I came to equity in education from initial work in the civil rights movement
in the 1960's, followed by anti-war work in the late 60's and early 70's.
Overlapping them all, eventually, was my interest in the women's movement
and reclaiming what I personally had missed: my own gender's history and
inclusion in all aspects of education. In retrospect, I see that when I
became active in the women's movement, it was in me an impulse that grew from
a middle-class, white, educated women's perspective, motivated at first by
The Feminine Mystique, the book by Betty Friedan. People still think of "the
women's movement" as a monolith, but it was clear early on that there were
divergent opinions and needs, all of which have become more diverse even as
we work for the success of all women. One of the first huge chasms in the
women's movement was articulated by Friedan herself, who gave her infamous
"lavender menace" speech that pointed out the divide between lesbians and
heterosexual women. Soon after, I began noticing overt racism among the
women I had admired and worked alongside as a feminist activist. I saw that
women in wheelchairs had to scream for special attention to get access to
meetings. Women from middle- and wealthier-class backgrounds found it
difficult to work with working-class women, who often gave up in extreme
frustration and left the movement. There were certainly those women whose
anger at men drove male allies away (okay, so I had some of that anger myself
Because I worked in other movements, I had empathy for those working for
race, class, disability awareness, and a sense that if we all worked
together, we could be the most powerful force on earth. That force has never
materialized in the way I idealized it. I remember the hard work to try and
learn about other cultures and how I needed to adapt to work with them. It
is hard to overcome mistrust and lack of understanding. It is hard to find
the energy to keep working at diversity every day. However, I believe in and
embrace change; change is hope for a better world. If I do not have hope for
improvement through change, what am I doing in the field of education?
One of the most thrilling and interesting experiences I have had as a sex
equity professional was at a three-day workshop facilitated by the National
Women's History Project, a group that has long been a force for diversity in
women's history. At that workshop, the organizers made a point of ensuring
racial and ethnic diversity among participants and presenters. Because there
was a balance of people from many racial groups, people did not feel a need
to group together with those like themselves and isolate; everyone mingled
and chatted constantly. Instead of feeling, for one of the few times in my
life, as if I were in the minority and uncomfortable about it, I remember a
feeling of exaltation, energy, and rapid exchange of ideas. The workshop
organizers had brought together a tremendously dynamic and diverse group of
which I was an equal member, not a dominant or nondominant member.
I believe we can build diversity into our daily routines.
1)We can beginby making sure we THINK about diversity in every group we
assemble, policy we write, audience we want to reach, and resources we develop.
Have protocol in place at the beginning, a set of questions or benchmarks in
place to use until we memorize them and can think of them automatically.
2)Get to know people who are other genders, races, ethnicities, abilities,
classes. This sounds like a simplistic solution, but when everyone around you
is white and middle class, you aren't going to think of other groups
automatically. Do we notice air around us every day? Do fish notice water?
3)Read about diversity, especially in writings about gender, to expand your
vision of just who is included in the word "gender." Right now, I'm reading Sari
Biklen and Diane Pollard's Gender and Education, in which most of the selections
include a focus on diversity in women. Newer feminist writings are making good
efforts to be inclusive of all women.
4)Make sure the resources (print, video, electronic) you use in your job include
people from all races, abilities, classes. Send back and refuse to buy those
that are not inclusive; let publishers know why you are doing so. 5)If you are
European-American, develop workshops on white privilege to talk to white people
about their racism. Peggy McIntosh's monograph on that topic is a great place
6)My personal motto in doing training is "Never offend with style when you
must offend with substance." In my work, I talk about heavy-duty subjects
with people who will probably be resistent. I try not to compound that
difficulty by being "in-your-face" and a screamer. However, I try to think
of all the reasons they may turn me off and prepare for their resistance
ahead of time by anticipating and co-opting their racism, sexism, etc.
7)Be the person to talk about difficult subjects first. I remember when I first
started this work in the early 1980's, being terrified that someone would
bring up the subject of homosexuality. Now I've found a way to bring in
those subjects early on in my training. Sometimes just voicing them diffuses
them and makes them acceptable.
I realize I have personalized this discussion rather than making it more
global and distant from my own experience. However, I think bringing gender
and diversity together is a profoundly personal discussion, especially at the
start. I look forward to reading your reactions and finding out how you can
push me along in my thinking.