From the President

Stephen John Quaye


Stephen John Quaye
ACPA President

In late September 2017, the ACPA Governing Board and Assembly Leadership introduced our six Operational Truths regarding the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization (SIRJD). As an Association, ACPA – College Student Educators International believes:

  1.  All forms of oppression are linked.
  2.  Racism and colonization are real, present, enduring, intersectional, and systemic forms of oppression.
  3.  Racism and colonization have informed the experience of all of us in higher education.
  4.  Advocacy and social change require us to work to dismantle racism and colonization in higher education.
  5.  Our collective education, research and scholarship, advocacy, and capacity will create positive change in higher education.
  6. We believe in and have hope for our individual capacity, desire, and drive to grow, learn, and change.

These operational truths guide our work as student affairs/services professionals. We enter this work believing that racism and colonization are everyday realities and that people, ultimately, can grow, change, and learn.

Since we launched this Strategic Imperative, many of you have wondered: what does this look like in practice? Let me share three ways that it looks like for me, as ACPA president.

First, it means unlearning internalized oppression. As a black cisgender man, I have internalized so many negative messages about what it means to live in my black body. I am a thug. I am a gangster. I come from a single-parent household. I am unintelligent. So much of my life has been spent trying to counter these messages and unlearn the dire impact on my life. SIRJD means unlearning internalized dominance and how that plays out in my life.

Second, it means learning. When the ACPA Governing Board introduced the Strategic Imperative, we centered racial justice. In the process, we received feedback from the Native, Aboriginal, and Indigenous Network that the Imperative was not inclusive of their politicized experiences with colonization. Learning this was painful, as it meant admitting that I did not know this reality and working to address it. Learning is not always joyous. Sometimes it comes through pain, frustration, and embarrassment. And yet, we still must learn.

Finally, it means embracing the messiness and moving forward even when we do not know exactly how. Although the International Office will be sharing more resources in the coming months about how to concretize SIRJD, I encourage you to not treat these resources as the sole answer for moving forward. Think of the connection between SIRJD and your work. Where do racism and colonization show up? What structures are in place that reinforce hierarchical decision-making? Whose voices and experiences do you privilege the most in your organization? How do you make decisions about who is important based on what they are wearing? Does your office reinforce “professional” dress? “Professional” for whom? Who decides that?

Reflecting on these questions enables you to think of what racial justice and decolonization look like in your practice without needing to get it “right” before acting. I look forward to engaging with you about the Strategic Imperative, as we work to make our world more just.


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