Community Blog

An AUP Alumna’s Three Steps to Allyship

By Elizabeth Segre-Lawrence '17

The public discourse surrounding racism and its many manifestations, tragically reignited by the murders of several Black adults and children both in the US and abroad, has led many educational institutions across the globe, including AUP, to seek out ways to stand in allyship with their Black students and students of color. But, as a student, I was often frustrated as I felt that a diversity in the passports community members held was used as an excuse to ignore or not discuss what was to me the very clear existence of racism on our campus.

For example, in planning the University’s first privilege walk, I remember being told by a non-Black student that I was trying to “stir the pot” by providing a platform for more public conversations of the intersectional existence of various prejudices and inequities on campus. The experience was beyond frustrating for several reasons, but was predominantly disheartening as it ignored the fact that two statements can be true at once: AUP is diverse. It also, however unintentionally, contributes to systems of racism and white supremacy. 

If AUP’s community is truly committed to diversity and allyship, it needs to be demonstrated through actions, not just words. In the case of AUP’s current student body, doing the work of dismantling the world’s injustices, including racism, doesn’t have to start after graduation. Students can be an ally in the classroom, in the library and in the AMEX too.  

This post is an attempt to provide bite-sized advice on how to begin navigating the terrain of allyship, which can often be a difficult task. 

1. Hold Yourself Accountable 

Because of AUP’s internationally diverse student body, there’s a misconception among students that racism does not exist within the University’s walls. Worldly perspectives, though cogent in many ways, do not eliminate the existence of racism, nor do they remove the need to discuss it. Remember that in many of the countries that make AUP so geographically diverse, racism exists abundantly and, often, violently. 
If a Black student or student of color calls you out for doing or saying something racist in class, deflecting or getting defensive is not the right response. Your intentions in the situation at hand are irrelevant, and your life in international settings (at AUP or otherwise) does not absolve you from racist behavior. In order to make changes both within and beyond the University, acknowledgement of how you uphold racial inequity is the first and most imperative step you must take.

2. Take Action 

In my time at AUP, I often found that actions against racism were spearheaded by the University’s Black students and students of color. And while our voices are irreplaceable, it must be said that combating racism should not and cannot rest solely on the shoulders of those who racism most directly harms. White people, with all of the privileges they actively and inactively glean from racism as a structure of power, must use those privileges to dismantle racist systems. The bare minimum you can do is call out something racist someone says in class or tell your non-Black friend that they cannot say the N-word in their performance of “Gold Digger” during karaoke night at the AMEX. There is nothing, beyond a lifelong experience with white comfort, preventing you from regularly taking action against racism in the everyday instances it pops up in your life. And if you think talking about racism as a White person is uncomfortable, imagine doing so as the only Black person in a room.

3. Advance Your Knowledge

Conversations about race, racism and allyship have been taking place for decades and have been constantly evolving as time has passed. Therefore, to be devoted to allyship and anti-racism means one must be equally devoted to learning more about these subjects. In writing this post, I’ve been given a platform to write about racism and allyship, but I’m far from the only relevant voice on the topic. There are people far smarter and more qualified than I – like Angela Davis, Toni Morrison, and Mikki Kendall to name a few – who’ve been writing and speaking on these issues for most of their lives. I implore anyone reading this to please read and listen to their bodies of work.