Monday, July 22, 2013

A Whole New World

I slept with my tiny fan on the whole night, only a foot from my bed, and I didn't sleep in sheets. I woke up before my alarm, but I showered early anyway (in a men's bathroom; since my floor is all girls, we're allowed to do that). I still had plenty of time when I got out of the shower, so I reread the homework pages in the Women and Leadership packet. I met some of the girls from the ILC and walked with them to breakfast at Sharpe Refectory, which everyone just calls the Ratty. We found our way to the CIT building where our class would take place, and explored until we found the room, but there was no one else there. Since we were early, I decided to help some other people find the building and go to the right room. 

The Ratty

I was glad to find that once everyone got there, the class was pretty small, around 25 people. We were introduced to Dean Almandrez, who would be teaching our class, and she seemed really enthusiastic about the subject. She started class by having us introduce ourselves to people we didn't know yet, talking about favorite holidays or cartoons. We analyzed the quote: "A misinformed people is a subjugated people," and heard some really good points about it from my classmates. In this class, it's clear that we can't just have opinions, we have to know why we have them. 

Dean Almandrez went over the rules for the class, which includes the usual ones like being on time, but also has a few interesting ones. For example: "seek first to understand, then be understood," and "expand your comfort zone." I really liked that one. Rather than leaving your comfort zone and then coming back, you're becoming more familiar with something uncomfortable or new for you, which is a wonderful goal to have for the class. 

We briefly went over the reading, especially the author's seven categories of "otherness": ability (physical or mental), social class, age, ethnicity and race, gender, sexuality, and religion. We split into groups of three or four and wrote and discussed which three of the seven categories are most important to us. Then, we passed our three to someone in our group, and one of our categories was crossed off. We were then asked how our lives would be different if we couldn't identify as that one. This really helped show me how important they all are, and how they each have varying levels of importance to different people. I hadn't really thought about how some of the categories would really change me and others wouldn't make much of a difference, so it was interesting for me to observe the different levels of importance that each category had.

Our instructor explained that the value placed on your differences is what makes them so important. She gave the example that if she liked red and I liked blue, it wasn't important, but if we had to decorate a room together, we would have a conflict because now our color preferences have value. The difference isn't what's problematic; the weight we give it is. 

We wrote up the dominant and subordinate groups in each of the seven categories, as well as the form of discrimination for each. I was surprised to find that there were several "borders" between the dominant and subordinate groups, like people in the middle class or people with minor mental disabilities. 

Some of my notes from class
We broke off to eat lunch, and I successfully used the map to find my way back to the Ratty. The food here isn't great (I already miss my mom's food), but it's edible, and much better than the cafeteria food in my high school. When we returned to class, we watched the majority of a speech by a Nigerian woman named Chimamanda Adichie called "The danger of the single story." In it, she explains that her American roommate had assumed that she lived in poverty, listened to "tribal music," and didn't know how to operate a stove, which is the American generalization (or single story) of African life. Adichie admitted that she also had had a single story of Mexicans, and when she actually went to Mexico, the stereotype that she had accepted to be true was completely shattered. What I took from this was that the single story does not tell the story of the "others". It is written and read by the dominant group, and there is never any other perspective, which is how we form stereotypes. 

The Women and Leadership group took a break and returned for a two-hour workshop about our leadership styles. There were four groups; West (practical and organized), East (big-picture oriented), South (value-driven and supportive to peers), and North (assertive and decisive). We put ourselves into these groups based on a sheet that described each direction. Then we did an activity to show that it's very difficult to collaborate with people who all have the same leadership style. We had to work with our direction to create and perform a skit that showed what might happen in a group of all the same style. Each skit showed what went wrong in collaborating with people from the same group, not only in the skit itself, but in the making of it. For example, South spent most of the planning time saying things like, "I don't know, what do you want to do?" and my group, West, organized all the details but never got to run through the whole thing. This was really helpful to me, because even though I thought that I didn't completely fit in any of the categories, it was useful to learn to be a North person in groups with no leader, and to learn when you have to adapt based on the leadership styles of those working with you. 

This is what the reading packet looks like on the outside...

...and on the inside

I ate dinner at the Ratty, then walked back to the dorm to work on my blog and to do my reading homework. I really like this class. I only checked the clock a few times, and it wasn't because I wanted to know how much longer I had to stay (like it is for some classes at school), it was to know how much longer I would get to stay. Everyone is very enthusiastic, and we all care about our communities and learning how to lead effectively. I'm already learning so much, and I know that this class is going to be hard, but I'll also take a lot away from it that I can actually use. The skills we'll be developing will be more than worth every minute I've spent working to get in to this program. 
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