Last week, NYU held Ally Week, five days of programming designed to encourage students and faculty to support marginalized communities and to challenge stereotypes. The initiative acted almost as a recruitment drive for the wider NYU community to stand against injustice. Pledge stations were set up around campus where students were encouraged to educate themselves and others about being an ally to marginalized communities. The organizers should be commended for a comprehensive week of events, but it is important to remember that the twin issues of racial justice and violence against LGBTQ individuals cannot be
During one of the week’s main events on Tuesday night, CeCe McDonald, an activist who was imprisoned for manslaughter after being attacked outside a bar in 2011, spoke about allyship with black and transgender communities. She addressed the fact that transgender individuals and people of color are disproportionately targeted. Violence toward LGBTQ communities in 2013 disproportionately targeted transgender individuals and people of color. Transgender women were 72 percent of LGBTQ homicide victims, while 89 percent were people of color. The issues Ally Week confronted — racial justice, transgender rights, the prison-industrial complex — cannot be easily distilled or separated.
College activism often crystallizes into single-issue politics, becoming blind to overlaps. McDonald, a trans woman, was forced to serve time in a men’s prison after a man she injured in self-defense died from his wounds. It was reported that the attack was motivated by transphobia, and that the man reportedly had a swastika tattooed on his chest. The racial and gender-based underpinnings to this attack are undeniable. The attack highlights the fact that events cannot be condensed to a single issue. McDonald stated emphatically last week that transgender women of color must not be excluded from the Black Lives Matter movement, which is itself a combination of racial violence and a U.S. prison complex which sees black bodies as inherently inferior. It is good when college activists fight individual struggles — such as Fight for 15 — but success will only come when it links with other issues.
Ally Week provided NYU students with a framework to discuss important social justice issues. While this year’s gold and black T-shirts focused on the idea of allyship as a verb rather than a noun, the shirts in previous years unequivocally stated “I am here to recruit you.” Calls for more education are needed, and the wider NYU community must be made aware of issues such as LGBTQ violence and racial dynamics. More can and must be done. These recruits must be called on to link up with wider campaigns and show their allyship throughout the year, not just during university-organized campaigns.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 20 edition. Email Tommy Collison at [email protected]