The past two weeks have been full of big ideas and powerful conversation as we take time to focus on the why of our diversity audit, and I try to instill empathy in our students for marginalized groups whose stories may not be being told in our library. We welcomed Mr. John Hall, Chair of the Hartford Committee for Racial Inclusion and Equality, here to join in our discussion on telling someone else’s story.
After unpacking the norms for these sometimes difficult conversations using the Four Agreements of Courageous Conversations , I asked the students to turn to a partner and in one minute tell that person’s story. After all, they had been classmates together for 9 months now, they must know each other very well!
After “storytelling,” I asked the students, how did it feel to hear someone else’s perception of you? How accurate was it? What parts of you were left out? Was it your whole self? Here were some of their responses when I asked how accurate the other person’s perceptions were:
- “I didn’t know if I should tell them what they wanted to hear.”
- “I don’t want to make anyone feel bad.”
- “It was odd.”
- “The facts were wrong.”
- “I don’t know about his home life.”
- “He only talked about my physical appearance.”
- “It would be easier to talk about someone I know really well.”
- “I just focused on giving compliments, focused on the positives.”
- “She only knew a small bit of me.”
When I asked them what parts of them were left out, they said:
- “It was superficial.”
- “It was only me on the outside.”
- “It was just what I look like.”
- My personality.
- My family and home life
- What I love
- My passions
- “They didn’t get the true ME.”
- My religion
This led nicely to the conversation about the role of marginalized voices in publishing, because it’s all well and good for a white person to write a story with a Native American main character, but if they don’t truly know that person’s experience, how can they ever get to the truth of that story? It was a worthy conversation.
This week, we read the picture book Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre. Belpre, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library, has a book award named after her, which is presented annually to a Latinx writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. This book recognizes Belpre’s feelings that there were no stories that celebrated her Puerto Rican heritage in the NY Public Library, no Puerto Rican voices, so she took it upon herself to write the cuentos folklóricos of her abuela down and share them with the world.
We then discussed the ideas: Our library should look like us. Does it? Are you represented? If we are all (mostly) the same race, and our books reflect only us, is that a good thing? Again, students had insightful conversations and through some anecdotes of my own about being a young adult in the world with limited experience with diverse cultures (think Mrs. Whitney’s first trip to New York City when she was 18, my goodness!), they are beginning to understand that we need diverse stories to help create a worldview that is well-rounded, authentic, and empathetic. These social justice lovers are very on-board with that!
Lastly, I gave them data, publishing statics on children’s books about and by people of color and first/native nations from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Students then took that data to create a visual representation, such as a graph, to prepare them for our work making infographics. We had limited success, but after a gallery walk of their classmate’s ideas, I think the students have a much stronger understanding of how to incorporate their diversity audit data into a meaningful presentation. They’ll begin creating these Infographics on Friday in STEAM!
Looking forward to a few weeks of data collecting and reflection! I can’t wait to see what the students uncover!
Let the research begin!