cross posted from my Media Justice column
This was going to be a short article. That’s mainly because I’d like to hear from you all and what your ideas are about this topic. Perhaps I could have written this more timely and had it posted last week. However, it was not until last Friday when a student asked me for some guidance that I considered this topic for discussion and to even write about it here. As I began to write I realized it wasn’t so short as I had thought.
As you all know I live in NYC and we recently commemorated the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001 (it’s important to put a date as many events in history have occurred on September 11th). I don’t want to share my own personal story of surviving that day, as I was living in NYC and a grad student at NYU, or have others feel that they need to do that. I knew in preparing to teach this semester that there were events that were planned and that this topic would come up.
To prepare I had asked folks in my network who are educators in various spaces how they are preparing for such conversations to begin in their classrooms. I asked specifically for suggestions and ideas for facilitating a conversation. Here are some of the topics I asked about:
• How to approach Islamaphobia in the classroom?
• How do we negotiate some of the –isms that may come up in this discussion with conversations of social justice?
• How may we interrogate ideas of patriotism?
• How may we approach the complexity of defining patriotism as perpetuating oppressions against others? (i.e. racial profiling by police, at check points, at airport, etc.)
There were several suggestions for establishing ground rules, to reminding ourselves as educators that statements our students make are not about us, and sharing up front that our classes will bring into the conversation voices that are often ignored or isolated. These are all great suggestions and I wonder how folks reading this may have experienced conversations in class when their instructors make such statements to facilitate conversations. Has it worked? What has been your experience?
What led me specifically to this topic was a student’s request after class. As one of our first assignments due date approaches there are more students who wish to speak to me after class. One student waited after class and after several other students asked me their questions about the assignment. We were alone in our classroom when the student asked me “do you have any resources for teaching about September 11, 2001?” I asked what specific type of resources the student was looking for. The student shared that curriculums, approaches, or activities would be useful. I asked what the population was and the student shared that this was for a group of youth of various ages that the student has worked with for over a year. They were scheduled to visit the memorial site where the World Trade Center was and is being reconstructed.
We had a good discussion. I asked first if the student knew what their boundaries were in having this conversation. For example, do they know what they are un/comfortable talking about regarding this issue? The student shared that they wanted to be prepared for a discussion. I suggested one approach could be to ask the youth they are working with what their understanding is of what happened in NYC on September 11, 2001. That this may mean to be prepared to hear a range of comments from very detailed and biased ideas to very general understandings of what occurred. To be prepared to approach biased commentary and ideas in a way that is not isolating for those youth, but welcomes a discussion about those ideas, where they come from and why.
I also shared that I don’t know of any curriculum or resource that has been established or created to discuss the events of September 11, 2001. I’m not sure why this may be. Perhaps the curriculums that have been created are less than exceptional, only for an age group I do not work with, or are not widely developed. I do know I have seen some biased, stereotypical, and racist images and narratives for children about September 11th, 2001, such as coloring books and pamphlets.
At the end of our conversation the key things I shared with my student for preparing included: know your own boundaries around the conversations that may occur, be ready for very emotional responses (i.e. anger, crying), and to encourage each person to learn more about the events that occurred on their own in various ways. My student thanked me and left the classroom. I’m not sure of what the outcome was of that conversation(s) the student had with the youth, but I felt that the little bit of advice I gave was honest, centered self-care, and was what I may find useful if I were in their same position. I also think this question for guidance and resources speaks to why media literacy and media justice as so important!
What I find interesting is that my students were probably 8-10 years old when this occurred. This means that their memories and ideas about what happened are very much informed by personal testimony and various media representations. As a New Yorker, this past Sunday was one where I consciously chose not to leave my apartment or turn on the television. This is because I need to center my own self-care as well regarding these media representations and how people are treated in our society and city. Many of you may know that NYC increased police presence during the weekend, which for me does not make me feel safer. Instead it makes me sadder for the folks who are targeted and racially profiled, and to think for one moment that a woman of Color would not be targeted is not unrealistic. The people who know their rights, who may not consent to a search by police in the subways, but because they know their rights, are seen as a threat. (And for those who don’t know NYC already has armed military in certain places every day to help us all feel more “safe.”)
I don’t want to witness such abuses, especially on the weekend, my time off. I also planned ahead and made sure I had the X-Files season 4 (which is 25 episodes!) at home to keep me company and that my partner was with me as well as we prepared for the week. This would distract me from turning on the television and watching the news, seeing images, and hearing testimonies. I know some folks really need to witness those forms of media to heal and cope. For me, this is not useful. In fact it is very triggering.
I share this with you because I think it is important to know that whatever form of self-care you find useful, selecting isolation like I practiced that day, communal gathering, reflection, writing in a journal, lighting a candle, whatever else you may do is alright. There is no right or wrong way to heal and cope with such experiences. And this goes for other things we experience, especially in the reproductive justice movements.
We are fighting to end oppressions and allow folks the ability to make the best choices for themselves and stay healthy and centered regarding their sexual and reproductive health. This work can become very personal, difficult, and overwhelming. It’s important to remember that we are doing the work that we find to be right and just and that we are not alone.
I’d love to have a space here where those of you in the reproductive justice movement share ways that you cope and find support and healing. Also, what are some useful forms of approaching conversations around September 11, 2001 that have been productive and helpful for you? What additional advice would you have offered to my student?