My Fulbright to México: Creating Safe Schools for All

My Fulbright presentation at UNAM on LGBT youth in schools in Mexico City.

Every now and then, teachers get the opportunity of a lifetime.

I know I did when I was selected to be a member of the second cohort of Distinguished Fulbright Award in Teaching (DAT) recipients. Still a fairly new addition to the family of Fulbright awards, the DAT Fulbright provides experienced teachers the chance to conduct research in a host country in an area of education about which they feel passionate.

I’ve just recently returned from Mexico City after having spent six months as a guest researcher in the gender studies program, Programa Universitario de Estudios de Género (PUEG) at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). My research focused on interviewing high school-aged LGBT youth on themes relating to gender and sexuality; coming out/not coming out; safety and discrimination; and their vision for making their school’s curriculum inclusive of LGBT themes and issues.

I could not have had a more life-transforming experience.

While I was interviewing 32 students, six teachers, and two administrators, I kept marveling at the fact that this was the most extraordinary opportunity to create change in schools on a global level. Here was a young man sharing how his mom didn’t hug him when he came out; and here was a young woman telling me how she was harassed at school for being transgender and how she had the guts to come to school wearing a dress when everybody else knew her previously as a boy; and here was a young woman telling me her dreams for making her school more respectful of all her friends.

And here was Fulbright giving me the chance to be a researcher, not as a PhD student, not as a professor, but as a teacher. Continue reading

Feminist Teacher on the Radio

Feminist Magazine, KPFK 90.7, Pacifica Radio

Within the past few months, I’ve had the terrific honor of being a guest on two feminist radio shows: Digital Sisterhood Network’s Feminism Online Project and Feminist Magazine. Last night, Feminist Magazine co-hosts Celina Alvarez and Christene Kings interviewed me during their show on KPFK 90.7 Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles. Calling in from México, I was thrilled to talk to Celina and Christene about my work with young people in high school.

One of the points I made was that the reason why students are attracted to feminism is because they can use its tools in their everyday lives: “What I do in the classroom not only focuses on gender and sexuality but also race and class . . . Students get excited because it’s about them . . . they face sexism, they face racism, they face classism, they face homophobia, transphobia, all of it, and feminism is the perfect launching point for those kinds of conversations. They want their education to be personal but they also want it to be useable, and I think that feminism is one of those things that you can teach that is so useable and young people just grab it.”

In case you missed the show last night, here’s the archive: my segment starts at 28:24 and ends at 42:18.

Earlier in May, I was also invited by Ananda Leeke from the Digital Sisterhood Network to be her guest for the entire hour (just press play). I was able to talk at length with Ananda about the Fulbright research I’m doing in México on LGBT youth in schools as well as my work in schools in the U.S. During the course of the show, my student and fellow Twitter fiend, Steven Susaña, joined the chat section of the program. Steven took my feminism course last fall, and since then, has been a committed feminist activist and male ally. It was so wonderful to have him as part of the conversation about teaching and learning feminism at the high school level.

Throughout both of these interviews, I was reminded again and again how important feminist media is and how important it is to lift each other’s work through our blogs, op-eds, radio programs, television appearances, and the like. We have to be the ones to invite each other to be guests on our blogs and programs if we want to change the landscape of voices. We have to be the ones to invite a different conversation for a different world.

Spoke at Smith Women in Education Conference (VIDEO)

In March of this year, I was invited to sit on several panels as part of the Smith Women in Education conference at Smith College in Northampton, MA. I was thrilled to be back on campus even if just for a few days, as it took place right in the middle of my Fulbright time in México; it was absolutely invigorating and inspiring to be among Smith sisters in education making change in their classrooms and in their communities.

One of the things I talked about during a panel titled Teaching in the 21st Century, that was moderated by Smith alumna Joan Sigel Schuman from the class of 1962, was the importance of teachers coming to the classroom as whole people, especially along lines of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Our students know when we are not being real or true with them, and we as teachers also suffer when we are not our whole selves with our students, our colleagues, and our school communities.

I went through a time of not being a whole person myself when as a young teacher, I was not completely true to my students during my time in girls’ schools between 1997-2004. There I was, teaching young women to be empowered and to become self-actualized as young feminists, and I was not even out to my students; as a result, I was not a whole educator or a whole person in my profession. I was not self-actualized. Continue reading

Spoke at Mexico City’s First International Conference on Bullying

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It was a complete honor to be a part of Mexico City’s first international conference on bullying earlier this week. Bringing together speakers from around the world—including Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Spain—the Congreso Internacional de Bullying was hosted by the office of Mexico City’s Secretary of Education, Maestro (Mtro.) Mario Delgado Carrillo.

As the opening speaker, I shared the context of some of the most tragic bullying stories the U.S. has endured these last few years, especially in the form of bullycides, which is the preferred term when referring to suicides that have resulted from bullying. Stories such as those of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, Phoebe Prince, and Tyler Clementi, have catapulted us into an even more pressing era for making change in our schools.  Continue reading

On Recovering My Mother Tongue: Speaking Spanish from the Bronx to México

During the first five years of my life, I grew up speaking both English and Spanish with my Puerto Rican family in the Bronx. Both languages reflected the kaleidoscope of my life at the time: I could switch easily from speaking English while romping around Randalls Island and the Williamsbridge playground to speaking Spanish while dancing salsa and merengue at my grandmother’s house in Parkchester.

Once we moved from the Bronx to Long Island in the early eighties, however, a critical shift happened. I was no longer in a community where Spanish was commonly spoken and on top of that, racist school counselors “advised” my mother not to speak Spanish to my brothers and me, in case it might “confuse” us. Respectful of school authorities, my mother obliged this narrow and misinformed demand.

This shift marked the beginning of being robbed of my mother tongue. I have been on a search to recapture it ever since. Continue reading

Distinguished Fulbright in Teaching Award to México

The 2010 Distinguished Fulbright in Teaching Award grantee cohort in Washington, D.C. (photo courtesy, AED)

Last spring, I wrote a series of posts on sabbaticals. After 14 years of teaching, I began thinking about the lack of resources that teachers have to engage in serious and innovative research. That’s when I decided to apply for the Distinguished Fulbright in Teaching Award. Much to my thrilled surprise, this past spring I received the award to go to México from January to July of 2011. Different from the longstanding Fulbright Teacher Exchange, which sends teachers to various countries throughout the world to teach their content area, the Distinguished Fulbright acknowledges that teachers are scholars.

The Distinguished Fulbright has three components. Once in their host country, educators are expected to 1) attend graduate level courses at a local university; 2) lead professional development workshops and conduct research at local schools; 3) complete a capstone project that merges their coursework and teacher research. Continue reading