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Wellesley METCO Director Leads Conversation On Diversity

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By Rama K. Ramaswamy

This January has been dubbed, “the diversity month” by many Wellesley residents.
Last week Kalise Wornum, K-12 METCO Director, and facilitators Anne D. Hall and Delissa Prideaux, also Wellesley High PTSO Co-Presidents, conducted a workshop on, “Difficult conversations: talking about race and racism with children and colleagues.” This workshop was open to the entire Wellesley Public School community.

The presentation was designed to discuss and facilitate participants developing a better understanding of ways to address, identify and respond to issues of race and racism on a personal and professional level.

Workshop attendees considered the experiences of students and families from ethnically or racially diverse backgrounds in predominantly white schools, and got to examine both the barriers to and challenges with respect to talking about race, racism or ethnicity and shared strategies for engaging in productive discussions about the same.

Wornum shared her personal experiences as a METCO student and with microaggressions, past and present. Although Dr. Chester Pierce coined this term in the ‘70’s, Columbia professor, Derald Sue’s use of the term “microaggression” is what’s widely understood and referred to as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”

Some of these, as presented by Wornum and discussed by participants included comments, questions and actions such as asking a classmate, “where are you really from," asking a biracial student in class, “so what are you?” “so what do you speak in Japan? Asian?” “funny- you don’t act like a normal black person," telling an African-American classmate, “I totally don’t see you as a black person," “you don’t speak Spanish?” or “you speak English real good” and so many more.

Many educational experts acknowledge that nationally, school districts are experiencing increasing numbers of students of color, students from low-income families and those that are linguistically and culturally diverse as well.

A teacher and participant said, “there’s a global community in my classroom everyday- it really requires me, as a teacher, to learn from and with my students.”

Diversity and cultural competence leaders such as Gary R. Howard, who is also the author of books such as, “We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know”, claims that, “90 percent of U.S. public school teachers are white; most grew up and attended school in middle-class, English-speaking, predominantly white communities and received their teacher preparation in predominantly white colleges and universities and simply have not acquired the experiential and education background that would prepare them for the growing diversity of their students.”

Wornum’s workshop participants discussed how best to move forward from blame and confusion to learning to collaborating with and serve all schools and students well with respect to race, racism and microaggressions.

Five stages of transformative work and behaviors considered were, building trust, engaging personal culture, confronting issues of social dominance and social justice, transforming instructional practices, and engaging the entire school community.

One participant said that she was currently reading Debby Irving’s book, “Waking Up White” and having attended this event, made her realize that she needs to be “really thinking about this stuff.”

World of Wellesley President Michelle Chalmers was one of the participants and reminded the gathering about the upcoming community discussion of “Waking Up White” with author Debby Irving on Thursday, February 4 at 7 p.m. at Wellesley High. Chalmers added, “this event is free and open to everyone- even if you don’t live in Wellesley.”

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