Together as Effective AccoMplices (TEAM) is a new student organization that works to combat racism on campus. Design editor Jessica Glassberg interviewed junior double individualized studies and Spanish major Taylor Pajunen, President of TEAM, to learn more about this organization and what it has accomplished for the LMU community.
Jessica Glassberg (J.G.): What does your organization do?
Taylor Pajunen (T.P.): We are Together as Effective AccoMplices. TEAM is the acronym, and we are a registered student organization that is open for all people, but predominantly we are trying to invite white people to come in and talk about what it means to be a white accomplice in anti-racism work. [It] is really a time and a space for us to learn and possibly unlearn a lot of things that we have grown up with and kind of recognize our privilege within the broader context of white supremacy ... This is really a place to ... practice how we can be effective accomplices and go into multi-racial settings in a way that is beneficial to actually taking down white supremacy. It is really just a place to practice and to learn.
J.G.: What purpose does your organization have on campus?
T.P.: On campus, I think, right now, there are a lot of amazing groups that are dedicated to social justice work, but a lot of them—not that they need to—don’t make it a priority for white people to recognize their whiteness, and to recognize their role in white supremacy. At least for me, it took me a long time, and I am still very much in the process of it, to recognize what I bring to this work. I am a very talkative person. I overbear a lot of conversations and ... [with] good intentions. I want to help and in that process I silence people and I take the focus away from the communities that are actually trying to get the work done and I put it on me. And that’s not okay. So, this is a chance to really unpack that and to grow from it.
And then also [we want to] take the responsibility off people of color and other marginalized communities to teach us. Because that is probably one of the biggest things. We are just continuing systems of oppression by making other people teach us our wrongdoings ... We should be able to get our own work done before we go into these settings so that we can work together and not [make others] spend time going back and having to teach white people all the wrong stuff we are doing or just the hurtful things that we don’t mean to be doing, but often that’s what happens.
J.G.: Why did you decide to create this organization?
T.P.: Last year I went on AB Chicago, which is an Alternative Breaks program. That was during spring break and each AB trip has a different focus. Ours was racial injustice and xenophobia. I really just wanted to go and learn and that is definitely what this was … Each day was comprised of learning in a classroom and then going out to a community organization to see what they are doing to help their community or just work with the community. There was no time where we were going and doing something. We were just going and learning something.
One of the leaders of the trip recommended that I go to AWARE, which is the Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere. [It’s] a national organization and they have a chapter in L.A. [It] is a place for white people to come and do this work and talk about this stuff and get it out, not at the expense of people of color or marginalized communities ... So I went to AWARE and I really enjoyed it, but it's just a long drive. So I was like, you know, I’ll just start my own. I was asking my friends and it was really interesting hearing people’s responses because, for the most part—and [this is] how it is even now—white people are not on board, but people of color are like "yeah. please do that" ... So we got all the documents ready. Then we tabled at EXP Fest and started last semester and it’s been a journey.
J.G.: What are some of your biggest accomplishments or future plans?
T.P.: Biggest accomplishment so far, well, we made it a semester. We have been collaborating with the Indigenous Student Union a little bit. They are a new org as well. We have been trying to just hear what we can do as accomplices. They hosted a whole week on Mauna Kea, which is a mountain in Hawaii. It was … an awareness week, but also a “we gotta do stuff” week. They [also] invited a whole array of cultural orgs and us as accomplices to come join them with tabling about cultural appropriation around Halloween.
For future things, honestly, it's hard because what we are primarily focused on is that busy work that needs to get done in the class or in the small setting … It can come across as like we are not doing anything, but this is one of the most crucial things, I think. To just do your work before you go into these multi-cultural spaces. We’ll always be encouraging members of the group to go to events on campus that are open to all people. For example, Black History Month [has] so many events. We are going to be encouraging people to go to those, but TEAM is just a supplement to that, so we can reflect. We can learn. We can think together, so that we can be better white people together and recognize we are going to make mistakes. We are not perfect, so we’ve got work to do. That doesn’t sound that fun to a lot of people, but [it’s] so necessary.
That being said, we are doing some fun things … In April, probably our biggest thing is that we are going to the white privilege conference White Privilege Conference (WPC) in Mesa, Arizona. That will be April 1-4 and we are going with a multi-cultural coalition of students. So it is not just TEAM members, and that conference is dedicated to bringing people of all backgrounds together to come and do this work and get empowered.