unless they explicitly invite you to. And if you don’t know what pronouns (she, they, it, ze, he, her, their, its, his, etc.) a person uses, ask them privately: “What pronouns do you prefer?”. When speaking to someone else about a third party (a person or group of people), adopt an inclusive language by avoiding binaries such as “men and women” and “ladies and gentlemen” or calling a mixed group of people “girls” or “guys”. Say: “the person with the red sweater” or “the folks/people chatting in the corner”. This is a good way to avoid making wrong assumptions about gender.
Ableism is a form of discrimination or prejudice against individuals with physical, mental, or developmental disabilities. It is characterized by the belief that these individuals need to be ‘fixed’ or cannot function fully as members of society. As a result of these assumptions, individuals with disabilities are commonly viewed as being abnormal rather than as members of a distinct minority community. At the DAI we acknowledge that not all disabilities are visible, and we strive to address any access needs that are brought to our attention.
We want to promote mental and physical health, and wellness to maintain a good learning environment. The DAI provides regular opportunities for check-ins, such as the DAI roundtables with the director. When considering the mental health of yourself or others it is important to use ‘first person language’. This means making a separation between a diagnosis and the person (eg: that person has depression instead of saying ‘that person is depressed’), try to be aware of using stigmatizing language that can be hurtful such as ‘crazy’. It’s important for everyone to define boundaries as individuals, but also as a community. It can keep the community as a whole healthier to know what you as an individual are capable and willing to do, and how much you are able to give. Try and allow space for people to share where they are emotionally. Again, the DAI can be an overwhelming environment, try not to shame someone for showing or sharing emotions and respect someone’s decision if they do not want to share. It is also important to respect someone’s decision to take or not take medication for any mental or physical ailment, it’s their body. If you want to help, you can offer support by assisting in researching medications, or offer yourself as a resource. Make sure you operate from a place of generosity and non-judgment.
Where do we go from here?
Some questions to consider:
● Who are the leaders of this (institution, class, group)? How did they get there?
● Who do people go to to get questions answered?
● Who are the ‘experts’?
● Who holds the power in this _____?
● Whose opinions and voices matter most?
● What is the division of labor in this _____?
● What types of knowledge and skills are valued? Which are not valued?
● Are there types of work that are unpaid and/or unrecognized? What types are they?
● Who thrives? Who dies? Whose body matters? Whose history survives? Who gets policed? Who is safe? Who is missing?
● In what ways am I privileged?
This document was co-written by larose (DAI, 2017), Joy Mariama Smith (DAI, 2017) and Sebastian De Line (DAI, 2016)
The DAI wishes to thank the authors for this very important work. We thoughtfully embrace everything that has been brought forward and we fully acknowledge our institutional responsibility for making sure that our community can indeed be(come) that space that cultivates awareness.
The authors have explicitedly stated that this text should be a "living document". Your (= students, crew members, tutors) additions or suggestions for improvement are therefore more than welcome. Please bring them forward at the regular Council meetings or directly to DAI's director.