Faculty practicing their own activism

Nelson Gaillard, Staff Writer

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Apart from their responsibilities as faculty members, many teachers are involved in a wide variety of activism both in and out of the classroom in their everyday lives.

As faculty advisor to the Feminist Student Association (FSA), English teacher Dr. Wendy Steiner is also involved in activism within and outside of the school, from discussing pertinent issues with her students to giving to charities that she cares about.

As she has gotten older, Steiner has become more involved in activism, but she has always given to charities like Planned Parenthood and Everytown, she said.

English teacher Sarah McIntyre used to be involved in many feminist organizations, but once her daughter was born, she  dedicated her time to caring for her daughter and became less involved in activism outside of school.

Science teacher Dr. Rachel Mohammed is engaged in activism in the school as advisor to the Union, the school’s diversity club that embraces different cultures and identities and hosts forums to help students take action. Whenever she has the time, Mohammed writes letters to her local representatives about ways to improve her local community, she said.

Having created The New Community Project (New Comm), a class that involves bringing social awareness to the classroom, English teacher Chidi Asoluka considers his teaching a form of activism, he said.

In partnership with Kingsbridge Heights Community Center, students in Asoluka’s New Comm try to solve certain problems rather than simply examining them. “We read books about people in the margins,” he said. “Instead of having a conversation about it, we think about ways how we can create product.”

In the past, Asoluka’s students have created a banner for a school in a gentrifying neighborhood, displaying key information and the school’s core values. In a different project, students offered free classes, from yoga to gardening, to the neighborhood, Asoluka said.

“I went through my high school career pretty oblivious to activism,” McIntyre said. “It wasn’t until college when I could conceive of what youth activism meant.”

Mohammed believes that it is her moral obligation to remain involved in activism, she said. “I want to use my privilege to help others and help bring them up in terms of equity.”

“I’ve always been someone to support the underdog,” Mohammed said. “Being a queer woman of color, who is also an immigrant, whose last name is also Mohammed, is a really weird position in life,” she said.

McIntyre tries her best to stay involved in activism as often as possible but finds it difficult, especially with a daughter and a job at the school, she said. “As I get older, I have less opportunities to put my body in space as a representative of stuff I believe in,” she said.

According to Steiner, there is a lot more energy around the issues of social justice today, she said. In the school, Steiner has seen the diversity office (ICIE) change over time, from a group of faculty called the Valuing Differences Committee, to the ICIE today, she said.

Likewise, Mohammed has noticed a change in the way activism is treated over time, she said.

“I experienced really shocking, hurtful, soul crushing experiences as a person of color,” Mohammed said, referring to when she lived in Baltimore, Maryland. Today, Mohammed can be herself and doesn’t feel the need to hide behind her south Asian identity, she said.  “It’s a different world and a lot less is tolerated,” she said.

McIntyre believes in different representation of voices; she and her other English department colleagues talk about how to make their curriculum representative of the world we live in, she said.

Steiner, like McIntyre, enjoys a wide representation of voices and frequent participation within the classroom, she said. She finds that the moral and ethical issues that inevitably arise in literature are important to discuss, she said.

As an educator, Asoluka believes that it is his job to create a safe space in the classroom so that all students feel like “my thoughts are valid here,” he said.

In science classes, there is not much room for discussion, let alone discussion about activism and social justice, but Mohammed blends activism in with her lessons.

For example, while teaching her AP Chemistry students about sulfur, Mohammed showed images of sulfur mines in Indonesia, explaining how excess amounts of sulfur are obtained only if someone pays the price. Those people are the ones working in the mines wearing flip flops and inadequate protection, she said.

Along with being engaged in activism within the classroom, it is important to be involved in activism outside the classroom and to understand how the local events of your life are shaped by forces outside of yourself, McIntyre said.

“The best way that we can influence people is by telling stories about things that have happened,” Steiner  said.

As for the future of activism, McIntyre would like to see the evolution continue and for it to become more inclusive and more diverse, she said.

“I definitely think that the younger generation is ‘woke,’ and that they feel more empowered,” Mohammed said. “I have a lot of hope in this generation.”