(title credit from a song in the Disney movie Aladdin and the King of Thieves)
Seven middle school students have been volunteering at the Food Bank this term, and coordinator Jared Shuford thought it might be fun for the girls to spend some time at Community Action in Greenfield and see one of the sites that profits from their work and that also helps local youth. Two weeks ago, Sophie and Julia assembled and baked a quiche for the group meeting that evening and also did some raking. Allen Fowler, the parent of one of my once-and-always advisees (now a 9th grader), happens to work there, and later on we would talk about the possibility of Stoneleigh-Burnham students helping Community Action set up for this year’s Transgender Day Of Remembrance (“TDOR”) vigil on November 20. I quickly realized that, because of our alternative schedule during the last week of Fall Trimester, the TDOR work would need to happen at the same time as Dakin volunteering, and I obviously couldn’t be at two places at once. Fortunately, Karen Suchenski, as she does time and time again, stepped up to help out.
One week later, Amanda, Lucrecia, Renee, Valeria and I showed up at Community Action ready for whatever might need to be done. There was a moment of confusion, as the main contact for the afternoon was off site and had not left a list of tasks for us. But Kat, who works with their youth group TREE (Trans* Rights, Education, and Empowerment), kindly rearranged her schedule so she could work with us, and helped set us up to cut out brightly coloured leaves to decorate a tree that would serve as as centerpiece for - as it happened - the group’s upcoming TDOR vigil. This year, Kat explained, it was going to be particularly difficult as a member of the group had died during the previous year, and they had engaged therapists and counselors to be present for the occasion. A stunningly depressing 41% of transgender people attempt suicide at some point in time in their life, vs. 1.6% for the general population, and I would later find out this had been the fate of the Community Action youth.
As many of you may know, and to no one’s surprise who follows women’s basketball, Brittney Griner, a 6’8” Senior from Baylor, was the first player to be chosen in the 2013 WNBA draft and will play for the Phoenix Mercury. With only three rounds and only 12 teams drafting, very few players are invited to attend in person, but of course Ms. Griner was there, all smiles, in a white tuxedo.
Two days later, during the course of an interview with “Sports Illustrated,” Ms. Griner was asked why she felt sexuality was no big deal in women’s sports. She responded, “I really couldn't give an answer on why that's so different. Being one that's out, it's just being who you are.” Asked if making the decision to come out had been difficult, she said, “It really wasn't too difficult, I wouldn't say I was hiding or anything like that. I've always been open about who I am and my sexuality. So, it wasn't hard at all.” Though the interview received a fair amount of attention on social media, it received attention more for the low-key “no big deal” feeling to the moment than for the news itself. As Wesley Morris said in his article “Brittney Griner and the Quiet Queering of Professional Sports,” “Maybe it was amazing for its utter whateverness.”
Filed Under: Brittney Griner, Middle School, women in sports, gender, Sports, gender stereotypes, athletics, On Education, Bill Ivey, Beautifully different, Gay-Straight Alliance, On Athletics, Acceptance, diversity, In the Classroom, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Education
In the echoing silence, I thought I could hear closet doors that had opened a crack softly but quickly shutting again. We were at a faculty professional development session on supporting lesbian and bisexual students, and an earnest young houseparent had just explained to the facilitator that we didn't have any issues around sexuality among the faculty and staff because no one was gay. Seriously? I thought to myself. How could we even know? Just because no one has dared come out?
Filed Under: Middle School, Teaching, gender, day of silence, LGBT Support, On Education, Bill Ivey, Gay-Straight Alliance, diversity, In the Classroom, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Anti-Bullying, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Education
Several weeks ago, one of my Humanities 7 students approached me, a smile on her face but a furrow in her forehead. "The questions just don't stop," she said. "There are too many to answer." "I know," I responded. "It's both fun, because you love the questions and they help you learn, and frustrating, because the more questions you answer, the more questions you have." We went on to discuss a unit from the 2006-2007 Humanities 7 course, "Is it better to have more questions than answers, or more answers than questions?"
"A good friend of mine who used to be Head of School here," I began, "used to say, 'The right thing is easy to do.'" I segued to a description of a 7th grader, the day's recipient of the "Shining Star" award, who found the courage to go up to an adult who was smoking outside our gym, someone she didn't know, and tell that person we were a non-smoking campus. A friend of hers who was proud of her had originally told me of the moment, something which this girl readily acknowledged she had done but which she also felt was no big deal. From my perspective, of course, finding the courage at the age of 12 to go up to an unfamiliar adult and let them know they are breaking school rules is a big deal. The right thing to do, absolutely. But easy?
Filed Under: Middle School, gender, All-Girls, The Girls School Advantage, On Education, Bill Ivey, Gay-Straight Alliance, community, Acceptance, diversity, Feminism, In the Classroom, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Malala Yousafzai, girls' school, racism, Education
My apologies in advance for including original quotes "as is"; sometimes, softening ugly words obscures the true ugliness of the message they were meant to convey.
So I finally taught somebody something,
namely, how to change her mind.
And learned in the process that if I ever change the world
it's going to be one eighth grader at a time.
- Taylor Mali, from "Like Lilly Like Wilson"
(a speech delivered in housemeeting on Martin Luther King day)
“Has Stoneleigh-Burnham ever had a transgender student?”
The question, asked in the middle of study hall, caught me momentarily by surprise but I recovered quickly and answered, “Yes, at least one that I know of, actually a former advisee of mine.”