by Catherine Brewer ’20
Standing before members of the greater Providence community who huddled in Moore Hall on Monday evening, Chandelle Wilson’s words displayed their power by provoking a wave of silence: “It’s time that we consider what ‘inclusive’ means in the Center for Inclusion and Excellence.” Wilson, program coordinator of public & community service studies, served as one of the primary facilitators of the “Is PC Inclusive?” teach-in held on April 23, 2018, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The event featured a variety of speakers, who each focused on inclusivity through a different lens, strategies to make sure that all voices were heard, dancing, and plenty of pizza.
The newly established Coalition Against Racism and Concerned Students worked to plan the teach-in with weekly meetings and a great deal of behind-the-scenes coordinating efforts. Christina Roca ’21, a member of the Coalition who helped provide a first-year perspective throughout the planning process, expressed that she wanted to get involved after seeing how communities were marginalized on campus. “I think that in order for any progress to be made, conversations need to occur, especially those that are avoided,” Roca explained. “Many topics surrounding inclusion are not really handled from my perspective from what I’ve seen in my first year here.”
The evening began with opening remarks from Coalition members Junielly Vargas ’21 and professor of sociology, Dr. Eric Hirsch. When it was Wilson’s turn to speak, she began by explaining the large pieces of paper posted around the room, referring to them as “action-step parking lots.” At any time, teach-in participants could write suggestions for how to make PC a more inclusive campus on the sheets. There were also notecards on each table for participants to leave anonymous questions that Dr. Zophia Edwards, assistant professor of sociology and one of the moderators at the teach-in, would read to whomever was presenting at the time.
“My being here is a political act,” stated Wilson as she launched into “Experiences of Professional Women of Color in the Academy,” a presentation of her research and personal observations. Wilson’s findings show overwhelmingly that “being a woman of color is the hardest place to start,” especially due to the lack of institutionalized resources and support systems for individuals throughout their academic career. This rings particularly true for female teachers of color, like Wilson. Her research showed that of the women who responded they had support, 100 percent of it was through informal groups.
Sasha Doering, a teacher at Moses Brown School in Providence who openly identifies as queer and transgender, presented “Supporting LGBTQ+ Students & Faculty of Color.” Doering’s three major points in discussing inclusion were self-care, community care, and allyship. While many tend to consider self-care as just “manicures and bath bombs,” Doering challenged this idea by reframing the practice as giving oneself the space to acknowledge one’s experiences with compassion. Doering extended understanding of self-care to community care, encouraging the creation and fostering of “affinity” or “safe” spaces where institutionalized support services are lacking.
Doering explained further that allyship is one of the ways that communities can grow. They suggested that allyship can be shown through participation in the National Day of Silence this Friday and through creating a heightened awareness of gender pronouns. As someone who goes by they/them/theirs, Doering argued that providing one’s own pronound in email signatures and in conversation can help to normalize the concept that everyone has pronoun that they prefer to go by, even if they are not immediately apparent, given their appearance.
Another feature of the teach-in was a panel of high school students from Youth in Action Rhode Island, who shared their experiences as women of color growing up in the Providence school system. Ashley Gomez, a senior at Lincoln School, expressed that she constantly grapples with the feeling of “not existing in the same universe” as her white peers. In her education, Gomez also faces a lack of representation as a woman of color, explaining how her “World History” class quickly became “European History.” Latifat Odetunde, a senior at Classical High School, added that this lack of representation made her and many others feel a sense of self-hatred, especially when she had to study slavery in overwhelmingly white classrooms. Odetunde asserted that being the only person of color in these settings makes her feel the need to be quiet, since anything that she says could be perceived as representing a larger demographic.
“I thought it was an honest approach to something that people are hesitant to talk about, especially on the campus,” said Gabrielle Amorelli ’20, an attendee of the teach-in. “It was necessary for all students and faculty to hear, regardless of their major, because it made me be more aware of my experience in the school systems and the impact it had on me.”