EPISODE 30: THE STORY OF

Privilege, Identity and Inclusion

with Rosetta Lee

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Are we aware of those dynamics? We know that they have been happening for a while and what are we doing to mitigate them or present a different kind of narrative so that they feel like this is my school and this is my classroom, and you see me as beautiful and capable.

Jamie
By 2016, the US Census Bureau predicts the United States will become a plurality nation, with no one race in the majority. I’m Jamie Hipp, and this is Teaching Trailblazers, a show about teachers, artists and leaders in arts integration and STEAM. On this important episode, we unpack diversity and inclusion with consultant, educator and advocate Rosetta Lee. In addition to serving as faculty and professional outreach specialist at the Seattle Girls School, Rosetta has worked with over 200 K12 public and independent schools throughout the country on a variety of topics including cross cultural communication, identity development, implicit and unconscious bias, gender and sexuality diversity, facilitation skills and bullying. Welcome, Rosetta, we’re thrilled to have you on.

Rosetta
Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Jamie
So the scope of your work is extremely broad. Give us some highlights.

Rosetta
Sure. I think part of the reason why the scope is broad is because I think the needs are broad, and I tend to be a find the need and fill it. And so I think when awareness of bullying was coming up, I went into a rabbit hole of discovering how we can, as educators and parents and schools, help young people through it. And then when the field of implicit and unconscious bias blew up, I think there was a lot of desire to go beyond learning about the science to how do we apply it, how do we combat the fact that our brains are designed this way? And so, these days, I think it’s a lot about having courageous conversations, the kind of conversations that are not happening. Because we are going increasingly into our polarized silos where we are hearing echo chambers, but really losing the skills to have brave and vulnerable and honest conversations across all kinds of difference. So that’s why.

Jamie
Awesome, so let’s jump into a courageous conversation. Um, what are some best practices and strategies to help all children in our classrooms, whether we are online, unfortunately, or face to face, how do we help them thrive?

Rosetta
Mm hmm. You know, I always remember this quote that says, young people or I’m paraphrasing here, students don’t actually care how much you know, they want to know that you care. And so I think about what are the ways that beyond the content that I’m teaching, I am making sure that every single person feels seen, feels heard, feels treated fairly and feels protected. And so the this can happen in many ways, curricular ways of making sure that there is representation of different backgrounds and experiences, identities, cultures, etc. I also think about as much as I can learning about students own identities and cultures and incorporating that into the classroom as much as possible. Of course, giving them opportunities to use voice and actually really listening and responding to the feedback that I’m getting, giving them agency and choice whenever possible. I think about making sure that, however I am assessing them is paying attention to very clear and there and equal sort of expectations that get applied, no matter who the student is, and they know it’s super fair, and at the same time, also paying attention to circumstances outside of our control. So I’m in a middle school and middle school only. So they’re getting vastly different experiences from the elementary schools that they’re coming from, for me to treat that like tabula rasa, and expect everybody to have had the same background knowledge is actually not hearing them or seeing them properly. So making sure that in my assessment, I’m also paying attention to growth, right? Yeah. And so, and I also think about protecting, especially kids with vulnerable identities. So if I am not aware of the dynamics of things like black kids and their hair getting touched all the time, or kids with ethically, ethnically, not US mainstream sounding names, constantly their names getting mispronounced. I think about how sometimes some of our children only see their experiences in curriculum through stories of oppression. So like many black students tell me that they only see themselves in things like slavery and civil rights, right. I, as an Asian American student, never saw myself represented in the curriculum until high school history when we were learning about wars, Korean War, Vietnam War, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and Japanese internment. And so I think about, are we aware of those dynamics? We know that they have been happening for a while, and what are we doing to mitigate them or present a different kind of narrative so that they feel like this is my school and this is my classroom, and you see me as beautiful and capable.

Jamie
Whoa, I am having so many aha moments myself from everything you just said from this idea of elementary feeder schools into middle schools or I’m a former elementary teacher. So even now reflecting back on early childhood programs and some children across ethnic and racial lines getting access and opportunity to early childhood versus not. I mean, there’s, there’s so much that is sort of that hidden curriculum that we’re not seeing and super important to think about. Now are these best practices only for educators who work in racially and ethnically diverse schools, or great practice for all educators, regardless of school socioeconomic status.

Rosetta
So hopefully, as I was describing the practices it’s very clear that actually culturally responsive and culturally effective teaching is actually just effective teaching. Right? So it’s actually easily appliable to lots of different settings. Because the reality is you could have all kids who are, you know, white, middle upper middle class, coming from the same zip code, but you still have things like family configurations, adoption stories, LGBT identities. We also think about, you know, learning differences, I feel like there are actually a lot of differences that are there. We tend to sort of default to the easily recognizable ones. But I think about there are so many ways that even a seemingly homogenous group is actually quite diverse. And if we can leverage and highlight and celebrate and affirm those differences within an homogenous environment, imagine what would happen when they do, because they will, enter a more racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse world.

Jamie
Absolutely.

Rosetta
I also think about specific responsibilities that show up in homogenous environments. Especially when I think about kids who are growing up, let’s let’s face it, just the way our society operates, there’s actually increased racial and socio economic segregation, especially in public schools. So for me, if I’m teaching students in a homogenous area, my role is to make sure that their only exposure to other groups is not through the media, because let’s face it…

Jamie
Thank you.

Rosetta
A lot of the messages are very negative. They’re very stereotypical and they start, you know, I think about so many young people who were not taught about differences because their educators said, well, they’re not going to encounter anybody this way. So why teach it? And then they enter college environments, work environments, and they, you know, figuratively put their foot in their mouth. And, you know, it takes them a while and a lot of bumpy kind of ups and downs for them to learn how to be effective across difference. And I think actually, given the complexity of today’s world, it’s actually irresponsible if we don’t bring those things up.

Jamie
Totally agree and you brought up stereotypes and I think this is an important and courageous conversation to have. Obviously, I come to the world as a white woman, a white educator, and there’s privilege that goes along with those things. There are elementary schools nationwide, whose arts departments produce Black History themed music performances in February because it is labeled Black History Month. Also High School theater programs that borrow from, be it Italian commedia dell’arte… from Japanese kabuki theater. When we think about cultural responsiveness, cultural competency, representation, and maybe even stereotypes, are, are these types of instruction culturally competent and responsive?

Rosetta
Well, I think about it this way, because ultimately I think about what went into that product, right. And so for kids to learn about the importance of, let’s say, and the history and the origin and the reason behind the Black national anthem, right, hearing from some activists and thinking about how music and the church community and public gatherings and protests were actually so critical to that period, they’re learning about the songs, watching historical footage, and then trying to embody some of that passion and history and realization of the fact that the struggle continues. I think that’s beautiful, right? If they’re like, it’s February, so we learn about MLK once again. And then we sing the song, which I don’t know what that’s about. I think that’s a different story. So I’m not a fan of the whole, like you should or you shouldn’t, because I think there are always grays in the area. I often think about how are the kids learning about the who it’s from? How are they learning directly from the community as much as possible? How are they being coached around, maybe it’s unfamiliar and so how do they not make fun of it or not see it as a in a minimalist and stereotypical sort of way. And so for me if there’s work behind that, I say go for it. I often find though, that that level of engagement and investigation is not what’s going into it so it becomes very appropriative and very minimizing and sometimes downright offensive.

Jamie
For sure and and from my own individual privilege, as a white former elementary theater teacher in particular, this is something that I know I myself am guilty of, in the past: students only seeing Black History through my lens, even as accepting as I feel like I am of it. And as much as I want to promote it, they’re not getting it from individuals within their own communities that have lived it and have those shared experiences. So so I’m really touched by what you just said about how I can shift my thinking in that area. And I’m sure a lot of our listeners are too. So you talked a little bit about music and bringing that in, but the specific to the arts, are there particular ways to foster more diversity than simply featuring work from, let’s say, racially diverse artists?

Rosetta
Mm hmm. So certainly when you’re talking about the arts, seeing the productions and the excellence and the work of diversity is a great way to go. I also think about things like understanding the greater context again, of where and how and who produced it. Right. I, you know, I’m a science teacher. And so oftentimes I hear things like science is a neutral subject, it is objective. Unlike it’s not, though, because everything in the science was saying the human species is a single species. But Lamarck was influenced by racist American scientists to change his conclusions to say, humans are actually separate species, right? And so science could actually debunk a lot of these racial mythologies or be used to establish them into society. I think about what is considered things like great art or great literature. Why is it that for example, you know, oil painters from 18th century Europe is seen as great and classical art –

Jamie
The master works.

Rosetta
Exxxxactly, yes, yet, some of the works that are done with sand and seed on the earth by native cultures are not seen that way. So let’s talk about why that is, right. And so I think about not just the product separately sort of isolated as a product, but actually understanding the fuller context. And also think about what are the ways that we’re asking students to embody as much as they can. And so I think about things like jazz, you know, which is very much about, yes, there is like technical skills, and there is actually very a lot of formal sort of music education that goes into it. But there’s also a lot of improvisation and almost spirit that goes into the music. And so again, if they’re understanding the history, like I even think about like hip hop, right, like the way that music form arose out of folks with limited access, putting together instruments of their own making, from what they’re gathering and like creating amazing things and using the words to create political messages, which you can actually trace to like slave songs where folks are trying to communicate with one another without getting caught. Like, I think about all that rich history and thinking about like, even asking kids to think about, you know, as young people there are times when you want to talk to one another, but adults are in the way. And so what are some ways that you might pull together the resources you have? And what kind of secret messages you would you send to one another, right? But just like that idea of asking them to sort of empathize, I guess, step into somebody else’s shoes.

Jamie
So many rich possibilities to think about there. And much of your work specifically focuses on women so I would be remiss if we didn’t go into this courageous conversation as well. As you know, the majority of the teacher workforce in our country is female. Therefore, most of our listeners of this podcast are also female. And it’s well documented that women are extremely underrepresented in the STEAM disciplines. How can we best support young women in these disciplines?

Rosetta
So obviously, this is this has been a long, long enduring question. And although we’ve made many advances, I think there’s still much more to go. I think about the fact that oftentimes education doesn’t pay attention to some of the you know, we talked about culturally responsive and this is not to say all girls are or all boys are right, because that’s stereotyping, but the reality is part of the reason why I was successful in science as a woman is because I actually show up more like a boy. And so the system was designed to be comfortable for me, right? And so we celebrate these folks. And in fact, there are times when I feel like feminism makes it seem like somehow being feminist means you’re more masculine. And I’m like, no, feminism means we have choices and options, right? And so when I started teaching at an all girls school, I delved into a lot of research around how girls learn and how girls’ brains operate. And what are some of those things that show up in girl world? And so some of the things that I started to do differently inside… what was interesting was, if I put up a challenge problem of how would you design this compound pulley to pull this weight up, if you had this many Newtons of body force? A lot of boys are like, ooh, and then they would dive into it. And the girls would like get into it, but they weren’t necessarily like bought in. Whereas if I said, your friend has broken her leg, and you’re at the bottom of a ravine and you have, you have these, this equipment and you have this much strength how are you going to get your friend out of the ravine? All of a sudden the engagement was vastly different.

Jamie
Wow. Is it a helper, fixer motherly kind of thing?

Rosetta
Right. And the thing is, again, like Joanne D talks about this, she talks about the, the trends and then the outliers, right? So when you whenever you take a look at gender stereotypes, it does show up pretty commonly, but for not all. Like she calls them the 20%ers so there are 20% are boys and 20% of girls who actually lean more toward their opposite gender stereotypes, right? And so, you know, she she does note that sometimes girls and I leverage this big time, sometimes girls will advocate for somebody else in a way that they would never advocate for themselves. So one of my one of my coachings always for my students is if this, if your best friend was in this same situation, what would you tell her to do? And then I will tell them, I need you to be your best friend, because they are fierce in standing up for their friend. But sometimes they don’t feel like they can be fierce and taking up space because of all of those gendered messages about a certain assertiveness being aggression. And then I also think about even the dynamics that show up where I think one of the great things that have happened in the last few years in terms of empowerment of girls and women is that it used to be the message was girls can’t do this, girls can’t do that. And then it sort of morphed into girls have to do everything and everything perfectly. And so not only do girls feel like they need to be good at school, and pretty and popular and athletic and all of those things, but they have to do it with perfection. And so I find that actually, and this bears out in the research as well, even in the workplace, in terms of objective measures girls do better in these subjects.

Jamie
Wow. No pressure, let’s let’s not only be great at things, let’s be the best. No pressure.

Rosetta
But here’s the tricky part is that their self assessment is that they are not the best.

Jamie
Unbelievable.

Rosetta
So the objective data versus what they rate themselves, there’s actually a gap, right?

Jamie
They are their own worst critic.

Rosetta
And so I think about what are the ways that I am as much as possible making things like project rubrics and expectations really objective, right? And this notion of… this is weird to say, but there are times when I’m like, I need you to choose what you want to go all out on and what you want to sort of like phone in. And part of that is something that you need to learn how to do because actually like when I think about encountering grown women who tell me things like I need to kick butt at work, and come home to a pristinely clean house where the children have done their homework on their own. And then I cook this delicious organic meal from scratch and everyone loves to eat it. And then the kids go off to bed and I translate into a sexual being from my partner. I’m like, that is ridiculous. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

Jamie
Just for part one, not even part two, part three. Yeah.

Rosetta
And so I think one of the biggest sort of like freedoms we can actually engage in is actually knowing these are some of the things that I’m great at and these are some of the things that I struggle at and that’s okay, I’m still enough. And there are times when I need to step up my efforts here, and also know that this is okay enough here. And I am still enough. Like all of those messages, actually, when I think about how many boys let’s say, they’ll get a B in a class, and they’re like, I’m gonna go for that honors class, right? And girls will get a B in a class and they’re like, it’s gonna ruin my average. So I’m going to take the regular class because if I go into the honors class, then I actually might drop in my GPA. I’m like, whoa. In fact, we’re talking about girls that are getting B pluses and A minuses that talk themselves out. So when I think about the narrowing of the pipeline, I don’t think it’s actually about ability at all. Right?

Jamie
Fascinating… this message of it’s okay, you are enough. That is the truly courageous conversation. Absolutely. So of course, I wish we had another hour on this episode because there’s so much to discuss and so many things that I’m learning personally. How can our listeners and myself learn more about your work centered around privilege, identity and inclusion?

Rosetta
Mm hmm. Well, certainly I am not the end all be all. But if you’d like to begin with all my work, please check out my website which is tiny.cc slash Rosetta Lee. T here, I upload all of my presentations on these various topics that we mentioned. And I also have links to things like writings and podcast recordings and articles and things like that. But you know, ultimately, I think about how I was fortunate enough to be awakened to a lot of these things at a relatively early stage in my life. I think I could have been made aware of it a lot earlier. But I think partway into my college career, I sort of woke up to a lot of these things, right. And so started doing my work. And I think about how overwhelming it can feel sometimes when you think about the amount of resources that are out there and the amount of change that we want to do, and so I try to be helpful by curating some great stuff so that folks don’t feel like they need to swallow the whole mountain to get a look at the peak.

Jamie
We can’t wait to check out more. Teaching Trailblazers is a production of the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM and I’ve been your host Jamie Hipp. This podcast is produced, edited and mixed by Jaime Patterson.

Jaime
Hello hello everyone! This is Jaime Patterson, the producer of Teaching Trailblazers. We have enjoyed sharing these educator stories with you over the last 6 months and we hope that you feel the same. While there are always more stories to tell, today will be our final episode of this series so that we can focus on a brand new project coming your way. Our next podcast, From the Ground Up, is already in the works so follow us at artsintegration.com/network for all the latest updates. In the meantime, our whole team here at the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM are cheering you on and can’t wait to continue the journey of changing education together. Take good care and we’ll see you soon.