In writing up Sonia Nazario’s keynote speech for the Fenn School Multicultural Educators’ Forum, I deliberately left out a number of details in order to focus on the central story. While it makes a smoother narrative and hopefully helps focus on the power of her story, it neglects some important facts and details she deliberately and skillfully wove in. Among them:
Invocation delivered at Convocation by Shayna Appel '78
The legendary poet, writer, playwright and social activist James Baldwin once wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome back to Stoneleigh-Burnham! I saw some of you last night at the Reception and thank the Alumnae Board for hosting such a good time. I also enjoyed dinner with the mighty class of 1967 last night. For those of you who are just arriving, we have a lot in store for you and look forward to catching up.
You all probably know the poem,
- “First they came for [group of people] and I did not speak out, because I was not [part of that group of people]...
- then they came for…
- and then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
The thing about group learning is, what each individual person in the group learns is somehow - perhaps subtly, perhaps in a major way - different from what every other individual person in the group learns. That’s a function in part of everyone having an absolutely unique set of life experiences out of which we are making meaning in the world. And that’s perhaps especially true with diversity work, which makes managing an in-service day for an entire faculty (already a daunting task) especially tricky. Yet, I went into Tuesday’s session with high hopes; Dr. Derrick Gay had given the faculty and staff a survey the results of which he planned to use to organize and frame the day, and I knew enough of his work (I follow him on Twitter) to be confident the day would be productive. And it was.
When I was a girl, I had parents who loved me and believed in me, but those doubts still worked their way inside my head and my heart, and I was always worried about something. Does my hair look right? Am I too tall? Do I raise my hand too much in class? So when folks said that a girl like me shouldn’t aspire to go to the very best colleges in this country I thought, "Maybe they’re right." But eventually I learned that each of those doubts were like a little test, a challenge, that either I could shrink away from or rise up to meet and I decided to rise. - Michelle Obama, quoted by AISNE Assistant Director Bonnie Ricci at the AISNE Diversity Conference on November 1, 2016
It wasn’t particularly easy waking up at 4:45 in the morning to head out to the 2016 AISNE Diversity Conference. But it was well worth it, and not just for the chance to connect with familiar faces from other schools I don’t see often enough.
Ralph Wales, Head of Gordon School, welcomed us, asking the question, “What would happen if we were to start a school today?” He talked about aligning the power pyramid with our work in support of it, of the force and power we have to do right by all children, and of the concept of “pushing subversion.” Speaking as a person whose mood indicator has been stuck on subversive for several years, I can support that. The question, of course, is what to subvert, and how.
As it turned out, Alaine Jolicoeur, our French teacher-intern, and I wanted to attend the exact same sessions at Saturday’s GLSEN-Massachusetts conference and, as it turned out, we both had good instincts as that made for just about the perfect flow for the day. It began with keynote speeches focusing on affirming the wonderful spectrum of people attending as well as the inclusive theme “both/and,” moving on to a morning session dominated by trans and non-binary kids telling their stories and sharing methods of self-care, lunch, a session on intersectionality with a mix of kids and adults, a session attended entirely by educators on supporting K-8 kids, and finally a closing moment written and performed by those attending Trenda Loftin’s final workshop session.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” I turned to see a woman approaching me as I sat working at Rao's coffee shop. “Yes?” I said. “Can you please give me directions to (we’ll say it was La Veracruzana)?” I did, and she thanked me, acknowledged my “You’re welcome,” and turned and left. Clearly, she was either open or oblivious to the contrast between whatever it was about my appearance (hair? clothing? something else?) that had caused her to “ma’am” me and my baritone voice. Myself, at this point in my life, I respond naturally to either “ma’am” or “sir,” reasoning that in either case, someone is addressing me respectfully.
Respect is the key word here. It’s what underlies most successful human interactions, and what is most often missing when dysfunction takes over. It’s a firm underlying principle in each of my classes. I expect respect not only for each other (which they almost invariably show anyway) but also for fictional characters, reasoning that if we are generally talking about them as if they were real, we might as well carry it to the logical extreme.
Filed Under: gender, LGBT Support, gender stereotypes, Transgender Day of Remembrance, anti-racism, social justice, gender equity, TDOR, Acceptance, diversity, In the Classroom, The Faculty Perspective, transgender
It’s about an hour since the grand jury’s decision in the Darren Wilson case in Ferguson was announced, and I’m still feeling sucker punched despite being among the millions who had anticipated the decision and the millions more who could tell it was coming once prosecutor Robert McCulloch began his bizarre preamble to the announcement. Besides sharing their own anger, anguish, sadness, or frustration, teachers on my Twitter and Facebook timelines have also been wondering what on Earth they’re going to tell their students tomorrow.
We’re on Thanksgiving vacation, so I don’t have that immediate worry, but I do need to think about what we might do upon our return in December. As it happens, one of the six students in my Humanities 7 class who still has to present on her second Focus Question after break wrote her essay on racism and white supremacy. She had been unafraid to tackle difficult questions, including white privilege. And her essay included a powerful moment when the white resident of a predominantly black neighborhood, made the statement that “There’s no need to be careful if you treat people as human beings.” At that point, she saw a black woman emerge from a nearby house and added, loudly, “As long as you don’t have a gun in your hand, I’m okay with you.” (Huber)
Transgender Awareness Month comes right on the heels of National Bullying Prevention Month, and in many ways that makes sense, as transgender people are disproportionately affected by bullying (as with street violence). GLSEN reports that fully 82% of LGBT kids have had problems with bullying, 44% specifically due to gender identification (reported on the nobullying.com website). GLSEN’s 2013 National Climate survey is available by download for anyone who might be interested.
In an age where definitions of different genders are becoming as fluid as some people’s sense of gender itself, it can be hard to keep up with the latest terms. For starters, (biological) sex is not the same as (social) gender, and 1-2% of people are born neither female nor male but rather intersex. Additionally, even though “transgender” refers to someone whose gender identity differs from that assigned to them at birth, not everyone who might fit that definition automatically chooses to identify as transgender. Moreover, though some transgender people (such as noted teen activist Jazz Jennings, here in an interview with Katie Couric) feel they were always girls trapped in a boy’s body or boys trapped in a girl’s body, not all transgender people feel that way or even identify within the gender binary. Partially blurring the binary are bigender people and androgynes, and within the Native American tradition, two-spirit people. But other transgender people might identify as polygender, agender, genderqueer, or just plain nonbinary, and still others avoid terminology altogether. Some may have a stable gender identity while others might be more fluid. Facebook, as many people know by now, offers a menu of over 50 gender choices, and even then, it is not 100% comprehensive.
Filed Under: gender, LGBT Support, gender stereotypes, social justice, gender equity, Transgender Awareness Month, community, Acceptance, diversity, Feminism, The Faculty Perspective, Education, transgender