My position as a student has formed a strong and central part of my identity for almost as long as I can remember. My interactions in the classroom served as the basis not only for life-long learning, but also for evolving understandings of my identities. So it makes sense to me that much of the shifting and growth I’ve done in understanding my identities has come in the context of my identity as a student. I identify as an upper middle class, cisgendered, queer, white, atheistic, half-New Zealand, Brooklyn-raised woman. As I’ve studied and lived in different environments, as I’ve moved from Brooklyn to Bryn Mawr to Denmark and back, I’ve claimed, moved through, and even discarded different aspects of my identity in varying degrees. Being able to own each of these identities now and feel comfortable introducing myself as them is a state that has been a long time coming.
One integral aspect of my identity as a student is my voice, and it is through the lens of student voice that I explore the different aspects of my identities. I focus on race, class, and gender because those are the three aspects of my identities I have been thinking critically about most recently, and because I think these three aspects impact my interactions with others most strongly.
I. Race and Class Privilege
I woke up last Monday to an email saying classes were canceled due to snow and all non-essential staff were asked to stay home. So I was surprised to stroll into the bathroom and see my hall's housekeeper wiping down the sink countertop. I wasn't expecting anyone to be there, but particularly not any college staff. "Wait, don't you get the day off?" I asked. She explained that no – she and the rest of the housekeeping staff are considered essential and have to report into the college regardless of the weather conditions. She then expressed concern that the weather would make it difficult for her to pick up her daughter on time. I wished her luck, and left feeling shocked, helpless, and a little bit guilty. I was surprised the college would require housekeeping staff to report when faculty don't have to – especially because, as 18-22 year olds, I feel we should be pretty capable of restocking toilet paper or keeping our spaces clean, at the very least for a couple of days. I felt helpless because I didn't know what I could do to ease the situation, and wasn't sure what my responsibility was. And I felt guilty because she was forced to risk her own safety to come in to take care of our mess and our spaces.
I spent last semester studying in Denmark and every Thursday as part of my coursework I visited a very small, independent K-10th grade school. The student body (about 150 students total) was predominantly white and there were only two non-ethnic Danish students amongst the approximately 35 8th through 10th graders that I spent most of my time working with. My position at the site was one of a participant-researcher. I worked with the English teacher to lead presentations on and discussions about American culture. I served almost as an ambassador of the United States to students who had never met an American before. I ate lunch with together with the students and chatted with them during breaks. But I was also collecting notes about the classroom culture and even led group interviews at the end of my semester there to gather student perspectives on gender in the classroom – a topic I wrote my final term paper on. I share this background because I want to make clear my position in relationship to the students I worked with. I was not considered a teacher exactly, but I was also not considered a "friend."
When Danielle and I first started envisioning our final project, we were both very drawn to the idea of looking at privilege. Danielle had been thinking about doing a zine on the topic of privilege, but when we discovered our mutual interest in video-making, we thought that might be another way of sharing the thoughts that have come out of our class in an accessible and fun way. We really wanted to look at how Bryn Mawr impacts and is impacted by differences in privilege and one of the places we started our search was the classroom.
In order to avoid stigmatizing a specific professor or set of students, Danielle wrote a script that we used as the basis for our fictional classroom scene. One of the things I’ve really noticed as a result of practicing silence and thinking about how much space my words take up in the classroom – as well as comparing our Bryn Mawr speaking experience with being in the Cannery – was how people’s notice of vocal space (or lack of notice) really impacts the classroom environment.
I just wanted to share the video Dan and I did for our final project! We encourage you to share it with all your friends and hope it will spark some really necessary and useful conversation. Enjoy!
I wrote my third memo about the ways in which our art projects connected back to the socially conscious thinking we'd been doing before going into the prison.
I went to Catholic school from age 5 to 13, so when Sr. Linda-Susan Beard spoke with our class on Thursday, I felt an immediate and somewhat overwhelming connection to what she was saying. I, too, was a very contemplative child and was particularly faithful from ages 8 through 12, but it's something that until recently I'd come to reject or deny in my personal history. I didn't pray on a regular basis by myself, but I did find comfort in praying in church with my class or during morning prayers each day at school. At the time, prayer for me often did involve asking for something from God. I prayed for family members to stay healthy. I prayed for peace in war stricken regions. I prayed for forgiveness for arguing with my sisters.
Sometimes, though, I was able to enter the entirely contempletive and silent kind of meditation that Sr. Linda-Susan Beard spoke to – and in those moments, I felt utterly at peace with myself and my surroundings. I remember distictly one day in seventh grade when my class went to confessions (to tell the priest our sins and ask forgiveness for those wrongdoings) and I spent almost thirty minutes entranced by the sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows. I thought it was the most beautiful and God-filled moment I'd ever experienced.
As someone who has grown up in a household of artists, I’ve always had a special reverence for people’s creations. Though my mother was highly critical of her own work, there was a general sense that destroying it was in some way not acceptable. I took that to heart. My sisters’ drawings have all been kept. Old storybooks I made have just resurfaced from basement boxes. Our childhood voices are kept alive through this reverence for creation and imagination. It was for this reason that I struggled to understand an experience Maxine Hong Kingston wrote about in her memoir Woman Warrior (1975). For three years as a child, she painted over all of her artwork in black and covered up anything she wrote on the blackboard so that it couldn’t be read or seen. I struggled to understand her motives and also her complacency for what I read as a huge loss. Then I began to think of this action as a form of silence. Tillie Olsen touches on the different types of silences that exist in her essay “Silences” (1962) and these silences can be read into Hong Kingston’s blacking out.
I spent my memo thinking a lot about niches and privacy and how the two were connected. One of the things that really inspired that was considering my own niche. Here's the representation I did of it on Friday! (see also my response to Anne's question about interim spaces as niches for an explanation of this particular aspect of my niche).
After our conversation today in Jody's class about Bryn Mawr as a walled community and the readings we did about the thinking behind the dorms of Bryn Mawr, I can't help making connections to Hans Toch's writing on "Transactions of Man and Environment" in that context. Hoch talks about the way an environment is so intricately related to human responses – thinking, feeling, acting, etc. I thought about the level of privacy M. Carrey Thomas envisioned for her students and how intricately privacy is linked with privilege. Those who could afford more privacy got it. And now, though rooming is not based on how much one pays or can afford to pay, in two room doubles, one student inevitably lives in the "maid's" room, which can and does create tensions between roommates.