What Professor Mom wants you to know, part 2

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On Monday we published a letter from UWaterloo English’s Dr. Frankie Condon, full of practical advice for her children about navigating university. We are grateful she allowed us to share both that one and this second one, which addresses her hopes for her children.–JLH

Dear Dan and Lucy,

It will come as no surprise to you that I have some regret and a lot of worry about sending you off to attend American universities this fall. On one hand, I’m so happy and proud that you have found schools where you can both study the subjects in which you delight and play the sports you love. On the other hand, I fear the rising tides of fascism, racism, hyper-nationalism, sexism, and transphobia in the U.S. I fear for you – and for us all – as I hear the rhetoric of hate and rage that fuels international tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. I would prefer to keep you close to me and to your Dad in such times. When I am most afraid, I spin exit strategies for you in my imagination; I wonder how you will get across the border into Canada and back to us if worst comes to worst.

But when I think of each of you – my smart, brave, compassionate, and justice-loving children – my heart swells with pride. I know that you will stand for what is right and good, loving and Godly, and that the nation and your universities need people like you.

It isn’t easy to stand up when others sit down, to speak out when others are silent, to rise up when others capitulate. You will feel pressure to do as too many other white cis-gendered students do: to go along to get along. In the delight of friendship formation or in fear of attracting too much notice, you may lose your way and make choices that wound not only People of Colour and Queer people on your campuses, but that also tear at the fragile bonds that hold coalitions of justice-loving peoples together in the struggle for equality, inclusion, and democracy. I want you to be safe but I also want you to be brave – and there may well be times to come when you cannot be both. If this time comes for one or both of you – as much as it pains me to say so – please choose to be brave.

Success entails so much more to your Dad and me than good grades, goals scored, games won, or even a degree at the end of four years. I’ve written you a list of tips for achieving these kinds of successes. This is your other and even more important list:



In your classes, in the dining hall, in your residences, across your campuses, LISTEN to faculty, staff, and students who are Queer and/or People of Colour. LISTEN to women and especially to Women of Colour.


Listen and learn to quieten that voice we have all internalized that hisses at you that these things cannot be true, these people cannot be trusted, that it is more important to be sure of and to assert your own innocence than to entertain the possibility that there is work for you to do to change yourself and the world. To still this voice, you will need first to be conscious of it’s influence over you; you will need to notice it, admit that it is in you, and then address the lies it tells systematically – one by one. You will need to unlearn its lessons.


Choose to (re)educate yourself. Don’t ask, expect, or rely on those most subjected to injustice to teach you what to think and what to do. To the best of your ability, teach yourself. Ask your Dad or me if you need help with this. You will find as you take the first steps into social justice work that more help will come to you as you take more responsibility for yourself.


Remember how your Dad and I used to tell you that if you don’t fall down you aren’t trying hard enough? Well, now I’m telling you that if you don’t fail in this work, you aren’t working hard enough. You will fail. And when you do, you will feel shame. But remember this: the shame you feel at having failed in opposing racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia is teaching you that you yearn to be in right and just relation to those whom your failure has hurt. This form of shame calls you to a renewal of your efforts to love justice more than self-preservation and so to be capable of loving Others and worthy of being loved by them. That other shame – the shame of doing nothing, of remaining silent, of standing passively by while Others suffer – that shame will be far worse than any sorrow you may experience as you learn by trying to stand for what is right, true, good, and just. If this second form of shame overtakes you, STAY and LEARN from it no matter how painful its lessons may be. Know that you are loved, unconditionally, by your Dad and by me. We will stay with you no matter what. We are strong enough to help you through. We will challenge you to do more than you think you can, and we are still and always here to catch you when you fall.


Perhaps the most important work you can do as an ally is to confront racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia among your white and cis-gendered friends and acquaintances classmates and teachers, coaches and teammates. You will need to learn to pick your battles and to act courageously when battles pick you. You will need to learn how to sustain relationships that will be tested by such confrontations when you can, and how to let go of those relationships that require you to compromise your integrity and betray your commitment to social justice. You will learn that racism and other forms of oppression are perpetuated and sustained, in part, by those who enforce the rules of racial, gender, and sexual standing in white, cis-gendered communities. This is accomplished, you will find, through rewards for complicity that come in the form of “friendship” and, simultaneously, threats of social expulsion or exclusion proffered against those who dare to speak out from within dominant communities against injustice. BE BRAVE! As terrible as any mobbing you may experience at the hands of those you once called your friends may be, should you speak out and so become a target, in such a moment true friendships will become apparent to you and be cemented and new friendships will be made possible. You will feel your spirit rise within you as you learn better who your people really are.


I have wanted to be honest with you. This work can be hard, so hard. But I would distort the truth if I leave you with the conviction that the work is only hard, only painful, requires of you only suffering. If you do this work, you will know how to give and to receive deep and abiding love. If you do this work, you will know laughter – deep belly laughter. If you do this work, you will know the fulfillment that comes from living to the best of your ability with integrity, courage, and commitment in service of a more just future for us all. If all you feel as you engage with social justice activism is sorrow, shame, or rage, go back to the beginning and deal with that hissing voice again. No movement can be sustained without hope and no hope can be found without joy.**

• Watch this sermon by my old friend, Reverend Yolanda Denson-Byers (https://www.facebook.com/pastoryolanda…)
• Watch this performance by my old friend, Rex Veeder (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPlPFbcU9dU)


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