NAIS People of Color Conference Blog

December 7, 2009

The “Post-Conference” feeling

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jenn Gutierrez @ 5:54 pm

We are home and trying to stay warm in this 5 degree weather . . . brrr. I am obviously a bit behind here in my blogging, but over the next couple of days I hope to fill in a few of those things I have left out.  The blog does not seem to be getting heavy traffic, but perhaps after everyone returns home things will pick up, so please check back for updated material.

My students were incredibly gracious and appreciative about having had this opportunity, and the title of this post was inspired by one of those students. She said the “post-conference feeling sucks.” I agree. It is a strange feeling to blend back into the environment where identity is almost a non-issue. After two full days of celebrating who we are, we return to our communities, and it plays through our minds, “It’s too bad we couldn’t re-create the conference for everyone here. If they only knew what we have just been through . . . .”

Of course, the important task still at hand is to at least attempt to define and share that experience with our larger school communities. I would love to hear what others end up doing, and assuming this blog remains active, I would love to share what we end up doing.

Also, before I end this post, at my regional meeting we discussed possible ways of staying in touch and collaborating after the conference. We decided we would attempt to have three or four face-to-face meetings a year and decided to set up a social networking site. I will post the link to that site as soon as it is up and running for anyone interested.

December 5, 2009

Kenji Yoshino & Mining Within

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jenn Gutierrez @ 4:17 am

What a beautiful day. After dropping off my students (admittedly still in a hurry, still in a whirlwind of rush that I guess just cannot be helped) I headed to the theater for Kenji Yoshino’s talk. What I admired most about his talk was again, the influx of usable vocabulary. Centering his talks around the terms conversion, passing, and covering, Yoshino related these terms specifically to gay rights’ societal progression but more generally to civil rights as a whole. I doubt that there was a person of color in the audience who didn’t understand those terms–even if they had never used them before.

With a smiling, peaceful demeanor, Yoshino reminded us of the obligation to continue working in our respective roles of power to continue the battle, to continue the alliance, to continue the reminder that progression is always a journey. When we feel ourselves discouraged, it is precisely that moment to re-energize, to “mine the treasures within” that make the “imagined realities” move that much closer to the actual. Yoshino’s book, Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights, is available on Amazon through the link provided.

Courageous Conversations

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jenn Gutierrez @ 2:46 am

As I’ve mentioned, this is my third PoCC, but the last two previous years, I attended as the sole faculty member. The first year in Boston I was entirely alone, and Gene is right–you do remember your first. I distinctly remember being overwhelmed–and tear up more than I’d like to admit. I knew, just knew I had to get students involved somehow. When I returned to school I started a Hip Hop Club (we are a relatively small school without a Diversity Coordinator, without Affinity groups, without much public opportunity for discussion about inclusivity). I was energized. The club attracted one of our very soft-spoken, yet outwardly appearing Afrocentric young male students. When he entered the room the first day, I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “I hope I can do this thing justice.” Luckily, after that first day, I didn’t really have to do much because he completely stepped up to the plate and willingly led almost all subsequent meetings. Unfortunately, he was a senior, and when he left, the club quickly disseminated.

Last year in New Orleans I took two students with me. It was a triumph. I was so excited–even more so because one of those students was my sophomore daughter, and just as I had suspected, the kids were blown away and both felt the experience life-changing.

This year, partly because of the location of the conference, I succeeded just that much further, and I invited my Head of School to present with me. So, for the first time, I am sharing this experience with a colleague from my own school. Words cannot adequately convey the hope I feel in getting him here, yet truth be told, as a White man he was a little hesitant. He repeatedly shared his worry that he might say something wrong.

For anyone who attended our presentation, you’ll recall the story he courageously shared about not being in contact with people of color during his school years. He grew up in New Orleans which apparently has a great deal of segregation in terms of living communities. He grew up in an affluent, all-white neighborhood, attended private school, and was really unaware of the richness of diversity within his own city. The only memory he has of African-American/Black interaction was with his nanny.  When he first shared that story with me, I was incredulous. How can you grow up in New Orleans and not be 100% comfortable with diversity? I think it was difficult for him to share with me the fact that he was nervous about saying the “wrong thing.”

I think that we, as people of color who have experienced discrimination, prejudice, ignorance, apathy, and marginalization, tend to forget that our experience has afforded us the opportunity to develop a vocabulary for expressing our feelings related to culture, race, and identity. If we truly want to engage in courageous conversations with our white colleagues, however, I believe we need to reach out to them with sensitivity. I imagine my words might anger of few of my fellow persons of color, but it seems to me while the PoCC allows us to put down the masks we sometimes live behind in order to survive day-to-day which is comforting, affirming, liberating . . . we don’t have to “convince” one another of the importance of inclusivity. It is the dominant culture within our schools we need to convince, and when members of that community are willing to come into this unique space that defines the People of Color Conference, we must exercise inclusive behavior toward them–even when their cultural vocabularies are sometimes less developed.

At this point you may be wondering what in the heck I am talking about, getting to–John Quinones. His charge.

I sat in on a session yesterday that evolved into a public admonishing of a white attendee who pushed the wrong button with many others in the room. Her vocabulary was just a little more clumsy perhaps, but she was genuinely attempting to act, as she herself labeled, our “ally.” Without taking into consideration her intentions, she was chastised by other audience members for her misuse of language and her inability to fully understand ours.

I am a quiet soul. I hate speaking in group settings. At the front of the room as an educator or presenter, I can pull down a kind of curtain, and I am fine, but just existing in a room full of others is often excruciatingly difficult for me despite my knowledge of how important it might be. Yesterday, I heard Quinones’s charge run through my head, “What would you do?” I felt as though what was happening in that room was counter-productive to the conference mission, and I had to speak up. I slowly, almost unwillingly raised my hand.

I wasn’t called on, however, and luckily, two others spoke up in ways similar to the way in which I would have, but I walked back to the Grand Hyatt in the freezing cold last night with the heaviness of conflicting emotions wrapped around me like a winter cloak.

I don’t believe everyone will read this post and come away with a good feeling, or even a similar reaction to my recollection, and I seriously hesitated posting it because I value the conference and don’t want to in any way “hurt” its mission by revealing the sensitive and often confidential experiences that take place here–but if we don’t examine ourselves, the facets positive and empowering as well as those difficult and not-so-pretty we are not really taking home the mission.

Smooth sailing is refreshing, but it is only in the waves of turbulence that we recall the reason for knowing how to swim. Courageous conversations. Let’s continue having them.

December 4, 2009

Promoting Cultural Pluralism Through Technology – Thursday Session A

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jenn Gutierrez @ 2:39 am
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I felt honored to be able to present at this year’s conference alongside my Head of School, Cullan Hemenway. It gave me a much needed opportunity to gather some of the theory and research I’ve been working on independently. I am a doctoral student at DU in Curriculum and Instruction. My areas of concentration are cultural pluralism and technology. What I have been struggling with most during my studies is a way to communicate the way I see the areas being related and complimentary. This presentation afforded me the opportunity to get my feet wet. The thesis of the presentation was that A) narrative for multicultural student voices is crucial, and therefore crucial to the student body as a whole B) technology affords educators the opportunity to enhance their existing curriculum and facilitates a wider range of possibility for pulling in material of a cultural-racial nature, and C) it can be done without spending any money on the latest and greatest fad.

The following document is my intended narrative for the presentation:   PoCC Presentation Notes3

And the short PowerPoint: Promoting Cultural Pluralism Through Technology

I also shared the following Animoto Video to demonstrate the way in which a shared narrative (I read aloud a short narrative of my personal history) can be more powerfully delivered with the simple use of technology:

[clearspring_widget title=”Animoto.com” wid=”46928cc51133af17″ pid=”4b187671f1a74bb4″ width=”432″ height=”240″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]

We also shared a few screen shots (because we were without live Internet access), but rather than post those, feel free to access the live sites from the Blogroll.

I would, however, like to share the embedded video I used with my 7thg graders during our Body Image Project unite. The title of the clip is misleading and obviously indicates that the snippet we get to see was within a larger context, but I think the clip is still a great example of positive introductions of dialogue concerning appearance norms:

And finally, I would like to provide this list of references

Moving Mountains

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jenn Gutierrez @ 2:06 am

Well, after another hectic start locating rooms, navigating one-ways, and lugging laptop equipment, my individual experience is finally taking shape. The opening ceremonies still brought a few tears to my eyes–especially during Liz’s and Rodney’s portion where they individualized the myriad of stories certain to take shape among the one thousand young people attending this year’s SDLC–let’s say that again, over 1,000 students. Students who will return to their homes, their families, sit at dinner tables with parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles, and they will begin. Begin that after-conference journey that is initiated with dialogue and hopefully leads to some kind of action within their larger campus communities.

What I appreciate most about opening ceremonies is the way it sets the tone for the conference at large. It reaffirms, humors, encourages, and reminds us. And, as has been true of past Keynote Speakers, John Quinones allowed us to both laugh and shake our heads in dismay–he also left us with a charge–and it is one I had occasion to recall later this evening . . . but you’ll have to read on to find out why.

December 2, 2009

On our way . . .

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jenn Gutierrez @ 8:36 pm
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As educators and professionals (sometimes also mothers, wives, husbands, etc.) the days leading up to a conference can be hectic. There comes a point when, as you tilt your head back for that second dose of Adivil, you think to yourself, “Why do I do this to myself?” As so many of you I am sure can relate, I am staring bleary eyed at this screen after a near sleepless night. I will not bore you with the tedious details of my life but tell you I am in desperate need of a nap. I and my two SDLC participants will be on the road within the hour. We’ll check in, hopefully grab something to eat and then it begins . . . searching down long stretches of hallway scanning room numbers. Checking our watches (or let’s face it phones because none of us actually wear watches anymore) asking one another “What time is it? Are we late? What was the room number?”

This will be my third PoCC and my second as a student chaperone. I again have two students attending SDLC, but one of them will be functioning as a peer facilitator. It is a labor of love–that’s the answer. It’s the why. When I attended my first conference in 2007, I remember being hit unexpectedly, and on more than one occasion, with a tearing of the eyes–I just knew I had finally stumbled upon something I had been trying to put my finger on, find a voice for. PoCC has helped me develop a vocabulary for the theories I intuitively conceptualized.

When two of our students attended SDLC last year, it was affirming to witness the empowing affect it had on them. And so, we look ahead in antipation of all we already know the conference capable of holding. I am anxious to see the way peer facilitating for one my students will enrich that experience with new meaning.

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