Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mainstreams and margins

At a faculty development seminar on "Understanding and Navigating Identity as Faculty" today (one of several our faculty has undertaken in response to student concerns that our our courses and pedagogy are inadequate to the era of Black Lives Matter) we were asked to spend 60 seconds recalling a time when we felt marginalized. Then (through a nifty online response site) we were asked to supply words describing how we felt, the attitude of those marginalizing us, and what different response we would have liked to see in them. It was a well-designed and fruitful exercise, and helpful for us as we try to be better teachers.

One-minute exercises don't leave you time to pose, even to yourself, so they can be quite revealing. The times I called to mind weren't times I felt marginalized for being gay, but felt excluded for being single. I recalled many times when I was the only person not in a couple, and how I dreaded hearing them trot out the stories of how they met, etc. Since I was visibly without partner there was nothing for me to say in these situations, and it frustrated me that there was nothing I could do about it. I would have liked the others at least to notice that I was silenced, and to steer the conversation in a different direction.

It's funny that came to mind since I'm single no longer - or maybe that's precisely why it came to mind! I'm acutely aware (or think I am!) of conversations with my close friends, many of them single, happily or unhappily. I cringe a little when I hear myself start a sentence with we.

The seminar, led by the Director of Higher Education Research and Initiatives at Penn's highly regarded Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, included the very helpful slide above, which suggested that

We tend to live in the pain of our marginalized identities
and act from the arrogance of our mainstream identities. 

So true! I'm glad to be part of a community striving to discern these patterns and to overcome them. There are many marginalizations I cannot begin to grasp, related as they are to privileges I too casually own, but I feel like we made a good start today in owning that, and committed ourselves to learning to create spaces where larger patterns of marginalization might be mitigated or even overcome.

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