*this is the fourth of what will hopefully be five reflections from NAIS’ People of Color Conference in Washington, DC. If you teach at an Independent School and haven’t been here, get on it.
I intended to write this post last but it’s been circling in my head so here it goes.
On the last day of the conference the POCC and SDLC get together for some student led discussions. This was to be done in our affinity groups. Here is the first problem with that: The students have an LGBTQ affinity group that the adults do not (adult affinity groups are strictly race based). So those students, who had spent the last 2 days in a safe space were pushed out and into a group of people they hadn’t spent anytime with. The second problem is that they once you combine the teachers and the students in each affinity group they no longer fit in one room. Therefore we had to divide. The way we were divided? By gender.
GUH. We spent two days telling them this was a safe space allowing for a place that gender could be a spectrum or not even a spectrum. Then we asked them very nicely to chose a box. And here’s the thing about teenagers, they feel injustice the way you and I feel a nail to the foot. It hurts. A lot.
So when I arrived at the White Female group I sit down and I can tell the student with me is uncomfortable. Then they announce they are making a corner of the room for people who are gender queer. Yay, you get a corner!
All the sudden students starting running out the room. “Hey, we got a room! There’s a LGBTQ room,” they say to the student sitting next to me. I turned to the student and say, “Do you want to go?” With the biggest smile and the fastest nod we left.
The sense of relief when I came in to the room was thick. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was as though everyone in the room had let out a collective sigh releasing the weight from their shoulders.
There was only a spattering of adults and about 40 students. The students had texted each other about this new room but adults had only been told via a series of haphazard announcements. I only knew because of the student sitting next to me.
I don’t want to share much of what happened in the room because it’s not mine to share. But I will tell you this: I have never been in a more important space. The chance for students to meet teachers who felt like them was drastically important.
Lastly, POCC and SDLC needs to do better next year. Listening to the stories of fear coming from these students around having to choose a gender and lose this LGBTQ space broke my heart. Let’s do better adults. The kids are counting on us.