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Part 2: Interrogating Bias

By Dana Stachowiak
 | Jul 12, 2018

Dana S. SeriesThis is the second installment of a five-part series on cultivating gender-inclusive classrooms. It was written as a complement to “The Power to Include: A Starting Place for Creating Gender-Inclusive Literacy Classrooms,” an article that appears in the July/August issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.  

All of us carry bias. Our beliefs and opinions are influenced by the communities in which we participate (e.g., religious, educational, and social institutions), our family history, and our personal narratives, to name a few. When we first meet someone, we already have a narrative we tell about them, just by looking at them. With that narrative usually comes an unfair treatment. For example, white people may lock their doors when they drive past a black man because the media has us socialized to believe that these people are a danger. Or, when a gay person, such as myself, walks into a school, straight people may have an irrational fear about having that person work with their child.

When working to create gender-inclusive literacy classrooms, one powerful thing we can do is interrogate our biases and beliefs about gender nonconforming individuals. Below is a list of questions that may be helpful in this process.

If you identify as cisgender, you may consider the following questions as starting points:

  • When did you first learn about transgender, genderqueer, and/or gender nonconforming people? What messages did you receive? How did/do these messages impact your understanding of gender?
  • Do you know anyone who identifies as transgender, genderqueer, or gender nonconforming? If so, how has your relationship shaped your understanding of gender? If not, why? Would you be comfortable being friends with someone who does not identify as cisgender? Why?
  • Have you ever felt unsafe in a bathroom that matches your gender identity? If so, what impact did this have on you? If not, how do you think that might feel?

If you do not identify as cisgender, it is still important to consider your beliefs and biases. You may want to consider:

  • When did you first learn about transgender, genderqueer, and/or gender nonconforming people? What messages did you receive? How did these messages impact your understanding of gender and your journey to no longer identifying as cisgender?
  • What internalized oppression might you harbor regarding gender? How does this impact your interactions with others? How could you work to eradicate this?
  • How does your positionality in other aspects of your life (e.g., race, class, sexual orientation, religion, ability) intersect with your gender identity? What impact does this have on your experiences and beliefs?

These questions  are not meant to be a be-all and end-all guide, and they are not meant to be a checklist; once you answer these questions, you are not necessarily free from bias. Interrogating your own biases is continuous work, but it’s important work in creating more inclusive hearts, minds, and classrooms.

Stachowiak will participate in ILA’s Equity in Education Program at the ILA 2018 Conference in Austin, TX. Literacy and Our LGBTQ Students: Starting and Sustaining Schoolwide Transformation, a panel featuring a cross-sector of literacy leaders, inclusive educators, and activists, will take place on Saturday, July 21, from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM at the Austin Convention Center. The full recording will be archived on our Facebook page.

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