Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Privilege




Activity directions: +1 for statements that are true; -1 for statements that are not true. Write down total score at the end.
  • Your success (academics/career) is generally attributed by others to your intelligence and hard work.
  • Your accent/use of language is not perceived as foreign or strange by most people.
  • At least one of your parents went to college
  • Your family has never been referred to as "Broken.
  • You are not seen as a "credit" to our race/ethnicity/socio-economic status/gender.
  • Holidays you celebrate are commonly recognized and observed.
  • You've never had to seek academic accommodation 
  • Most of the people are your place of work/campus look like you.
  • You've can speak openly about your significant other with relative certainty that others will not raise an eyebrow.
  • You've (almost) never had to modify the way you speak.
  • You've never been questioned about whether or not you work at your company/attend your institution as a student
  • You've (almost) never had to worry about your physical safety.
  • You are not/were not a first-generation college student.
  • You never had to worry about having enough to eat.
  • Medical care has (almost) always been accessible.
  • You do not live with PTSD, depression, anxiety or another mental illness
  • When you discussion future occupations, you can envision workplaces where people who look like you are working.
***********************
Privilege. Just the word is enough to cause an awkward moment in any conversation. The idea that unearned benefits to a subset of people solely based on their identify or upbringing is enough to make any anyone uneasy. But what's most provoking is when that accusation has been laid squarely on you. We have a stereotype of what privileged individuals look like: lazy, vapid, narcissistic, all with a polished exterior. And yet the truth is that those who are privileged are often just as hard-working as the rest of us. The difference lies in the safety net.

The discussion of privilege has been an ongoing one between Grey and I since we first met. Though Grey is a white, cis-, heterosexual male, he's also a first generation college graduate who's father actively discouraged him from doing any higher education. His sister was the one who blazed the trail to higher education and all of them went the community college followed by transfer to a 4 year institution route. But it wasn't easy as his family's social circle didn't know how to support college students and often there was jealous and a sense of betrayal for all of them moving beyond what this circle understood. This same support was lacking to from those that he would soon consider his peers as Grey struggled to fit into a world where a certain standard of behavior/mannerisms was assumed. My own background is better as college was rarely questioned, but my mother was highly threatened when both my brother and I chose to go on for more education outside the standard 4 year degree. Hence my own struggle to social fit into a world where those around me seem groomed for from day one, adding a fun layer to the imposter syndrome.

Yet, neither Grey nor I are allowed to talk about this. Any mention of our situations and struggles is quickly silenced or we are admonished for daring to assume others haven't had it hard too. Most recently sitting in an inclusivity workshop, a vast amount of time was spent calming those who immediately felt uncomfortable about facing their privileged. They were quick to cite all their hard work and hardships. All while suppressing the very population they supposedly wanted to better serve.

******************
In May, the Washington Post ran a powerful article about "Black Branding." The theme is a simple one: those with money and resources displacing those that have lived in an traditionally impoverished area, usually from several years. Gentrification is a recognized problem in many American cities, but what is most toxic about this is the attitudes from those coming in. From organic food to school choice to child care, they claim attraction to areas due to diversity, but they don't actually integrate.

It in these settings, where the differences between haves and have nots is glaring. Yet opening the discussion is extremely difficult as most of those in positions of privilege have honed their defense mechanisms. Grey and I both have been accused of not being mindful of diversity by these very people, all while counter arguments are quickly squashed and shunned. After all, their intentions are good. How could that possible make them in the wrong with their actions?

It's frightening to witness.

******************
Back in January, Bent Not Broken wrote a beautiful post confessing her privilege. On the heels of the Women's March, she talked about all privileges she had that she felt should not be privileges at all, but basic rights. For the past 7 years, starting with infertility to loss to a difficult pregnancy to going amazingly into debt to having to relocate just to exist, I've wondered aloud the exact same thing. And what I've come to realize is that the only way we're really going to see these changes is to start with the difficult inward and outward analysis. In means listening to others, even if we disagree with their viewpoints or feel insanely uncomfortable about what they are suggesting about us. It means stepping outside our comfort zones. It means realizing that real change only comes when we agree to be open to all, even if it requires us to do the hard work of address our core beliefs.

Where we've seen this in my classrooms is creating inclusive environments where learning goals are the focus and all students are welcome, despite their background or beliefs.

Which has meant including those that may be in the minority of political views, letting those know who voted for Trump that they will not be bullied or minimized.

It means not acknowledging veterans publicly as we have students from war-torn areas with families that were destroyed.

It means encouraging students to complete group work in libraries or other public spaces.

It means quietly pulling some students aside when they make jokes or comments that may be inappropriate and allow those who may have been offended to make the first move instead of assuming.

And it means often times listen to stories or opinions that trigger a deep-seating fury calmly, with curiosity and with an attitude of trying to understand.

Because at the end of the day, despite all the hardships and hurdles, Grey and I know we are privileged too. We are the privileged majority from the infertility community who is parenting. We are the privileged graduate students who are working in key institutions where we are making an impact. We are privileged to have access to medical care, to healthy food and a clean source of water. We are privileged in that we can now afford to pay our rent, our heating and electric bills and not have to worry about that happening.

And we are privileged because we finally have something of a safety net that we can build under us. Something that we can actually give to the Beats and hopefully generations to come.

Monday, May 22, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Purpose

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Infertility - maybe a cooler disease than we thought?

A major perk of living with Grey is learning about new biomedical technology. Whether new blood tests to new scientific techniques, he's on top of the trends.

So when he sent me this link, especially on the heels of Mel's post about the hierarchy of disease, I got pretty excited.

A mini reproductive system.
Researchers hope that the synthetic reproductive system will provide another avenue for studying diseases such as cervical cancer, and allow them to test new contraceptives and fertility treatments before being used in people. There is no good animal model for the 28-day human reproductive cycle, says Teresa Woodruff, a reproductive scientist at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, and a co-author of the study. The artificial system fills an “urgent unmet need for us”, she says.
Maybe infertility isn't as uncool as we thought?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Finding a happy place

Today was a rough one. This whole week has been really. Between students coming back from Spring Break, modifications to lecture (topic was quantitative genetics, for anyone interested) leading to more modifications to problem sets and staff meetings. All this on top of the first week of a new job for Grey, which means new daycare for the Beats and a new commute. Add in fighting about condo business.

And yeah.

By 2 pm, I was looking for a distraction. Which I rapidly found through prepping for lecture on Thursday.


Warning: skip the last minute. It's a massive infertility trigger. I like Kim, but that one made me cringe.

But it lead to me finding this and looping it throughout the day

Grey is definitely rolling his eyes over all of this. But I've found my happy place.

Monday, March 20, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Door

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.


"You are much too big. Simply impassible
You mean impossible?
No impassible . . . nothings impossible."

~Lewis Carol; Alice in Wonderland.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

For a small black dog

I'm terrible at eulogies. At finding all the right words to say when remembering someone beloved who's passed. So for the past week I've been putting this off; holding onto all the thoughts and feelings. It's time, though. Ms. Sofi deserves her due.

***********
I met Sofi on a typical indian summer morning after an atypical move across the country. It wasn't what one would consider the kindest of welcomes, with her barking at me and the Beats, but boundaries were clearly defined about being in her space and respecting her limits. Over the course of the year, we would get glimpses of her as Grey, the Beats and I began getting comfortable with Martha, Bert and her. The understanding was clear: Sofi was to be greeted but not touched. We were not considered part of her inner circle.

All that changed over the summer as Martha's garden began to bloom. Daily trips down to water plants turned into picking adventures for little hands. Particularly with the cherry tomatoes. One night Martha asked me about making sure that some stayed on the vine as Sofi was fond of tomatoes. And so one uneventful night, after the Beats had picked some of these oranges orbs off the vine, I collected them from little hands and proceeded to roll them in the direction of this small black dog.

3 weeks later, Martha gently asked me to stop as Sofi was now jumping out of bed at 5:30 am upon hearing me move upstairs with He-Beat, barking for her offering of cherry tomatoes.

Though I held off with the morning offerings, continuing to cheat occasionally and rolling a few her way, a bond had formed. And the conversations began, leading to lessons that I needed to heal. To the outside world, these seemed trivial, with her barking at me as I would walk past Martha's door and me stopping so she could come out to look me in the eye and give me an approving grunt. But these were more than that.

Sofi kept me honest.

***********
It's easy to eulogize those that fit into the ideal. The popular ones that check off all the right boxes, giving the imagine of a life out of a storybook. We hear about how they were kind, how they excelled in certain areas, how they made an impact on the lives they came into contact with. All in a manner that makes it seem almost flawless.

But the truth is we all have our flaws and faults; our skeletons we wish to hide from the world. Some do a better job than others of hiding this, going so far to project a world that appears fantastic, but the truth is never fully erased. In addition, some of us have some gnarly-looking scars that run down to our bones. Hiding these scars is next to impossible, even though they scare so many.

To the outside world, Sofi was unforgivably flawed. Her aggression and short-temperedness made her impossible to love, resulting in her being isolated. But the truth is Sofi was insanely protective of and loyal to those in her circle. Like the rest of us, all she wanted was to be loved and to love in return. Hence the snowball that came as many didn't have the patience to respect her boundaries.

What Sofi taught me is the importance of healthy boundaries. Of not pushing back when those boundaries have been established, or giving in to outside forces, simply because the other party didn't understand them. The giving in was something I've long failed with, assuming that by not doing so I was reenforcing a truth about being irreversibly flawed. But that's always when the problems would arise as those who pushed usually had their own issues that most often lead to some public (in one case very public) blowup. Sofi taught me that it was okay to have those boundaries. That those who were worthwhile would respect them.

Hence she showed she wasn't flawed. She was just tired of being hurt by an ideal that she never felt applied to her.

***********
Martha recently shared with me the story of how Sofi came into her life. As the legend goes, they first met when two guys she knew were looking for a dog sitter. The concern was that their dog was aggressive, but Martha assured them she could handle it. So she babysat, spending the weekend with a high-energy small black dog that barked a lot and was quick to snarl. But Martha noted that she was also fun to watch, having lots of bouncing energy, a fast walker and had a trademark of digging deep claw marks in the dirt to show other dogs she had been there. The babysitting was a one-time event and this could have been the end of the story.

But two years later, things changed. And Martha tells this better than I ever can
I am working on my computer on a Saturday morning  - deep into Photoshop - and I hear a voice - an actual man’s voice saying “You are going to get a dog today”. I knew it was odd to hear a voice like that, but I didn’t freak out…I had never heard voices before, but what the heck. 

I told the voice, no, that I wasn’t going to get a dog that day. That I was busy.  

The voice repeated itself and I told it again that I wasn’t …I didn’t have time…that you need
to buy at least a dog bed..etc.” No more words from the voice but I saw a small
black dog run across the inside of my head.  I thought nothing more about it - being
really busy and slammed with deadlines.

Then….Thursday evening of that week..I get a phone call from my friends. They say that they are putting Sofi to sleep the next day. She has bitten everyone. She has gotten multiple tickets from animal control because she barks so much and can be heard from the street.  Neighbors complain. They keep her confined to the kitchen in a small bed because they are afraid she will go down the hall
and bite their girlfriends. One of their sisters has a new baby and has forbidden them to visit if they are bringing Sofi.  So….they have been wracking their brains to see who would ever want her…and they remember I baby sat two years before and said that I had experience with aggressive dogs. Did I want her?  


I immediately remembered the Voice from Saturday morning and told them that yes, I would be right down… that she had announced herself to me a few days before -- letting me know she
was headed my way next. I drove right down to their house and picked her up.

Before I did…I checked with Mr. Bert who I knew would have to help me walk
her sometimes.  I called Mr. Bert and asked him if he remembered Sofi and that she needed a home immediately and was he up for it. 


He said “yes” real fast and I questioned him “why?” He answered “Like me - black, homeless, island.  He saw the similarities between the two of them and was willing. 

And so their life began together, building trust and a routine. Martha confessed that those first couple of years were rough, ultimately they all became family. And Sofi was the glue. She still is.

*************
I mentioned that Sofi kept me honest. But not in the way most assume. Every morning as she would bark at me on my way out the door, I would make a point to stop and acknowledge her. And in that moment as I squatted down to greet her, she would waddle towards me while looking me dead in the eye and give me a gruff. Occasionally she'd get so close that she would brush against me, causing Martha to hold her breath in worry. But each time the message was clear.

Be honest. Be who you are.

And though that may seem so simple, the power behind that daily reminder has given me courage to advocate for myself and my family as we've gone through some very hard times. It's also allowed me to make less than popular decisions about asking for space and time. Something that I normally fail at as I'm usually racked with guilt.

For the past 2 weeks, I've missed those daily reminders. I feel like something so precious has been lost and though I know she was old (13 yrs and 9 months to be exact) and so sick, the hole that has come from her not being here anymore has left an undeniable ache.

Because the truth is, Sofi saw something in me that I've been so very afraid of. She saw I was broken too. But she reminded me it was okay.



 
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