Fighting Slut-Shaming and Cyber-Bullying: 7 Things Teachers Can Do

These last few weeks, the topics of slut-shaming and sexual extortion have been weighing on my mind. These are huge problems facing girls in schools and I’ve been thinking a lot about how they tie into digital citizenship and the formation of a digital identity. Through watching videos, reading articles, and reflecting, I’ve come up what I think some of my responsibilities are – as a teacher and as a young woman – to support my students in the face of these issues.

Your Body = Your Worth

About two weeks ago, I went to a film screen put on by The UnSlut Project, a project working to undo the dangerous slut shaming and sexual bullying in our schools, communities, media and culture. Here is the trailer for the documentary film:

Emily Lindin started the UnSlut Project in response to hearing stories about suicides of girls like Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd, and Audrie Pott. She was reminded of how she felt when she was labelled as the school “slut” in her middle school and decided to share her story by posting her diary entries from ages 11-14 online. The Project has become a collaborative space for sharing stories and creating awareness of sexual bullying and slut-shaming.

While watching the film, it stuck out to me that girls are told over and over again that their worth is based on how their bodies look to other people. The media constantly imposes impossible standards of beauty on girls and diet/beauty industries fuel body dissatisfaction to make profit.

It starts scary young. Media Smarts reports that three-year-olds already prefer game pieces that depict thin people over those representing heavier ones, while by age seven girls are able to identify something they would like to change about their appearance.

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Image from Media Smarts

“The barrage of messages about thinness, dieting and beauty tells “ordinary” girls that they are always in need of adjustment—and that the female body is an object to be perfected” (Media Smarts). And not only are girls told that their bodies are objects to be perfected – they are also told that until they can perfect their bodies and become thin, beautiful, and sexy, their worth is compromised. If they want to be worth something, they need to eat less, workout more, show more skin… The list goes on.

Sexy = Valuable But Sex = Shameful

So this idea that girls must have a perfect body and be sexually attractive in order to be worth something sounds awful when you say it outright; however, these are the messages that the media is sending to young girls, who often receive and internalize them.

And perhaps the most sickening part is that when girls learn the rules of our culture – that their sexual desirability is what makes them valuable – and try to portray themselves as sexy, they are labeled, shamed, and bullied for it. It’s a vicious, grueling cycle and one that many girls, including Amanda Todd, have fallen victim to.

This paradox doesn’t disappear as girls grow up, either. It manifests in double standards that put women down for doing the same things as men (ie. she’s a slut, he’s a stud). Jarune Uwujaren from Everyday Feminism puts it this way: “Ironically, our society simultaneously values women for their sexual desirability and shames them for having sexual desires.”

What’s the point? There should not be worth tied to a woman’s or a girl’s sexiness or how much sex they choose to have. Slut-shaming is extremely harmful to a person’s self-concept and internalizing those negative messages results in tragic outcomes for girls and women.

Constant Pressure, Little Control

Girls are constantly pressured into portraying their bodies in ways that will please others, whether it’s posting pictures to social media, sexting, or revealing themselves to a camera online. But once they share, they have little control over how the images will be perceived or what the viewer might do with the image. The pictures are easily circulated and become part of a digital footprint that remains with them forever.

The Sextortion of Amanda Todd, a documentary by the Fifth Estate, shows the extensive blackmail that the seventh grade girl received after flashing the camera in an online chat with a man she had been messaging with. He was a ‘capper’ – a cyber-predator who stalks websites looking to flatter girls into performing sexual acts and then capture and distribute their images. When Amanda was put under pressure, she made one mistake and the damage was done.

Although the RCMP was notified about blackmail attempts on at least five occasions in the two years leading up to Amanda’s death, they simply told the family: “If Amanda does not stay off the internet and/or take steps to protect herself online … there is only so much we as the police can do.”

This (lack of) response horrifies me. It’s victim blaming and it places all the responsibility for Amanda’s protection on her and her parents’ shoulders. I think it would have been pretty obvious that it was the RCMP’s job to protect Amanda had her harasser been physically stalking and harassing her. Why should it be any less their business when it’s online?

Digital Dualism

I don’t think it’s realistic for us to tell young people to just stay offline when their lives are so intertwined with online spaces. They have grown up in a world of digital dualism, where they interact in two different worlds that are fully, inextricably weaved together. We can no longer separate our digital lives from our offline lives, nor can we expect young people to do this. And avoiding the problem wouldn’t have solved anything, anyway. She couldn’t have stayed offline forever.

Amanda needed someone to teach her how to protect herself and be safe online. She needed someone to show her that she could start to build a trail of positive artefacts (which I think she was trying to do in the famous video where she shares her story) that would someday outweigh the picture that destroyed her reputation. She needed support in rebuilding her self-concept and strategies to deal with her online and offline bullies.

As educators, what are our responsibilities? What can we do about all of this?

  1. Speak out about slut shaming and sexual bullying.

We must start with a ground up approach by speaking out within our personal spheres. One strategy suggested by the Unslut Project is to ask the person to define “slut” or to explain what they mean by their problematic comment. The conversation might go something like this:  “What do you mean by ‘slut’? “Well.. a promiscuous woman.” “What’s promiscuous?” “Well.. she has too many sex partners.” “So how many is too many? Who gets to decide?” It quickly becomes apparent that no one has any business judging anyone else based on their sex life.

It’s also important to note that women can simultaneously be victims and perpetrators of slut-shaming. This means we need to be critical of our own thoughts and careless comments and catch ourselves when we slut-shame. Through speaking out and listening to one another’s stories, we can humanize each other and begin to work together against this shaming.

2. Help students deconstruct media messages and develop critical thinking skills.

I tried to do this in my internship through a health unit on body image. I had my students examine a variety of advertisements and critique them in groups using a questionnaire. We discussed influences on body image, such as the media, family, friends, culture, place through videos like this and talked extensively about stereotypes related to body image. In fact, this unit turned my students into the Stereotype Police. They became really passionate about reporting stereotypes they heard at home, around the school, and from one another. We also examined photoshop mistakes and saw how photoshop is used to create a problematic “ideal” body type. These are just a few ways we can get students thinking critically about the messages the media sends.

3. Educate students about their worth.

It’s our job to make our students feel loved, respected, valued, and affirmed for who they are and what they do. When we constantly remind students how irrationally crazy about them we are, we help them understand and believe that they are worth so much more than what their bodies look like.

“And when you start to drown in these petty expectations you better re-examine the miracle of your existence because you’re worth so much more than your waistline.”

“…Standards don’t define you. You don’t live to meet the credentials established by a madman. You’re a goddamn treasure whether you wanna believe it or not.”

I also recently came across this beautiful poem by Rupi Kaur and I think it would be great to share with students:

i want to apologize to all the women i have called beautiful

before i’ve called them intelligent or brave

i am sorry i made it sound as though

something as simple as what you’re born with

is all you have to be proud of

when you have broken mountains with your wit

from now on i will say things like

you are resilient, or you are extraordinary

not because i don’t think you’re beautiful

but because i need you to know

you are more than that”

Rupi Kaur

These are the kinds of traits we need to recognize in our students and help them recognize in each other. We can model these types of compliments: You are resilient. You are passionate. You are extraordinary. You have such great vision. You are working so hard. I love how you support your group members. Through our words and through the resources we bring in, we can show our students how deeply valuable they are and remind them of their endless potential.

(My focus in this post is on girls, but I recognize that boys also need to be educated about their worth, as they are also affected by the problematic way that masculinity is defined and portrayed by the media. I also recognize that transgender students, probably the most of anyone, need to see positive representations of their identity in the classroom. So although I’m focusing on girls in this post, I truly believe in instilling a positive self-concept in ALL students.

4.  Educate students about digital identity and digital citizenship.

Teaching students the how and why behind constructing a positive digital identity is an extremely important responsibility, as professional digital profiles have huge effects on future employability and might even start to replace resumes.  The digital footprint students leave will impact them short-term and long-term.

This tweet, from Katia Hildebrandt, is a response to this article, which makes it clear that as a society, we are willing to consider the context and timing of mistakes like DUIs, but unwilling to consider the context and timing of mistakes in the form of hateful social media comments.

Because their digital actions will continue to affect them throughout their lives and because of the harm we have seen in Amanda’s story, it is imperative that we teach our students to ask themselves questions before they put anything on the Internet. When posting about themselves, we might teach them to ask: Would I want my grandma or future employer to read this? Does this represent me in a positive way? And when posting about others, we might teach them to ask: How would I feel if this was shared about me? Do I have this person’s permission to share about them?

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Photo Credit: MO3-2005 via Compfight cc

We can also teach them about online predators and the risks of exposing themselves online. We can show them examples of how our digital footprints can easily slip out of our control. Rather than asking students to simply avoid the internet or installing ineffective filters, we need to give them the tools to make responsible decisions for themselves.

5. Educate parents about digital footprints and their child’s digital identity.

Along with educating students about digital identity, we need to educate their parents. Research from the University of Washington finds that while children ages 10 to 17 “were really concerned” about the ways parents shared their children’s lives online, their parents were far less worried.  Another study finds that ‘sharenting’ – parents who share details of their family life online – can be detrimental in cases where parents put their online popularity ahead of spending time with their child. We need to model the process of asking students for permission before sharing about them online. We can offer support in helping parents find a middle ground, where they can share about their children online in a way that doesn’t compromise the child’s privacy or dignity.

Throughout the documentary, Amanda’s parents went from supporting her use of YouTube as a tool to share her singing talents to being highly concerned about her online behaviour when her photo went viral and she began to receive blackmail from the capper. Although they documented everything and continually informed the RCMP about the blackmail, they seemed ill-prepared to give Amanda any advice on how to defend herself online or how to start to repair her digital identity.

6. Educate ourselves about the online tools, apps, and websites students are using.

We need to keep up with the online tools are students are using and bring those into our classrooms and schools. For example, young people love Snapchat and there are many ways we can use Snapchat in our schools and classrooms for teaching, communicating, and sharing. We also need to educate ourselves on specific issues related to the tools, apps, or websites being used. For example, I recently became aware of the huge issue of cyber self-harm, a phenomenon in which young people create fake online identities to attack themselves and invite others to do the same. They might do this to pre-empt criticism from others, to bring their pain out into the open, or to get compliments from peers. We need to make ourselves aware of these issues so we can better understand what our students are going through and can support them in the best ways possible.

7. Educate everyone about moving toward a more forgiving digital world

Finally, because we are living in a world that no longer forgets, we need to work towards greater empathy and forgiveness towards others when they make mistakes online. We need to learn to make informed judgments rather than snap decisions and teach our students to do the same.

This means a few things, which Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt outline in their joint blog post. It means thinking about the context, timing, and intent of digital artefacts when we evaluate them. It means considering whether the artefact is a one-time thing or a pattern of behaviour. And it means holding ourselves accountable to the hypocrite test – asking ourselves whether we have ever said or posted something similar and thinking about whether we would want that held against us.

Burden or Opportunity?

My heart breaks for Amanda Todd, Retaeh Parsons, and so many other girls who have taken their lives due to experiences like this. As educators, we have a ton of responsibilities for educating ourselves, our students, and others on these issues. These responsibilities may seem burdensome, but they also place us in a unique and critical position to support students and families as we all learn about digital identity formation and online safety together.

So what do you think? What other responsibilities would you add to this list? What steps can we take to prevent tragedies related to slut-shaming, cyber-bullying, sexual extortion? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Moving Towards Reconciliation: Why Planting Trees is Not Enough

Co-written by Raquel Bellefleur & Meagan Dobson

What does ‘reconciliation’ actually mean?

Like many, we entered our post-secondary education with limited information about Treaties and the ways in which the two of us are positioned in society as a result of our privilege. We have spent the past three years learning and unlearning alongside mentors (professors) and like-minded peers – all of which has contributed to our personal and professional growth during our time in the Faculty of Education. We established S.T.A.R.S. (Student Teachers Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppressive Society) Regina in 2014 as an outlet for our exploration as socially just, anti-oppressive educators.

Despite progression towards change in our hearts and minds, we continue to struggle with the disconnect between thought and action. Yes, we are our own toughest critics; however, it is important to be critical of ourselves because that’s how we will continue working through our privilege/push ourselves to keep doing this work.

We know reconciliation is important, but how can our inner changes translate into outer action?

False Facade

In the work we have done, one thing we have struggled with is our ability to switch off or walk away from the work, especially when it becomes most discomforting. We can do this because of our privilege.

Although performance (meaning the ability to “try on” an identity as an anti-oppressive educator) can be a positive thing, there is a fine line between using performance as a starting point and completely abandoning anti-oppressive work while continuing to receive recognition and praise for it.

For example, although we both believe that meaningfully engaging in ceremony is part of the reconciliation process, there have been many times that we have turned down opportunities to participate because we were “too busy” or had other things to do.

Ultimately, our lists of priorities that prevented us from participating was our privilege in disguise.

Our privilege means that we can say and think things like: I don’t need to go to this; this doesn’t affect me; my life won’t change whether I go or not. Yet, even when we have participated in ceremony the potential to be unaffected by the experience is a reality – we can cut ourselves off from it just enough so that we are not personally affected by it.

What is being an ally?

We would love to be able to say we are allies of our Indigenous friends and colleagues; however, we realize that we cannot give ourselves that status. Showing up to ceremony does not make us allies; putting ourselves in a physical space is not enough. We need to make a consistent effort to authentically work towards reconciliation rather than superficially and periodically visiting the idea – committing to being witnesses, not tourists.

Receiving Cookies

Something else we’ve struggled with is receiving so much praise for our work with S.T.A.R.S. Regina. Noel Starblanket often wears his S.T.A.R.S. t-shirt and often commends our group when he speaks. Our #TreatyEdCamp event was recognized in the Legislative Assembly. Dr. Jennifer Tupper, the Dean of Education, sends out tweets like this:

We are grateful for any recognition we receive, but it is still problematic. Due to our privilege, we are positioned as “good white people” and praised for doing very little. Dr. Michael Cappello calls this kind of praise “receiving cookies.” We’ve been really uncomfortable with being positioned in this way and are unsure of how to respond respectfully.

Moving Forward – ReconciliACTION

This post started with us asking each other:  What have we ACTUALLY done? We provided opportunities for learning through PD events like #ReadtheTRC; we brought teachers together to learn about integrating Treaty Education into all subject areas; we’ve had many conversations about power, privilege, and reconciliation. But what effect is that ACTUALLY having on us and others? How do we move from talk to action?

Although we are still wrestling with these questions, we’ve tried to identify a few of our next steps:

  1. Listen to Indigenous colleagues when they say this is good work. 

Although it’s important to be critical of ourselves, we must be careful to not fall into a cycle of cynicism. We won’t dismiss encouragement and praise from our wonderful allies, but we will not to take it as more than it is. We cannot allow these ‘cookies’ to lead to our complacency or tempt us into apathy. We must remember that our Indigenous allies are happy to see these starting points, but also expect much more from us. While we are grateful for any recognition, the feedback and input of our Indigenous colleagues and friends is most important because they have been directly impacted by this history. It is these relationships that are central to reconciliation and our movement forward.

  1. Start with conversations.

We know they are ‘Calls to Action’, not ‘Calls to Conversation’, however, we need conversation to guide us to the right ways to do this work. As Gary Edwards explained at Taking Up the TRC Calls to Action, we know we’re in a time of real change because nobody knows what to do or how to do it.

We also need to have conversations with our peers, colleagues, profs, siblings, parents, grandparents, and anyone else who might not know about the horrific historical injustice, or the painstaking work put into the TRC, or what the Calls to Action mean for reconciliation. Although this conversation may be uncomfortable and difficult, we must commit to it. It’s far too important to remain silent and our silences will not protect us anyway. These truths must be spoken.

  1. Build relationships.

We have often heard, “Reconciliation is about relationships,” but wondered how we could go about springing up relationships out of nowhere. The best we can come up with is putting ourselves in spaces where there is potential for relationship building. We will participate in ceremony and seek out public events, like the lecture by the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair and the roundtable discussion Taking Up the TRC Calls to Action, where connections and relationships might start to form. We will listen to the advice of Emerging Elder-in-Residence Joseph Naytowhow, who encouraged us to use laughter as a way to enter into relationship.

  1. Take responsibility. Pick a Call to Action and commit to it.

After Sinclair spoke, many people stood up in the lengthy line for the microphone to ask questions that sounded like: “…So what do we do?” to which he replied, “I just wrote a 5000-page report. What are you willing to do?” He urged us to read the report, or at least some of it:

He encouraged us to pick a Call to Action, to work to make it happen, and to never stop.

Sinclair used the metaphor of planting trees to describe the importance of starting to do this work and never stopping. We will not see reconciliation fulfilled in our lifetime; our kids may not see it fulfilled in theirs. But we need to start with planting seeds and teaching our children to water them so that their children might see the saplings and then their children might see the roots deepen, the trunk widen, and the branches fill out. We need to commit to this work for future generations.

We commit to Call to Action #62. We will teach about residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada. We will continually learn how to integrate and utilize Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into our classrooms and we will provide opportunities to help our colleagues do the same.


The Choice

We’ve realized that instead of carrying the weight of undoing colonialism and achieving reconciliation, we need to start with planting seeds. Is planting the seeds enough? Not even close. But we have to start somewhere. And for us, it starts with the decision to commit to this work for the rest of our lives.

We will need help along the way to ensure we do not give in to our privilege, which will tempt us to apathy, to smugness, to being tourists rather than working towards witnessing. Will you challenge us when we set foot there?

 

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” -J.R.R. Tolkien.

This is life’s work, and we must choose it every day.

 

Why we cannot stay silent: performing online to build networks of solidarity

Digital Sleuthing and Context Collapse

In my ECMP 355 class, we recently engaged in a digital sleuthing activity, where we were put into groups and challenged to find out and record as much information as we could about an individual in about 7 minutes. This activity launched discussion around the importance of having a strong, positive digital identity in today’s world. This article even suggests that digital profiles, including professional Twitter, YouTube, and blog accounts, will soon replace the paper resumé.

Naturally, after digital sleuthing Alan Levine, I felt compelled to Google myself and check out my digital identity these days. When I did, I was pleasantly surprised (and slightly uncomfortable) with the results. Everything that came up on Google’s first page was actually about me. It came up with my portfolio, my Twitter account, pictures of me, my profile on the Regina Cougars Athletics site, my Storify account, an article about Katia and I presenting at an education conference in London, my YouTube channel, and my Pinterest account.

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What freaked me out a little more was looking through the images associated with my name: 6 pictures of my face; a bowl of the delicious honey lemon chicken I pinned on Pinterest last week; pictures from #TreatyEdCamp; STARS Regina logos; and pictures of my friends, classmates, and profs.

Google knows me very well… (and therefore, anyone with Internet access potentially knows me that well). It creates an interesting and strange dynamic. I can no longer control who knows what about me (context collapse); I can only control what is out there for people to know about me.  

Performing Online (and IRL)

I like to refer to “what is out there for people to know about me” as how I perform online. To me, ‘performance’ means mean the way I choose to portray myself in certain online spaces (ie. the topics I deem important enough to tweet/write about, how I choose to respond or not respond to controversial articles, whether or not I share that picture of the super healthy salmon, quinoa, and broccoli dinner I had last night, etc).   

I like to use the word ‘perform’ for a couple of reasons:

  1. It felt a bit like acting when I first started sharing on social media. I was unsure of myself, I was overthinking my hashtag use, and I was constantly wondering what others would think about what I was sharing. However, I sneakily pretended I knew what I was doing over and over again until I actually felt like I knew what I was doing. 
  2. I’m taken to the Butler/Foucault idea of performativity – that everything is performance, that we are constantly enacting particular discourses, and that identity is fluid rather than fixed.
  3. I think performance is a constructive starting point (and sometimes the only possible starting point), as I describe in this blog post and Arthur Chu describes in this critique of #NotYourShield.

Performing as Anti-Oppressive Educator

I perform the role of anti-oppressive educator online in many ways:

I include #starsregina, #socialjustice, #treatyed in my Twitter bio, and I identify my location as Treaty 4 Land.

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I tweet about social justice issues.

I write (not often enough) about privilege, racism, sexism, and mental health.

Why engage with these difficult topics in online spaces?

  1. Because they are important. Plain and simple.

It can be terrifying to share about these topics, as Kendra describes in her beautiful post, The Untold Story; however, silence often means complicity in the dominant narrative.

Audre Lorde challenged others on their silence in an incredible speech she gave way back in 1977:

“What are the words you do not have yet? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?

She also warned against staying silent due to fear:

“For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.”

And finally, she emphasizes that speaking out bridges differences:

“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.”

You should probably just go read the whole thing. It’s amazing.

  1.  Because sharing and bridging differences in this way builds powerful networks.

We talk all the time about the importance of building a PLN and how these connections provide us with invaluable resources and relationships, but it’s even more than that. Our networks help sustain us when we feel we are falling short, when we lose ourselves in fear and drift back toward silence.

As Sherri Spelic eloquently describes in this post:

Pooled with other folks’ resources, the radical can grow, the imagination nurtured, a collective power set free. Precisely when I am feeling small, deflated or unheard, when I am asking myself that critical question: “Who am I to do this work?”, this is when I have to see that I do not and need not walk alone.”

So I will continue to perform in real life and online, aiming to maintain and strengthen my positive digital identity. When sharing, I aspire to overcome my fears, reject my silences, and respect my need for language, definition, and discussion around important, sometimes discomforting topics. In doing this, I hope to build a network that will support, encourage, and challenge me, but most of all, remind me that I’m not alone.

Has your PLN ever helped you through challenging times or times when you felt isolated? Has your network ever encouraged you to break your silence on an important issue?  Comment below – I’d love to read your thoughts on this!


Battling Stigma with Stories

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This tweet from my friend Kendra hit me right in the guts.  

It came from a Twitter chat on how teachers can support students and colleagues alongside mental health. I am one of the Executive Directors of a group called S.T.A.R.S. Regina, and we decided to host this Twitter chat on #BellLetsTalk Day to open up the conversation about mental health while also raising money for mental health initiatives in Canada.

12417685_1514987248802228_4508505647200605803_nIf you missed the chat, you can catch up by checking out the Storify here.

Anyway, Kendra’s tweet hit me right in the guts because I can relate to getting emotional when it comes to the topic of mental health. I think we all can. Most of us have either experienced mental illness ourselves or have a friend, sister, uncle, cousin, grandparent, or other loved one who immediately comes to mind when we hear the phrase.

For me, that person is my mom. My mom was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2006.  Throughout my schooling, she was in and out of hospitals in Weyburn and Regina and also spent time in the Mental Health Inpatient Unit at Tatagwa View in Weyburn. For certain periods, my sister and I lived with my aunt, uncle, and cousins while my brother lived with our other aunt, uncle, and cousins. We were able to visit her from time to time but to be honest, I hated going.

The memories swirl in my head… The pungent smell of disinfectant. Long hallways with stupid street signs. A pale pink sweatshirt, her long-ago favourite. Bathrooms with no doors; no privacy for those who might hurt themselves. The stranger in my mom’s body. The empty conversation. Feeling guilty, feeling weak, feeling helpless. Hating the flowers and the “get well soon” cards for putting pressure on her. Staring at the falling leaves out the van window, refusing to let the tears fall.

 

 

It was tough for a long time. I used to talk about it more. In eighth grade, I did a research project on bipolar disorder for health, and I remember saying to my classmates: “I chose to research bipolar disorder because my mom lives with it.” I was so brave. As I got older, I started to keep it to myself more and more. I didn’t want anyone to see my mom as less than the way I saw her: strong, beautiful, confident, resilient, independent, selfless, and passionate. I didn’t want anyone to question her love for us or for others’ perceptions of her to be tainted because of her mental illness.

And so the story goes. The terrible stigma keeps many of us quiet. Afraid to speak out for fear of being seen as less competent as a parent, less able to do your job, or less desirable as a friend or partner. A few people voiced these fears during the chat.

It can be so hard to speak out when your reputation, your competence, and your selfhood are on the line. I have a few dear friends who have faced these fears and put themselves at risk by sharing their stories.

In this post, Meagan embraces vulnerability, writing about how she has come to accept her struggle with anxiety.  

“I am proud of the fact that I able to share my story. If anything, I believe that my anxiety has not been a hinderance; rather, I am now able to see it as an asset – because of my anxiety, I am strong. Although the journey has not been easy, I am now able to say that I accept the fact that I struggle with my mental health – every, single, day.” –Meagan Dobson

In this post, Katia shares about her experience with depression, acknowledging that silence is a form of complicity in the stigma.

“So instead of struggling in silence, I am speaking out. I am using my own privilege to try to break down some of that ugly stigma. It’s okay to be depressed. It does not make me weak, or unreliable, or a burden.” –Katia Hildebrandt

In this post, Dave shares his journey with ADHD and depression and urges others to share as well.

“Speak as if your life, or the life of your loved ones, counts upon it, because it probably does.  Let us raise our voices and break the stigma of mental illness.  Those who have fought this battle or are fighting this battle, you are stronger for it.  You are not sub-human, but super-human, because you have made the choice to live and made the choice that your story matters.” –David Brown

Along with these brave friends of mine is, of course, my mom. When I texted her to ask if it was okay for me to blog about our experience with bipolar, she replied, “Of course! It’s awesome!” I’ve always admired her openness and honesty in sharing her experiences.

I am so incredibly proud of and grateful to these people for telling their stories. It lets me know I’m not alone in the pain that mental illness brings and reminds me that we can find strength in these difficult experiences.  

So let’s keep talking – not just today, but every day.

It may be painful. It may be terrifying. It may put you at risk and make you deeply vulnerable, but there is power in that vulnerability – in the grace, support, understanding, and healing that come through it. Let’s continue to share our stories and encourage others to share theirs. We can find power in our collective voice as we battle the stigma with our stories.


Social Justice and Halloween

Social justice chat of appropriate Halloween costumes that are culturally responsible has become a bigger topic but something that I hadn’t considered, before reading a status on Facebook from the group To Write Love On Her Arms, was that blood and gore can be very difficult in this Halloween season as well. For many people it’s how they last saw their loved one or how they see themselves everyday. Blood isn’t nearly as funny when it’s personal, traumatizing or self inflicted. If today is hard for you, just know that you are not alone. Help is possible and healing is real. Be wary of other people’s stories. Have a safe, happy  and socially responsible Halloween!


Invitation to #TreatyEdCamp

Invitation to #TreatyEdCamp
An Open Invitation to #TreatyEdCamp
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Hello there!

We’re sending out this email to spread the word about an awesome PD event coming up on November 7th called #TreatyEdCamp. This PD event will take place at the University of Regina in the Faculty of Education on November 7th from 8:00AM1:00PM.  


#TreatyEdCamp is a free personal and professional development event sponsored and organized by STARS Regina.  Following the EdCamp model, this is PD organized for teachers by teachers, with a particular focus on the implementation of Treaty Education in classrooms.  The day will be structured around two big questions:  What does Treaty Education mean and how do we do it; and what does it mean to be a Treaty person?  We are bringing together some awesome teachers who are doing Treaty Education in their classrooms to share their experiences, but participants are welcome to come with additional sessions (or experiences to share) in mind.  We’ll also introduce you to the Blanket Activity and discuss ways you could use it in your own classroom.  You will leave this event with new resources, a better understanding of Treaty Education in practice, a network of people to rely on for support, and greater comprehension of the significance of Treaty to our work as educators.  


If you are not familiar with the EdCamp model, it is helpful to note that this is a different type of PD event: Unlike traditional conferences, sessions are not planned or scheduled until the morning of the event.This means that we will not pre-plan a schedule of presentations, BUT given the specialized nature of this content, we are shoulder-tapping some individuals who we happen to know are doing great things around Treaty Education to make sure that we have a solid base of presentations. On the morning of the event, those who are interested in presenting will put their session title in one of the session timeslots, and participants essentially “vote” on which sessions are held by signing up for various sessions. This means that it’s possible that some sessions won’t take place depending on participant interest, number of attendees, and slots available; as we get a better sense of the number of attendees, we will try to schedule the session times and locations in order to minimize this. As well, presenters should be aware that sessions are quite informal and short, lasting around 20-30 minutes.


This is an open invitation to attend and possibly present at the event. We have put together a list of proposed sessions that we would love to have people present about:
  • Treaty Ed in Math
  • Treaty Ed in Science
  • Treaty Ed in Health
  • Treaty Ed in Phys. Ed.
  • Treaty Ed in Social Studies
  • Treaty Ed in English
  • Treaty Ed in Arts Ed
  • Treaty Ed in Elementary
  • Treaty Ed in Middle Years
  • Treaty Ed in French Language Contexts
  • Doing Treaty Ed in Internship/Pre-internship
  • Dealing with Resistance to Treaty Education
  • Unpacking Discomfort around Protocol
  • Smudging (male and female sessions)
  • Anti-racist Education
  • Talking to Colleagues about Treaty Ed
  • Treaty Ed and Technology
  • Having Courageous Conversations around Race
If you are interested in facilitating one of these sessions, please reply and let us know which one!  If you would like to present on another related topic, we ask that you reply with a session title and a brief outline of what your session will be about.  Additionally, if you know anyone who is doing great work with treaty education in their classroom, please pass this email along to them!

If you are interested in attending, please register here. And please spread the word - we hope you'll forward this email to people who might want to attend the event. This event is open to everyone and will be an amazing opportunity for teachers who want to learn more about how to integrate the mandatory Treaty Education curriculum!

As well, we’ve created an information flyer (here) and a printable poster (available as an image file, as a letter size PDF, and as a legal size PDF with optional bleed for professional printing) - please post/share widely!

Thank you, and we hope to see you there!

The #TreatyEdCamp Committee

 

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My Tallest Mountain

As with many assigned readings, I was not very excited to read “The Problem of Common Sense” (Kumashiro. (2009). Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice pp. XXIX – XLI), but when I actually got into it I found the story and comparison to Nepal very interesting. Towards the end of the reading, I even wanted to go out and buy the book for myself because this is something that I struggle with in my daily and education life. I got into teaching to “help” people, just like the speaker in the Nepal story at the beginning. I found a niche in social justice education. After taking ECS110, I became very interested in the idea of unequal footing and how that has been downplayed in my education up until the point of university. I now value university for its critique of social systems that I didn’t think to even take a closer look at because I now realize that as a white middle-class woman, I was valued and not oppressed. I was protected by the system in many ways (we can unpack the oppression of women another time – for my purposes here I was a very sheltered child of the system).

Kumashiro unpacks the term “common sense” as often being traditional practices or ideals. This is done through comparing the U.S. School system to a school experience in Nepal through the narrative of a volunteer whose teaching methods do not confine to the U.S. common sense way of teaching and knowing. The students even encourage this teacher to teach as the Nepali teachers do: through lecture-practice-exams. It becomes clear to this teacher that the U.S. method is a huge influence on the rest of the world. The Nepali teaching method mimics that of the U.S. method of years previous and that this teacher was brought in to update the teaching style. It becomes apparent that the U.S. way is the “common sense” ideal of teaching and education and neglects to take into consideration many other cultures. The introduction to this book goes on to talk about how systems (like the education system) often are formed on the “common sense” opinion of certain (and often privileged) groups which leads these systems to be oppressive as they don’t take into consideration the ideas and traditions of minority or “othered” groups.

It’s extremely important to pay attention to the “common sense” traditions of any system because any system designed by humans or that seems natural to humans usually is formed on the opinion of the privileged.  These systems often leave minority groups with an unequal footing. Our institutions should be critiqued in my opinion and revised continually. As the article points out, this type of introspective and internal critique is an ongoing and never perfected process. Paying attention to this common sense helps others who are oppressed by these systems and institutions.

This is my tallest mountain in terms of education and the reason I have the strong urge to go out and buy this book. I feel as though I hit a wall on my own critique of these systems. I know that they are inherently flawed, biased and often oppressive but as a teacher I need to be able to show this. I need the facts that show the flaws in these systems and even better, I need the strategies to change my way of thinking and strategies to help make the systems better. I need help implementing these changes in my teaching. I understand that this is a critique and process that won’t end for me, but I’m so excited to help. I’m excited to be a social justice educator.


Unfold; Hope, Please.

(Before reading, please note: This post has been written, torn apart, deleted & re-visited multiple times since the Blanket Exercise occurred last Wednesday. The rawness & realness of said experience was challenging to wrap my mind around, let alone even begin unpacking it… words continue to escape me as I sort through my thoughts and emotions in an effort to authentically reflect. The following excerpt provides insight into some of my disseminated thoughts regarding the Blanket Exercise.)

Palms drenched in sweat; a knot so twisted and wretched within my stomach. Emotion has consumed me, so much so that I can barely speak. Sadness, anger, embarrassment; empathy, inspiration, hope. Upon entering the space this morning to partake in the Blanket Exercise, I was not expecting (or prepared) to embody this narrative – feeling the emotion, real and raw, arising at the surface.

—–

Before: A small group of individuals gathered together for this workshop led by Dr. Shauneen Pete and Dr. Michael Cappello. The room was quiet as everyone began to absorb the words spoken; the space was calm and collected – yet I could feel the fear beginning to present itself, I was hopeful that I could keep my emotions in check (I failed miserably at this FYI. There is something about emotional vulnerability that is both inspiring and fearful… the latter was a self-constructed barrier ever present in my mind throughout the entire exercise…). The purpose of the workshop is to “help participants understand how colonization of the land we now know as Canada has impacted the people who lived here long before settlers arrived…exploring the nation-to-nation relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada, how this relationship has been damaged over the years, and how they can work toward reconciliation.” Powerful.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 11.21.32 PM

During: I felt as though I was witnessing the depletion of rights, identity and relationships (with self, others and the land) with each fold of the blankets. Disempowerment, assimilation, cultural genocide; with each fold I felt as though I was being slapped in the face and punched in the gut at the same time – evident, real and heartbreaking. It was uplifting to view our collective history from a refreshing perspective, one not reflective of the dominant narrative that we hear all too often (I think about all of the opportunities provided for learning and growth on behalf of Indigenous individuals… I think about the effort on their part to mend relationships and move forward together… I am thankful for the continual offering of opportunities such as the Blanket Exercise, all in ways [and spaces] that feel safe… It is comforting to know that I can explore discomforting narratives in a judgment-free manner where I am invited to take risks… I am aware of the privileged nature of my previous thoughts in lines above; this is still a fairly new [vulnerable] territory for myself…).

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 11.21.18 PM

After: I believe that the sick feeling I continue to experience when exploring discomforting narratives resonates strongly with guilt. However, harbouring guilt is not productive; yes we must acknowledge that the guilt exists, but then we must shift this energy to act on our responsibilities (call to action). Aside from negativity and pessimism, this experience gave me a glimmer of immense hope – as each corner of the blanket began to unfold, I felt empowered…hopeful for the future. I try to hold the images of said hopefulness in my heart and mind. The power behind debriefing and allowing individuals to emotionally and mentally unpack the experience is vital; I am actually unsure as to whether or not I would have been able to walk away from the experience and process my thoughts and emotions in a constructive way otherwise. The potential learning opportunities the Blanket Exercise & debriefing opens up for us as classroom teachers is so significant – walking alongside students as we navigate through this narrative is impactful, but providing students an opportunity to debrief (and further unpack) afterwards immensely amplifies the powerful nature of this essential experience.

Future: I have been asked to participate in the facilitation of the Blanket Exercise with an inspiring group of middle years students and educators during the Treaty Four Days gatherings taking place on the Treaty Four Grounds in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. I can only imagine that this opportunity will be powerful beyond measure and I could not be more thankful to be a part of it. Experiences such as the Blanket Exercise cannot simply be done once, mastered and disposed of; each time I immerse myself in the teachings of the narrative, I am sure to come to new understandings. Diverse participants, bringing diverse perspectives to the table each time – pushing me to continuously revisit places of discomfort. If I am being honest, it truly amazes me how much I am learning (and unlearning) on a daily basis. Whether intentional or not, I always seem to find myself amidst critical conversations that lead to reflection and further acquisition of knowledge. I owe said daily experiences to the thoughtful, inspiring individuals whom surround me as I walk this journey. My mind cannot even begin to imagine where I would be without individuals who exude constant passion, love and kindness. Let me just take a moment right here to think about all of these individuals and the ways in which they have forever changed my life… wow.

As I prepare for tomorrow, right now, I am thinking about how the teachings of the Blanket Exercise are interwoven with the teachings of reconciliation. The words of National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn A-in-chut Atleo resonate strongly here: when describing his late grandmother’s thoughts regarding reconciliation he states, “she found that encouraging, because it’s the first step, actually seeing one another, having the silence broken and the stories starting to be told…. I think that’s where it begins, isn’t it? Between us as individuals sharing the stories from so many different perspectives so that we can understand” (http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Honouring_the_Truth_Reconciling_for_the_Future_July_23_2015.pdf). I really believe that reconciliation does not involve me learning/reading something & teaching it to someone else (as some might say, doing the work of a good white person); it is more than that. Reconciliation is about learning to walk alongside one another, walking together in good ways. I believe the teachings of the Blanket Exercise will bring us together tomorrow, as one – learning, thinking, feeling, supporting and understanding one another. For now though, these thoughts are to be continued…


Unfold; Hope, Please.

(Before reading, please note: This post has been written, torn apart, deleted & re-visited multiple times since the Blanket Exercise occurred last Wednesday. The rawness & realness of said experience was challenging to wrap my mind around, let alone even begin unpacking it… words continue to escape me as I sort through my thoughts and emotions in an effort to authentically reflect. The following excerpt provides insight into some of my disseminated thoughts regarding the Blanket Exercise.)

Palms drenched in sweat; a knot so twisted and wretched within my stomach. Emotion has consumed me, so much so that I can barely speak. Sadness, anger, embarrassment; empathy, inspiration, hope. Upon entering the space this morning to partake in the Blanket Exercise, I was not expecting (or prepared) to embody this narrative – feeling the emotion, real and raw, arising at the surface.

—–

Before: A small group of individuals gathered together for this workshop led by Dr. Shauneen Pete and Dr. Michael Cappello. The room was quiet as everyone began to absorb the words spoken; the space was calm and collected – yet I could feel the fear beginning to present itself, I was hopeful that I could keep my emotions in check (I failed miserably at this FYI. There is something about emotional vulnerability that is both inspiring and fearful… the latter was a self-constructed barrier ever present in my mind throughout the entire exercise…). The purpose of the workshop is to “help participants understand how colonization of the land we now know as Canada has impacted the people who lived here long before settlers arrived…exploring the nation-to-nation relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada, how this relationship has been damaged over the years, and how they can work toward reconciliation.” Powerful.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 11.21.32 PM

During: I felt as though I was witnessing the depletion of rights, identity and relationships (with self, others and the land) with each fold of the blankets. Disempowerment, assimilation, cultural genocide; with each fold I felt as though I was being slapped in the face and punched in the gut at the same time – evident, real and heartbreaking. It was uplifting to view our collective history from a refreshing perspective, one not reflective of the dominant narrative that we hear all too often (I think about all of the opportunities provided for learning and growth on behalf of Indigenous individuals… I think about the effort on their part to mend relationships and move forward together… I am thankful for the continual offering of opportunities such as the Blanket Exercise, all in ways [and spaces] that feel safe… It is comforting to know that I can explore discomforting narratives in a judgment-free manner where I am invited to take risks… I am aware of the privileged nature of my previous thoughts in lines above; this is still a fairly new [vulnerable] territory for myself…).

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 11.21.18 PM

After: I believe that the sick feeling I continue to experience when exploring discomforting narratives resonates strongly with guilt. However, harbouring guilt is not productive; yes we must acknowledge that the guilt exists, but then we must shift this energy to act on our responsibilities (call to action). Aside from negativity and pessimism, this experience gave me a glimmer of immense hope – as each corner of the blanket began to unfold, I felt empowered…hopeful for the future. I try to hold the images of said hopefulness in my heart and mind. The power behind debriefing and allowing individuals to emotionally and mentally unpack the experience is vital; I am actually unsure as to whether or not I would have been able to walk away from the experience and process my thoughts and emotions in a constructive way otherwise. The potential learning opportunities the Blanket Exercise & debriefing opens up for us as classroom teachers is so significant – walking alongside students as we navigate through this narrative is impactful, but providing students an opportunity to debrief (and further unpack) afterwards immensely amplifies the powerful nature of this essential experience.

Future: I have been asked to participate in the facilitation of the Blanket Exercise with an inspiring group of middle years students and educators during the Treaty Four Days gatherings taking place on the Treaty Four Grounds in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. I can only imagine that this opportunity will be powerful beyond measure and I could not be more thankful to be a part of it. Experiences such as the Blanket Exercise cannot simply be done once, mastered and disposed of; each time I immerse myself in the teachings of the narrative, I am sure to come to new understandings. Diverse participants, bringing diverse perspectives to the table each time – pushing me to continuously revisit places of discomfort. If I am being honest, it truly amazes me how much I am learning (and unlearning) on a daily basis. Whether intentional or not, I always seem to find myself amidst critical conversations that lead to reflection and further acquisition of knowledge. I owe said daily experiences to the thoughtful, inspiring individuals whom surround me as I walk this journey. My mind cannot even begin to imagine where I would be without individuals who exude constant passion, love and kindness. Let me just take a moment right here to think about all of these individuals and the ways in which they have forever changed my life… wow.

As I prepare for tomorrow, right now, I am thinking about how the teachings of the Blanket Exercise are interwoven with the teachings of reconciliation. The words of National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn A-in-chut Atleo resonate strongly here: when describing his late grandmother’s thoughts regarding reconciliation he states, “she found that encouraging, because it’s the first step, actually seeing one another, having the silence broken and the stories starting to be told…. I think that’s where it begins, isn’t it? Between us as individuals sharing the stories from so many different perspectives so that we can understand” (http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Honouring_the_Truth_Reconciling_for_the_Future_July_23_2015.pdf). I really believe that reconciliation does not involve me learning/reading something & teaching it to someone else (as some might say, doing the work of a good white person); it is more than that. Reconciliation is about learning to walk alongside one another, walking together in good ways. I believe the teachings of the Blanket Exercise will bring us together tomorrow, as one – learning, thinking, feeling, supporting and understanding one another. For now though, these thoughts are to be continued…


We’ll see you tomorrow

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 7.57.32 PM

September 10th, 2015.

World Suicide Prevention Day.

I’m a person of many diverse interests but recent events in my life have made me take concern with self love, worthiness and mental illness. I’ve shared this on every platform possible and this is just one more. I feel that this day is so much more than raising awareness about suicide. It’s about the stigma surrounding mental illness. It’s about making people feel more comfortable by being empathetic to others and to ourselves. It’s about taking a step back and saying, “I can’t deal with this right now”. Like all social justice issues I didn’t really believe that there was a stigma surrounding it until I actually evaluated my own actions. I would say things like “oh, I’m just grumpy today” or “I’m just not feeling well” when really I should have been saying “it’s ok not to overload myself and to take a step back and decide not to do this thing today”. I started using the app pacifica to track and help me better understand my thoughts, worries and help me combat them. I’ve followed the non-profit To Write Love On Her Arms for many years and I’ve also found great comfort through their campaigns, blogs and the recently published book by the founder, Jamie Tworkowski, “If You Feel Too Much“. I gather a lot of confidence from some of their quotes (the english major in me, I guess). I think that lots of people struggle with thinking they’re not worthy of great things or that they don’t expect great things to happen for them or because of them but they are so wrong. “your name does not end in silence”. It ends in roaring cheers, applause, “you did a good job today” and on the worst days, it ends in “we’ll see you tomorrow”. A small call for you to try again and to be new each day. You are so much greater and more worthy than you think you are. Please believe it and I’ll see you tomorrow. 


Students & Teachers Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppressive Society