In February 2014, Lane’s Board of Education adopted a Cultural Competency Policy which charged the president, Mary Splide, with ensuring “the implementation of a program of professional development that requires all employees to participate in appropriate education and training.” In response to this policy work began across campus to envision what a Cultural Competency Professional Development (CCPD) program would look like on Lane’s campus, and from these conversations, work groups were created to begin gathering materials and resources in a variety of areas of cultural competency, which included the development of CCPD workshops in various areas. You can access some of that work on our Engaging Diversity blog.
In January 2016, I was asked to give a beginning-level gender workshop during Lane’s Board of Education Retreat. My workshop was part of an all-morning event focused on Cultural Competency Professional Development. I had the joy and honor of working with Greg Evans and Jim García to plan and deliver this event. This would be the first time the Board of Ed would have the opportunity to experience and participate in some of the CCPD options that had been developed in response to the adoption of the Cultural Competency policy.
Greg offered opening remarks which focused on the concept of intersectionality and helped set the tone for the morning. Intersectionality is a key component of CCPD work and Jim and I had asked Greg to open the morning by introducing this concept so that the board would have a lens through which to understand the morning as a whole rather than seeing the workshops that Jim and I were presenting as two different, unrelated experiences.
In his opening remarks, Greg defined the concept of intersectionality as: “the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination or discrimination.” He explained that this theory came out of Black feminist thought and clearly connected the foundations of intersectionality to the works of Kimberle Crenshaw, Patricia Hill Collins, and bell hooks.
In my favorite part of his comments, Greg told the story of his own mother, Velma L. Evans, as a way to demonstrate how intersectionality plays out in real lives. He quoted her as saying to him “When I came along there were only three things a black woman could be: a maid, a prostitute, or a teacher.” Greg then went on to explain how his mother become a teacher and how the concept of intersectionality played out through her professional career.
Greg closed his remarks by drawing clear connections between intersectionality and the “School to Prison Pipeline.” This pipeline has been carefully crafted to ensure that large numbers of Black and Latino students are fed directly from school systems designed to fail them into the prison system, resulting in the expansion of the prison system at the same time that an increasing number of public schools are being closed.
With the framework of intersectionality in place, Jim offered his workshop, focused on race. He spoke about his work with Latino youth and how the Puertas Abiertas program has helped many of them to re-frame their relationship to schooling by helping them to better understand and navigate the parts of the system that were set up to work against their success. He also shared with us some of the scholars who have influenced his work.
My workshop followed Jim’s, and was a beginning-level workshop focused on gender. I planned a highly interactive workshop which asked participants to engage in activities, reflective writing, and sharing some of their responses to the reflective writing prompts with each other.
I focused heavily on providing participants with a working knowledge of basic gender-related language. As a scholar and teacher in Literature/Composition it’s unsurprising that I find language to be a vital component of building cultural competency/agility. I think that so often in workshops related to cultural competency/agility, there’s an assumption that those participating in the workshops already have a working vocabulary of relevant terms. Not only is this not usually the case, but the assumption that someone participating in a workshop should already have this vocabulary often makes people more reluctant to participating in such workshops. It is quite difficult to think about the world in new ways if you do not possess the language to think and communicate in new terms. You can access the vocabulary covered in the presentation as well as the reflective prompts I mentioned above in the slide show.
Participants also engaged in a set of activities intended to help them visualize the mis-match between the language used to define masculine/feminine gender roles in a system rooted in a gender binary with the lived experience of actual human beings, many of who exist more accurately on the gender spectrum.
First participants wrote words/phrases they associated with the masculine gender role on blue sticky notes and words/phrases they associated with feminine gender roles on pink sticky notes. Then each table of participants placed their sticky notes at the center of their table.
Next each participant chose three blue and three pink sticky notes from the center of their table that contained words/phrases that had been written by someone else at their table.
Then the participants were asked to walk up to a wall that contained posters of individuals who identified on the gender spectrum rather than neatly in gender binaries. Participants were asked to focus only on the word/phrase (ignoring the color) written on each sticky note. If they found an image that they felt the word/phrase fit with, they were asked to place the sticky note on that image. If they had a word/phrase they felt matched none of the images, they were asked to stick those on a blank spot on the wall next to the posters.
At the end of this activity we discussed two things that had quickly become clear while looking at the posters/wall after the activity was over(see images below). First I pointed out that not a single poster had ended up with sticky notes that were all of the same color. This meant that the participants had not been able to neatly fit a single one of the people represented in the poster images into either the male/female identity of the gender binary, as defined by gender roles.
Second I noted that the number of sticky notes that had been placed directly on the wall because the participants felt they did not describe any of the people in the images was actually about the same size as the number of sticky notes containing words they felt did describe one of the people represented in the images. This clearly demonstrated that many of the “ideals” that are associated with the feminine/masculine gender roles actually don’t fit real people very well.
Participants seemed to really appreciate this activity and several told me after the workshop that it provided them with a new way to visualize/think about the gender spectrum.
Overall I think my workshop and the entire morning went really well and opened up important conversations between the Board of Ed, the Exec Team, student government, and faculty, all of whom were present/represented at the event. There were immediate suggestions by participants about how the content of the morning’s workshops might be incorporated into the topics being discussed during the rest of the retreat, leaving us hopeful that issues of cultural competency would frame discussions about important topics such as Lane’s new Core Themes.
I was honored to be invited to participate in this event and look forward to helping continue the work of cultural competency professional development on Lane’s campus for many years to come.