#2 Shifting Ideas

I began this week with a lasting commitment to my original project idea of researching and improving mental health and trauma awareness in schools. I conducted my first interview around this theme, unaware that events outside the sphere of my work would end up impacting and ultimately reforming the way I would approach What’s the Story.

On the kickoff day I had two primary notions of what I might like to do in this course, improving the school experiences of mentally ill and trauma affected students or doing the same for LGBTQ+ youth. I ultimately settled on a mental health focus and began conducting the early stages of my work around it. I spoke with Tim Trevithick, my school’s authority on substance abuse, mental illness, and restorative justice. He shared with me that CVU is already working towards being more conscious of the individual needs of students with psychological limitations and providing a supportive space for them to grow. The majority of my interview with him focused on valuable resources that could streamline my research and a laundry list of people at my school who would love to work with me. I was excited by an opportunity to become a part of a work in progress but I was already beginning to question whether my time might be better spent bringing to attention other issues that impact students and are for the most part ignored. I got my answer the very next day when one of my teachers mentioned in an offhand way that we were about to welcome a blatant homophobe into our community to speak.

Tony Dungy is a legendary man in football, the first black man to coach a team to winning the Super Bowl. He also raised tens of thousands of dollars to fight marriage equality and resisted allowing gay players into the NFL. My school welcomed him to speak to the entire student body on Friday. I immediately rushed to arrange a combination boycott and welcoming space for those uncomfortable with Mr. Dungy’s views. A group of wonderful people and myself spoke with my principal and were hopeful that we had been heard. Around 60 people came to the alternative gathering I had organized and had valuable discussions about privilege and how it impacts our lives. Unfortunately my principal proceeded to publicly take credit for my work and exploit it to support his agenda, discredit the concerns of myself and those who stood with me, and imply that we had to choose between supporting queer students and supporting students of color. This combined with previous negative experiences myself and my numerous queer peers have had both at my school and others changed my mind. I needed to change the focus of my project.

Needless to say my next interview was very different. I chose to interview my friend Avery Murray Gurney who helped me organize my boycott/safe space and has had a litany of personal experiences with homophobia. Her thinking was very similar to mine as she shared that, “One area where I specifically think we could be doing better with is more inclusive curriculum and providing more support from faculty to LGBTQ+ students”. She also believes that hosting spaces like we did on Friday and speaking more with teachers about their approach to their schools’ environments for queer people would be a wonderful way to create change. This has substantially informed my current thinking about the arc of my project. I am certain now that I will pursuing the issue of queer advocacy in schools.

Trevithick , Tim, and Phaedra Miller. 20 Sept. 2017.

Murray Gurney, Avery, and Phaedra Miller. 22 Sept. 2017.

Phaedra Miller

4 Responses to “#2 Shifting Ideas

  • Phaedra,

    This was a really interesting post to read. It seems like the speaker who visited your school last week has really changed your thinking. The fact that a noticeable chunk of the CVU population had issues with his appearance reminded me of a speaker that attempted to speak at Middlebury College last spring but was denied the opportunity by protesters. The protesters felt ideas he had put forth in a book expressed white nationalism and did not want him to share his views on campus. It led to a discussion at the college and in the community about the intersection of freedom of speech and freedom to protest. It’s not always easy or simple to figure out the most effective way to oppose someone whose ideas you disagree with.

    Here’s an article on the incident if you are interested: http://www.addisonindependent.com/201703protestors-shout-down-controversial-speaker-middlebury-college

    Anyway, with your newfound focus on queer advocacy, I wonder if you’ve given thought to who your target audience would be. Will it be teachers and the curriculum they use in their classes, or students and how they interact with each other? Or, do you have another target audience in mind?

    Erik

    • The research I did for my third post informed me of the fact that incorporating queer inclusive curriculum has a quantifiable positive impact on discrimination against queer students by their peers. I therefore believe that would be a good place to start but I do think other targets would need to be incorporated as I continue to move forward. I would love to personally meet with students and discuss their experiences and perspectives 🙂
      – Phaedra

  • Hi Phaedra-This is a very interesting story that’s make for a great post. I think it’s awesome that you took a less than ideal situation and turned it into a cause you are going to fight for- and a topic to explore in What’s the Story! I notice how, even though you got a lot of information out of the interview with Mr. Trevithick, you decided to move in a different direction. There are so many issues to examine and there are so many people who have lots to say about them that it’s hard to know what to focus on. It’s great that the experience with the speaker helped you pinpoint a topic. I wonder if the overall experience for queer students varies from school to school-are their some schools with more inclusive environments than others? I am so excited to learn more as you continue to delve into the topic!

    • I also am curious about how discrimination against queer students is regional. I’m lucky to have queer friends in schools across central and upper Vermont so I’m thinking one of my steps will be exploring through interviews whether/how their locations impact their experiences. I don’t really have connections in southern Vermont so it’s going to be interesting making those as I continue to ponder the impact of location.

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