Otselic Valley recently hosted a sensitivity training assembly for 9th-12th graders with guest presenter Dr. Lyosha Gorshkov from Colgate University. His background in history and political science and his early years in the former Soviet Union informed discussion about those we may think of as “other.”
“Society is not yet at a point of sensitivity and tolerance,” he said, “but I’m not challenging your beliefs, just stating the facts about what’s in our society.”
Who is the “other” in our society? That could include anyone who is not like us: someone who is older, or whose bodies or minds work differently or have different capacities, or someone whose skin color doesn’t match yours, or a person who speaks English with an accent, or families who practice different religions, or individuals with different educational or financial backgrounds, and much more.
Historically this is important because when populations weren't understood or valued – including women, people of color, and even left-handed persons – they were treated differently.
Homophobia, for example, can take the form of hate, violence, verbal assault (“hate speech”), vandalism, and blatant discrimination, Dr. Gorshkov explained. Students are often on the receiving end of bullying when others make all kinds of assumptions about them.
Bullying, of course, is never okay.
So where do we begin? We can start with vocabulary.
Dr. Gorshkov briefly unpacked commonly misunderstood terms and phrases like “cisgender,” “gender identity,” “gender expression,” and “asexuality,” and he surveyed the not-rare biology of “intersex.” Dr. Gorshkov also clarified that the term “sexuality” is not about whether a person is active or inactive. Rather, sexuality is a comprehensive topic that includes self-image, socialization, body image, personality, communication, and more under its umbrella. There’s a lot going on.
He explained that where we get our information is important because not all media sources do an equal job sharing accurate information. When information is incomplete, it’s easy to mix up ideas and make judgments about things, and sometimes those assumptions hurt others. At the end of the day, every person – including anyone who is different from us in 1 way or 10 ways – is also a human being.
So why offer this to our students? Apart from this presentation’s relevance to history, sociology, popular culture, and biology, we hope sensitivity training will help our students put themselves in another person's shoes and begin to understand others' perspectives and feelings.
All are welcome here.
[This assembly was one of a series of special events we are bringing to the district this school year and the next to promote diversity, acceptance, and inclusion for all. Initiatives so far this school year included weekly Arts in Education diversity quotes, the year-long "One Book, One Community" Wishtree reading, music from Jared Campbell, the interactive dance performance led by the Reaction Dance Company from New York City, and more. We are looking forward to more activities reflecting diversity and acceptance at Otselic Valley.]