Jake

#BeNice: The Power of Youth Voices

I get to work with some pretty amazing young people on a regular basis.  It’s honestly inspiring to realize how many young people are out there in the world, working daily to improve their communities and our society.

Thus, when I got to work with a school in Washington recently, I was expecting to find some pretty phenomenal young people, but I wasn’t prepared for the force for good named Jake.

During our UPstander Intervention Training, I talked to the students at Jake’s school about the idea of being social normers, of being the change you wish to see in your school so that you can inspire others to do the same.  We talked about how social norming helps to change the air students breath in school to make it more inclusive, which makes the other work of being an UPstander far easier.

While talking to these students, though, I didn’t realize that one of the students to whom I was speaking could easily have been up there offering his wisdom.  After all, not long before I came to his school, Jake had made this video:

One of the most common forms of ageism toward young people in our society today is thinking that as adults, young people have nothing to teach us.  Often adults pretend that we have the whole world figured out and that young folks will one day know as much as we do if they make it to the magical world we call adulthood.

In reality, though, young people are often the ones with the most to teach.  After all, they have not been fully clouded by the cynicism or negativity that sometimes comes with age.  Even more, young people are engaging with the world in ways that those of us even ten years older than them could not have imagined at their age.  Youth are inspiring revolutions in the Arab Spring and transforming their communities through activism and servant leadership in every community around the world.  Plus, with the power of the internet that they know so well, they have the ability to learn from other young people as well as from elders in ways I never would have imagined at sixteen.

What Jake reminded me, not only when I met him or when I first saw this video but in our continuing relationship through social media, is that I have a lot to learn.

And Jake reminded me that sometimes the best teachers are those who are many years younger than me.

Columbine Video Blog

Columbine High School – A Community Defined by Unity

I’m pretty lucky.

I get to spend a large amount of my time hanging out in schools where people care really deeply about building inclusive environments where everyone feels safe.  Just this week I got to spend a day learning from some committed educators at the high school I graduated from, educators who are going above and beyond to serve traditionally marginalized students.

Most of the time when I’m working with a school, though, there is a laundry list of problems laid out by students, staff, parents, and administrators: cyberbullying, teachers feeling bullied by administration, students feeling bullied by teachers, students treating other students like crap, students feeling like no one cares for them in the building, etc.

Even if it’s a minority of voices, I can always find people to talk about the trials, the challenges, and the difficult stuff that the community is facing.

Thus, when I was asked to work with Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, I was pretty sure what I would encounter.  What I wasn’t sure about was how Columbine’s history would impact how inclusive it is today.  I had all sorts of preconceived notions about the community based in the media frenzy surrounding the community since the shootings there in 1999, but what would the community actually be like?

No matter what my expectations may have been, what I found was not at all what I expected…

Columbine is proof that when people dedicate themselves to inclusion and building safe educational environments, individuals can have a powerful impact.

In the case of Columbine, this spirit of inclusion grew out of tragedy, but it doesn’t have to be that way for your community.  Need tools for building an inclusive school culture and climate?  Look no further than CivilSchools.

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True Solidarity: Moving Past Privilege Guilt

As I prepare to head to the White Privilege Conference in Madison, WI this weekend, here’s my latest piece published at Everyday Feminism.  As I have been helping plan some of the parts of the conference meant to inspire people to take action during and after the three-day event, this post seems particularly relevant, as those of us with privilege must find ways to move past guilt and toward accountable action.

***

I remember well when I was first confronted with my privilege.

I had just started college, and some activists called me out on the ways in which my class and race privilege were showing up in the classroom as well as in activist spaces.

Of course I was indignant. “I’m not privileged! I work hard for everything I have!”

And while I did indeed work hard, that assertion is obviously laughable.

There are all sorts of aspects of my identity that afford me privilege: my race, my gender, my religious upbringing, my intergenerational wealth, my ability, and on and on.

But that didn’t make it any easier for me to hear, and as I realized they were right, I fell into a bit of depression, carrying tremendous guilt and struggling to understand how this could be true.

I felt as if I was a bad person simply for being who I am, and I was trapped in shame.

I’m a racist, classist, sexist, ableist homophobe who is ruining everything everywhere.” Yeah, it’s a little dramatic, but it’s honestly reflective of how I felt.

In the midst of my wrestling with this guilt and inertia, I noticed a quote on the dorm room wall of a girl I was totes crushing on:

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I didn’t think much of it the first time I saw it. Or the second time. But since I was hanging around in her room a lot, the quote kept showing up for me, and after a while, it really hit me.

I had to find a way to move out of guilt if I wanted to make a difference.

In time I came to realize that if privilege guilt prevents me from acting against oppression, then it is simply another tool of oppression, and sitting in guilt means further colluding with the system that is making me feel shame.

In turn, we have to find a way to move through or past guilt and toward action against oppression.

And though the process of overcoming privilege guilt must inevitably be intensely personal, there are approaches to ending feelings of guilt that all people of privilege can take.

Approaches to Moving Through or Past Privilege Guilt

1. Self-Reflect

If you’re struggling with shame about your identity and your privilege, that guilt is rooted somewhere, and understanding those roots is important.

Is your guilt coming from your active collusion in oppression? Is it rooted in past action? Is it rooted in feelings of powerlessness about the big-picture problems of oppression?

Without a strong understanding of where our guilt comes from, it is impossible to overcome guilt and accountably act for social justice.

After all, if our guilt is rooted in past oppressive actions, knowing so allows us to forgive ourselves and, perhaps, apologize to others for our hurtful behavior so that we can move forward.

If our guilt stems from our own collusion with oppression, lacking such awareness will only lead to “White knighting,” a term I use as a catchall for acting for or on behalf of those we wish to help. Having knowledge of our own collusion, then, allows us to begin to take steps toward solidarity.

2. Understand and Accept Your Role in Oppression

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

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A Lesson on Citing Sources

I recently had the incredible pleasure of working with Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, offering an assembly and working with some of the classes to think more about what it takes to build a truly inclusive community.

It was inspiring to work with Columbine, as I have never found a community as committed to or as successful in building a community where all people feel safe (a subject about which I hope to write more sometime soon).  This level of inclusiveness has been hard won, with staff and students working hard to ensure that the defining characteristic of their school is not related to the tragedy that occurred there in 1999 but is the commitment born before and renewed after that tragedy to make sure that every person who walks in those doors feels safe to fully be themselves.

No one is more committed to inclusiveness than Principal Frank DeAngelis, the long-time leader who is set to retire in a few months.  Before my assembly, I had the chance to sit with Mr. DeAngelis (Mr. De as the students call him) to talk about Columbine and to get some pointers on best serving the community.  During our talk, he mentioned a few words and phrases that can be triggering to people at Columbine, and he asked that I avoid using those phrases.  I took notes, and scratched out a few phrases from my outline, adding alternatives for me to use in the margins.

My remarks in the assembly were based in the theory of critical mass, empowering students to realize that if they want to change their community for the better, they don’t need to get a majority on board.  Instead, they simply need to get a critical mass working for positive change.

While in the early stages of explaining the idea (which is somewhat abstract and needs some real-world examples), I clicked to my next slide, an example to prove the point.  In that moment, I realized the grave mistake I had made: my slide used one of those triggering phrases that Mr. De had asked I avoid!  I quickly clicked past the example and, flustered, attempted to explain the concept, doing a poor job in the process.

I basically said that the idea, which I noted had been studied by many sociologists, allows a small group of people to inspire powerful change simply by being vocal proponents of new social norms, and I moved on.

After the assembly, a few students asked me to better explain the concept, and I laughed, explaining how I had screwed up with the slides, and further explained the sociological theory.

Well today, a few weeks after visiting Columbine, I got an email from a teacher at the school who was, to put it mildly, unhappy with me and my presentation.  She felt like I had deceived the students into thinking that the concepts of critical mass and tipping points were my own rather than those of researchers like Mark Granovetter, Thomas Schelling, and (most well-known) Malcolm Gladwell.

In short, she accused me of plagiarism.

And you know what? She’s right!

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Source: ReactionGifs

When I taught high school, I always stressed to my students that they had to take great pains to cite their sources, for even accidental omission of a source is, by definition, plagiarism.

Though my omission of the names of the researchers upon whose work my remarks were based was accidental, a result of my flustered, poor explanation of the concept, those omissions are still plagiarism, and that’s not only not cool, but it’s downright unethical and illegal.  Though I did mention vaguely the work of “sociologists” who have studied the idea, that’s not enough.

Thus, I owe an apology to the Columbine community.  No matter my excuse, I should have clearly cited my sources, and for not doing so, I am sorry.

Additionally, I owe that teacher a big thank you! After all, I wouldn’t have realized my mistake without her email, and as a result, she is helping me to continue my journey toward accountability and integrity.  I work hard to ensure that whatever I produce, whether it’s a blog or a presentation or training, is well-grounded in research and clearly cited.  And here, I fell short.

If nothing else, I hope this will act as a model to any of the students who read my blog: always be careful to cite your sources.

SVC volunteers and trainers from INCITE Minneapolis circle up before class.  Photo courtesy of SVC's Facebook

The Healing Power of Community

Every year, I struggle when the days get shorter, grayer, and colder.

I feel the sadness and inertia creep over me around the middle of November, and I grapple with it well into March or April. Never, though, has it been as intense as it’s been since moving to Minnesota (or Minnesnowta, as I like to call it).

In addition to the simple weight of the season, I’ve also been wrestling with some personal hurt and trauma, as well as the hurt and trauma of some people I love so very much.

As a result, even getting out of bed has been a struggle lately, and I’ve had to build extra structure into my schedule to make sure that I accomplish even the bare minimum of the hefty load on my plate.

So you can imagine my loving partner’s response when I told her that I would be spending the months of January and February in a 45-hour sexual assault survivor’s advocacy training through an amazing organization called the Sexual Violence Center.

“Jamie, is spending between seven and thirteen hours a week in a class that deals solely with sexual violence (not to mention the extra homework) the best thing for you right now?”

And honestly, I couldn’t give her a good answer.

The truth is that I was afraid that all of this talk of trauma and violence would only add to the weight that I’ve been carrying during this difficult time.

Yet, seemingly inexplicably, the class has helped tremendously.

I couldn’t explain why until a recent counseling session when my counselor asked about the class. I told her about my partner’s concern, and in my explanation, the words came to me.

“At first I was worried she was right, that the training program would make some of my other struggles worse. But when I’m sorting through the impact that sexual violence has had on my life and on the lives of those I love, what better place to be than with 25 other people who care deeply and passionately about eradicating sexual violence? It’s brilliant actually!”

A few days later, Daniela, one of the activist trainers from our program, tweeted something with the hashtag #communalcare.

That’s it! That hashtag named it.

As important as self-care can be, for many of us, communal care is equally as vital!

Holding Space

Obviously not all community or communal time is healthy and healing.

If you feel anxious in large groups, going out with friends to a concert (even of a band you really like) may not necessarily be healing or self-care for you. And even communal experiences that we enjoy may not be ones that help us to cope with or heal from the weight or trauma we carry in our lives.

But healing community is about holding space: holding space for love, care, reflection, laughter, crying, feeling what we’re feeling, dancing, screaming, sorting through, moving past, sitting with, or for whatever else we may need.

Healing community is not about putting our problems off on another person, but about holding space for us to set down the weight we’re carrying for a while, and sometimes it’s even about letting others hold and share our weight while we do the same for them.

In the words of one of the wonderful advocates in training from my class,“Everybody has issues, and [in this space], we’re all just healing with each other.”

SVC volunteers and trainers from INCITE Minneapolis circle up before class.  Photo courtesy of SVC's Facebook

SVC volunteers and trainers from INCITE Minneapolis circle up before class. Photo courtesy of SVC’s Facebook

I can tell you without a shred of doubt that spending time every week for two months talking about sexual violence with people who are not intentional activists and advocates would be quite the opposite of communal care.

But the space held within the advocates training program intentionally focuses on care, healing, and sensitivity, even when we’re talking about those things that make my chest tighten and my breath shorten.

As a result, when I feel that tightness in my chest, I know there are people whose chests are tightening with me, and I know there are people who are also ready and willing to hold space for me to talk through why my breath has shortened.

And more often than not, just knowing that space is being held is all it takes for me to breathe deeply and allow my chest to open, letting light into a dark space.

Communal Care for Introverts

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.