- From the Desk of Dr. Sands
I want to empower young women to speak openly and candidly about issues of race and gender with the understanding that while we all want to have empathy and to be good people, we cannot walk in the shoes of others and therefore must listen to learn.
As someone who is deeply invested in the lives of girls and young women, I have been reading about the many recent sexual assault scandals attributed to powerful men not out of prurient interest, but rather with the intention of thinking about how we can better address this issue at school. I believe that unless you can hashtag #MeToo, it is hard to fully understand how a great number of women are feeling right now. Sadly, I can. An important takeaway however, is the staggering number of women who are coming forward, which begs the question, is this is a blip on social media or a seismic shift in our thinking and awareness? I hope for the latter, but this should not just be a women's issue, as this is also so very much about power--specifically, who has it and who doesn't.
At the same time, I have been engrossed in a 2016 National Book Award winner, Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi. It is a difficult book to read, but I am working harder at being an informed ally. And to be honest, after spending time with this book, I can now understand how some of my actions in the past could have been interpreted as racially insensitive, which was never what I intended, but we all know about hell and intentions. Being an ally actually means listening first.
Finding a place of moral clarity that creates a bright light for our students is of utmost importance to me. I want to empower young women to speak openly and candidly about issues of race and gender with the understanding that while we all want to have empathy and to be good people, we cannot walk in the shoes of others and therefore must listen to learn. I have never experienced anything but racial privilege, but I have been sexually assaulted, and for me, it took me a long time to stop blaming myself. That is not easy to say or to face. Not long ago I went online and looked up the man who assaulted me and for whom I once worked. When I found out he had died, I felt as cold as ice. I could only think that I was glad he was gone from this earth, because I knew I was not his first victim or his last.
Sexual assault is never the result of how women dress or how they behave. A woman may be more at risk if she is drinking, but assault is never her fault. When there are power imbalances, there are winners and losers. I used to think that my experience gave me a special ability to be more empathetic and understanding of others, particularly at the intersectionality of race and gender. I have always wanted so badly to care for all my students that I thought I understood what young women of color face everyday, but how could I? This does not mean that I throw up my hands and say, "I don't know, so I am powerless." To the contrary. It means that we listen to the stories of others and tell them back to one another, just as we practiced through our work with Narrative 4. One of the reasons we participated in this important training and exercise is to empower the strength of radical empathetic listening.
There continues to be such pressure on women and people of color to try harder, to give more, and to be above reproach. Society tells us that we cannot be too angry, too aggressive, or too emotional. It's hard work and it's exhausting. So please, dads, brothers, and all male relatives and friends, be an upstander for women, not just those who are your relatives. And for all of those who share my significant unearned racial privilege, let us accept and acknowledge what we have been given by birth. We can accept what we cannot know and commit to support what we can change.
The ubiquity of #MeToo has brought the issue of sexual assault to the fore. While I thought long and hard before doing so, I posted my hashtag on social media. The public and private messages have been touching and affirming, including this one from my son:
"Mom, I am so sorry you had to go through that. I'm glad that you were brave and put it out on social media, hopefully inspiring others who have been afraid to come out of the dark."
I hope so too. Let's also not forget the LGBTQ community and all who are deeply and profoundly at risk. I am at a school with an incredibly empathetic student body who are leading the way on issues of social justice and equity. They have learned well from their wonderful parents. This is not a political issue; it is one of morality and decency.