All posts tagged “inclusion

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Names, Identity, and Inclusive Practice

 

me, my sister, and my cousin at the zoo

I’m the one with the amazing Batman shirt. The other two kiddos are lil’ sister and lil’ cuz (who really is a lil’ sister, too).

Fair warning: This post is way personal, but it comes back to librarianship eventually.

When you grow up along the U.S.-Mexico border, Mexican surnames, like mine, are the norm. The teachers, classmates, doctors, customer service workers, or really anyone I interacted with there never had a problem pronouncing my name: Veronica Inez Arellano. I took that name with me on a slight move within Texas (Houston) and later, on a big move to the Mid-Atlantic (Southern Maryland). The further I got from the border, the harder it was to say. Every sound in the name is a sound you find in the English language, and yet the variations on pronunciation were vast.

Correct: Ah-reh-yah-no

Incorrect: 

  • Aye-rel-ah-no (forgivable)
  • A-rrrrrrrrr-el-a-no (because I had to have a rolling ‘r’ in there somewhere)
  • Ariel-anoh (thanks, but, no)
  • Aye-ray…”I’m just horrible with names!”
  • *a look* followed by, “I’m not even going to try”

That last variation was always the worst. As women are often socialized to do, I’d respond with a shy, polite smile, say “that’s ok,” and hope I hadn’t inconvenienced anyone. When their unwillingness to pronounce my name was followed by a “Where are you from?” I’d respond in the usual way–Texas. Houston. South Texas?–eventually share what the asker really wanted to know, and watch their faces fall as they learned my “beautiful/exotic/unusual” last name was Mexican, not Portuguese or Italian or some other ethnicity that didn’t evoke images of border crossings.

I kept my name well into 5 years of marriage, never bothering to change it, never feeling pressured by my husband, family, or friends to change it. Then I got pregnant. Then I lost my full-term baby during his delivery. Then I got pregnant again. I felt a strong need to connect with husband, with my lost son, and with my son-to-be, all of whom shared the last name “Douglas.” So, in the emotional hellhole that is grief and the hormonal turmoil that is pregnancy, I changed my name.

Inez was erased. Arellano was minimized to a middle name. Douglas was the new family name.

I’ve kept my name this way for 5 years, never thinking too much about the change. It’s sort of a minor thing to focus on when you’re living on minimal sleep, nursing, potty training a toddler, trying to carve out time with your partner, and attempting to jump through tenure hoops at work. But over the past year it’s become a sore spot. It feels like a self-inflicted dis. I know it’s a stretch, but it makes me feel a bit like those people who didn’t even pretend to pronounce my original last name. I think of them every time I’m forced to type “Veronica A. Douglas” on a conference registration because “Arellano” doesn’t fit on the name tag. I think of them every time I say “Veronica Douglas” when I call my son’s preschool, or when I’m speaking to a customer service rep who I know won’t be able to understand Arellano. I think of them whenever I anglicize the pronunciation of “Veronica” so that people aren’t thrown off when the “Douglas” follows.

I’m changing my name again this summer, to Veronica Inez Arellano-Douglas. Doing so is a guarantee that I will never again have a reference desk name plate that anyone can read from a distance of greater than a few inches, that my conference name tags will be a jumble of initials, and that any speaker intros I receive will leave the facilitator tongue-tied. But it feels right. I never thought that a name, my name, would make such a difference in my identity, in my sense of myself, of my sense of self in relation to others.

It does. It makes a big difference.

I think about names a lot now, especially when I teach and meet with students, faculty, and staff in the library. I’ll usually ask a person’s preferred name. If their name is not one I can readily pronounce, I’ll ask the person if they feel comfortable stating it for me so that I can repeat it back. I acknowledge their name, because it’s an extension of who they are, of their general personhood. I don’t assume that someone will be ok with me “not even trying to say that” because it’s not ok to deny that basic part of a person. Libraries and classrooms should be a place of belonging and rightness for people. That starts with a simple effort to say a person’s name correctly, or as best as you can. It’s a simple act, but it matters to people. It’s an expression of respect, an acknowledgement of their inherent human dignity, and a demonstration that you are ready to engage in communication with empathy and decency. It’s something we should all do at our libraries, on our campuses, and in life.

 

 

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This Conversation is Not About That

Two people sitting on a bench talking

Conversation by Francois Bester via Flickr

St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s commencement ceremony was on Saturday, and although I was home sick instead of at the college, I did spend some time this weekend reflecting on the spring semester. Of course my thoughts immediately focused on the recent acts of bigotry on our campus, including Confederate flags at basketball games, the pick-an-“ism” Natty Boh hunt, and the almost brushed aside Trump-campaign-slogan graffiti on academic buildings–“Build a wall,” being the most prominent statement. I’ve been thinking a lot about our college’s responses to these incidents, as well as the conversations we do and don’t have about race, racism, ethnicity, and bigotry on this campus.

After the racist/sexist/homophobic Boh incidents (which you can conveniently read about on the Washington Post), there was a flurry of campus conversation. People were talking at faculty meetings, student groups were hosting discussions, and all students, faculty, and staff attended a college-wide open forum. At each of these points of interaction one thing was clear:

There was never just one conversation going on. 

This is best illustrated by example.

The scene: Post-Boh faculty meeting. A rough summary of the conversation follows:

White faculty members: “Confederate flags are racist. Racist jokes are racist. Racism is bad.”

All white heads nod heads approvingly. 

Senior black faculty member: “I don’t actually want to talk about confederate flags or symbols. I want to talk about the deeper implicit biases I’ve encountered my entire career that are still happening now. The symbols are a distraction from the deeper issues of racism, bigotry, and bias on this campus that we don’t discuss.”

Junior white faculty member: “I think we should all just respect one another. It’s really just about civility.”

This, of course, only repeated itself on a grander scale at the all-campus forum, which really just turned into an Airing of Grievances by people who didn’t want to talk about racism. That conversation was even more troubling. To summarize:

All students of color: We aren’t surprised that these incidents happened on this campus. We feel smaller versions of this everyday. The St. Mary’s you experience isn’t the St. Mary’s I experience. We aren’t responsible for educating you about racism. We are on a college campus. Read a book.

Most (but not all) white students: We should just love one another and say hi to everyone. I think that there needs to be more school pride and camaraderie. We should respect our college.

White faculty member interjects: Can all the white male students just sit down and can we focus on issues of race/ism?

As you can guess, that last comment became THE TAKEAWAY from that campus-wide forum. Not the pain expressed by students of color, not the need to acknowledge our own biases, not a questioning of the structures of our institution that create an environment in which racist actions continue to occur. Suddenly voice was taken away from a group that always has a voice, and that group didn’t like it very much. It happens time and time again–most recently as documented in April Hathcock’s excellent post about the ALA ScholComm listserv “blowup“–and suddenly it becomes THE CONVERSATION.

It’s switchtracking in action. 

I first learned about switchtracking from NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast. It’s a super-common occurrence in which person/group A gives person/group B feedback, and person/group B’s reaction to the feedback is to change the subject. It happened at our faculty meeting–a gathering of lots of liberal-minded, well-meaning, mostly white folks. Conversations about race get transformed into conversations about civility. A faculty member is stating the harm she has experienced because of bias and bigotry and the response is not to address and acknowledge the harm, but to shift the topic completely towards a discussion of respect in the classroom.

I get that it’s uncomfortable. Conversations about race and racism usually aren’t soothing and heart-warming. No one likes to get called out on their behavior and beliefs. But if a group of faculty, who facilitate classroom discussion on a day-to-day basis, can’t have a meaningful conversation without switchtracking, what hope is there that we’ll be able to engage students in productive, critical dialogue? There is power in discomfort, in sitting with awkwardness and questioning why a statement just made you uncomfortable. What use is all the lip service we pay to diversity and inclusion if we can’t pose difficult questions and expect to have even one conversation specifically about those questions?

My hope is that discussions about the deeper issues surrounding diversity and inclusion at St. Mary’s continue throughout the summer and lead into the fall semester, but I’ll admit to a healthy dose of skepticism. Out of sight out of mind is the mantra for most people, but perhaps things have gotten just uncomfortable enough that they can no longer be ignored.