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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
The Observer

We need to move beyond green dots

For the past three years, I have been barraged with propaganda about how massively important it is to take GreeNDot training. It was part of our welcome weekend intro curriculum, our freshman year Moreau class and, last year, my dorm wanted us to all get trained so we could have a better chance at winning Hall of the Year. But, unfortunately, the training is four hours long and I’m a chronically busy person, so I was never able to get to it.

Enter winter session, a 10-week break that I purposefully kept un-busy. It was the perfect opportunity to finally participate in this crucial training and the Gender Relations Center (GRC) was offering virtual training sessions, two hours a day for two days, so how could I not attend one?

In the first week of December, I logged onto my computer to start the session. All I knew about GreeNDot was that they would teach me how to prevent power-based personal violence on campus and that their methods of choice are direct, distract and delegate. Two days and four hours of training later, I logged off of the Zoom call fuming. What I had entered knowing was all they taught.

It’s important to note now that I study gender, so I am acutely aware of power-based personal violence and the fact that it occurs so commonly on college campuses. I also study sociology, and this combination gives me special insight into the fact that power-based personal violence is a reflection of institutional violence.

When a Black student is called racial slurs in a bathroom on campus, that isn’t random. It reflects the racist colonial nature of academia and the idea that many white people, including some University officials, still believe that BIPOC don’t belong here. 

When a queer student is publicly harassed and called derogatory names, it isn’t just because one student is a bigoted homophobe. It’s intrinsically related to the fact that queer people at Notre Dame have been fighting for years to have our full humanity recognized by this University. (Don’t believe me? Check out this amazing project by junior Marty Kennedy.)

When a woman is sexually harassed by a man here, it’s not just because he’s a predator. It’s related to the fact that he feels empowered by our school’s continued history of excluding women.

Last year, all three of those seemingly hypothetical examples happened to one student at the same time. When she protested the violence and started End Hate at ND, the University threatened to expel her for peaceful demonstration and the violence written into the structure of this institution became even more painfully clear.

Over winter session, I also took a class. It was called “Transformative Justice” and, for three weeks, we studied methods of violence intervention, harm reduction and community safety that aren’t rooted in punitive justice. We talked about why violence happens and how we all contribute to it because punishment seems to be the only method of dealing with harm that we know. It was a revelation to me to read these words from activist Danielle Sered: “No one enters violence the first time by causing it.”

Through those words, I realized the thing that made me so angry about GreeNDot when I was sitting in training: it was completely lacking in accountability. At the beginning of training, we talked about the fact that some of us on the call were survivors of the most acute forms of power-based personal violence, but we neglected to address the truth that each of us in the Zoom room had perpetrated violence at some point and that we all, as Notre Dame students, continue to perpetuate violence every day, as we live and work and benefit from oppressive and violent structures.

When we address violence as though there is a binary between survivor and aggressor, we fail to hold the complexity of violence. We fail to recognize that each of us has experienced harm and been taught to harm by social structures and norms. We also fail to recognize that those who perpetrate acute forms of harm are often empowered by social structures which imbue them with power or the desire to acquire it. If we forget that power-based personal violence is rooted in power and that upholding unjust power structures therefore empowers power-based personal violence, it remains impossible for GreeNDot to achieve its goal of reducing violence in our community.

The first week of winter classes contained Jan. 6, the day that white supremacists stormed the Capitol building. In case you missed it, someone brought a Notre Dame flag to the siege and raised the words “God, Country, Notre Dame,” proudly next to a Trump flag. My first thought was not shock or disgust or fear, it was actually quite the opposite. I was completely unsurprised. Over the next few days, the expected emotions set in and I started to realize how incredibly messed up that is. If someone was waving a UCLA flag at the white supremacy party, the general reaction would be more along the lines of “WTF?” or “That’s so random.” But, for some reason, a Notre Dame flag in the same position is entirely unsurprising.

As a community, that’s something we desperately need to talk about. The intersection of the axes of power that our institution rests upon (capitalism, white supremacy, Catholicism, cisheteropatriarchy) gives us the unique opportunity to either make radical changes for good in the world or to continue upholding racist colonial power. As our university currently spends much time and money doing the latter, my transformative justice classmates and I have decided to create a new program to bring accountability to our community.

We’re calling it Beyond Green Dots, because we believe that there’s more to violence prevention than making “good choices” in tough moments. This spring, we’ll be presenting a workshop to address the ways in which harm is perpetrated on our campus and beyond, and how we can individually stop feeding into the power structures that empower violence on a larger scale. You can follow @beyondgreendots on Instagram to learn more about the project.

None of this is to say that I think GreeNDot is entirely ineffective and that Notre Dame is too deeply-rooted in violence to ever do good. GreeNDot does offer some great tools to our community and Notre Dame has offered some great things to the world. But, without embracing the principles of transformative justice and becoming accountable to the harm that we are accomplices to, the harm will never stop.

Ashton Weber is a junior with lots of opinions. She is majoring in gender studies and economics with a minor in sociology. Ashton can often be found with her nose in a book, but if you want to chat about intersectional feminism, baking blueberry scones, growing ZZ plants or anything else, she’d love to hear from you. Reach Ashton at aweber22@nd.edu or @awebz01 on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.