Critiquing Call-Out Culture: The Need For Intersectional Education

Call-out culture demands accountability in a society where bigotry is institutionally protected and legalized. By publicly calling out peers, marginalized students demand change from their privileged counterparts. This public intervention is a means of self-assertion amidst social inequality and marginalization.

Articles such as the  "White Girl, Take Off Your Hoops,” the accusation that specific students (identified in the call-out) perpetuate rape culture, and the recent exposé response on the limits of empathy towards a previous Claremont Independent writer are all public manifestations of call-out culture.

However, call-out culture estranges student groups when students “call out” for social gratification. Pitzer student places immense value on their engagement with social justice. This evaluation encourages some students to do social justice work only for social acclamation.

These students, who are predominantly white, operate under the guise of being socially aware for the sake of validation and in an attempt to nullify personal privilege. The appropriative aspect of their “calling out” betrays the empowerment and the importance of marginalized students’ “calling out.”

Call-out culture uses the threat of social debasement to deter students from voicing problematic views. This evasion does not correct internalized bigotry or make students more conscious. After all, if students don’t express these views in the first place, they won’t be called out or held accountable.

To be clear, neither hate speech nor bigotry are political opinions. Views that problematize entire groups of people are not political opinion, but rather forms of assault and dehumanization.

The social position of called-out students may bar them from acknowledging and understanding the adverse affects of their actions and language. They tend to avoid accountability by placing blame on intervening students through tone-policing or refusing to do their own research. These students may justify their called-out behavior as an expression of their political stance, as opposed to utter discrimination.

This displaced responsibility indicates a general unwillingness to disrupt privileged social realities. Although it is natural for a called-out person to feel defensive and uncomfortable, this discomfort cannot incite a defense of ignorance.

It is certainly not intervening students’ obligation to expend emotional labor and educate called-out students. To take the burden off of marginalized students, the Claremont Colleges should offer structured, supportive educational spaces for all students.

One avenue of campus change is intersectional education, which articulates the complex realities of oppression as ingrained in identity politics. “Education” can be comprised of academic courses, as well as any other formal or informal learning, such as study abroad, social interactions, and majors.

Majors generally dictate how students confront their identities. “Social justice” majors, such as Anthropology or Sociology, are self-selecting since they attract only those prepared to feel uncomfortable or personally challenged.

Other “social justice” opportunities outside of the classroom are similarly self-selecting, and I notice entire groups of the student body absent, particularly the called-out students, from these campus spaces.   

The self-selecting characteristic of “social justice” majors at the Claremont Colleges suggests that intersectional education must be institutionally mandated. All students would benefit from training on social inequality and positionality. These trainings could start in a student’s first year – perhaps in lieu of Pitzer’s current First Year Seminars – and continue throughout students’ college careers.

The Claremont Colleges must institutionalize trainings that teach all students how to interrupt subtle and blatant manifestations of bias and how to engage political debates without requesting emotional labor.

Each college must teach their students how to center discourse around victims, survivors, and marginalized individuals. Students must recognize whose narratives are mislabelled “too emotional,” “over-dramatic,” or “not true”; whose voices are given power and authority; and how language perpetuates institutional oppression.

Claremont College members must recognize that the exclusion of any single student identity entirely undermines campus cohesion.

By creating supportive and structured spaces for all students, the Claremont Colleges transforms the climate that compels students to feel so marginalized, suppressed, and harassed that they must publicly call-out others.

The Claremont Colleges have a profound opportunity to institutionalize intersectional education for all students and to consequently redefine how 5C students navigate identity politics and repudiate hegemony.

Sydney Osterweil-Artson is a senior at Pitzer College.