Chapter 3: Inclusion by Meg Boisseau Allison
and Peter Patrick Langella|
Blog post by Peter
In conversation with Learning for Justice, and speaking specifically about transgender rights, youth activist Hazel Edwards said, “Nothing about us, without us, is for us… If youth, and specifically trans youth, are not given seats at the table to be able to bring their perspectives and their experiences and the ways that they could be best supported, then the policy or the legislation or whatever the rule is will not adequately support us” (Lindberg 2017).
With that in mind, I’d like to share some highlights of what I got to do with students over the last few days as of this writing.
It’s second period, and I’m in Social Justice Think Tank with 18 brilliant and committed students. They’ve been learning about their identities, reflecting on and reconciling with their upbringing and social conditioning, and trying to understand privilege (or lack thereof). They’ve been tasked with presenting a music video to the class that will help all of us better envision the inclusive world we want to create while working through the challenges of tearing down the systems of oppression that permeate so much of society.
It’s a heavy and brave conversation, centered on race and gender and mental health and misogyny and substance use disorder. We have more questions than answers, and we haven’t solidified topics for our social justice action project yet, so we all head from our classroom to the library to find our next choice read. I’m filled with joy when a couple of students pick Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender and Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay, respectively, which are two of my favorite titles.
1:30 PM means I’m co-advising the Gender Sexuality Alliance. Because of a focus on advisory during our C3 Block (Clubs, Connections, and Community) for the first few weeks of the year, this is our first meeting with everyone together in the library. The energy is loving and frenetic all at the same time. We form a giant circle and share names and pronouns, welcoming new students to the school and club, and our student leaders add on a couple of rounds of fun icebreakers. Bright eyes and confident body language for most in the room means that the library feels like a safe space today, and it’s because we’re actively working together to make it one, not just because it exists. My co-advisors and I end by passing out custom Pride buttons and stickers with our school’s initials. Everyone wants extras.
I pull into the parking lot of the Black-owned café at 7:30 in the morning. The bagels and scones and pastries are warm and waiting. It’s only a few minutes back to the school building, and the leaders of the Racial Alliance Committee I co-advise smile and eat a toasty treat before we all set up the tables and chairs and coffee pots, an homage to the Free Breakfast for Children Program that the Black Panther Party initiated in West Oakland, California, in the late 1960’s. I find an extension cord and figure out how to get the speaker to blast our playlist while the student leaders welcome and mingle.
It’s Hispanic Heritage Month, and one of our leaders who is mixed white/Latina talks about words like Hispanic and Latinx and the classifications of colonization and white supremacy culture. She talks about the power of representation, too, and says that the first time she saw her childhood self reflected on screen was just the weekend before with Vivo. We all share aspirations for the year.
When second period begins, I’m in the back lobby near the principal’s office, which has become my reading group space during the pandemic. My co-librarian, Christina Deeley, and I have expanded our Project LIT Community book club into an embedded reading group collaboration with many of our 9th and 10th grade humanities classes. My groups this quarter are reading Here to Stay by Sarah Farizan and Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds.
We’re talking about sports competition and privilege because Farizan’s book has a basketball thread mixed with acts of xenophobia, and I bring up that I think our school’s extreme athletics success in the state is mostly due to our large size and general community affluence. These are ninth graders who’ve just met me, and I can tell that no one has ever even come close to broaching this subject with them before. I slow down. I ask a lot of questions. I listen.
I’m back in community with the Racial Alliance Committee. We have a lot of new members, and so the student leaders share our six living goals that align closely with the national demands from Black Lives Matter at School: 1) Educate the school community on intersectional justice and build relationships with other student clubs and outside organizations. 2) Mandate Black and Ethnic Studies courses and curricula. 3) Recruit, support, and retain more Black teachers and other teachers of color. 4) Establish restorative justice practices within our school district, and create a restorative justice-focused Anti-Racist Community Accountability Board comprised of students, educators, parents, and other community members. 5) Embed Anti-Racist & Anti-Bias training into all professional development for faculty & staff. And, 6) Remove the armed police officer from our high school campus. There’s a cheer when people see the green check mark on the screen for this last one because our activism over the last couple of years means that this is our first year in many without a full-time cop on school grounds.
Now I’m in Social Justice Think Tank again, and we allot some time to listen to my Inclusion chapter co-author Meg Allison’s students talk about Critical Race Theory and their desire to be taught honest history on Vermont Public Radio’s Vermont Edition. My students share similar reflections about feeling like many parts of the curriculum have been watered down or mythologized (Thanksgiving came up a lot), and there seems to be an organic collective growing in this space, like this class is forming a more nuanced consciousness, together.
We watch a video about calling in and calling out from Australia’s Project Rockit TV, and we role-play scenarios from Learning for Justice’s Speak Up at School guide. We process how it’s really hard to call people in when they’re being hateful and exclusionary. Sometimes it’s okay to call people out. As we learned in the video, “Both methods are 100% valid” depending on the situation.
I’m a white, able-bodied, neurotypical, cisgender man. Because of these identities and others, I have a great deal of privilege and social capital. I also work at school with three librarians, a separate technology department, and a principal that grants me a lot of autonomy. I have the resources and time to be creative. However, even if I were to find myself in a different situation someday, these are still the things I’d want to be doing with students. I’m actively trying to redefine and push the boundaries of what a school librarian can be. Having a diverse collection isn’t enough. Providing access to timely, factual resources isn’t enough.
Equity and justice are ways of being, not discreet things that we do in vacuums. Radical inclusion is a lifestyle.
In a 2019 talk at TEDxStowe on “Radical Diversity,” Kiah Morris, former Vermont state representative and current Movement Politics Director at Rights & Democracy Vermont, said that she can “not rest easy over small changes or mediocrity. Understand that if we are to create a vision for what this diverse world looks like, it must be radical, or it will fail” (Morris 2019).
Inclusion in school libraries is no different.
Get together with your students, inside the library and out.
How can you cocreate a sense of belonging for all students, across all intersectional identity groups? (Allison and Langella 2021, 52).
Image Credit: “Black Lives Matter Flag Raising, 4/4/2019.” Courtesy of @cvu_library on Instagram
Allison, Meg Boisseau, and Peter Patrick Langella. 2021. “Inclusion.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 37-54. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
Lindberg, Maya. 2017. “Nothing about Us without Us is for Us.” Learning for Justice, Fall. Available at https://www.learningforjustice.org/magazine/fall-2017/nothing-about-us-without-us-is-for-us. Accessed September 26, 2021.
Morris, Kiah. 2019. “Three Tools for Anyone Serious about Radical Diversity| Kiah Morris | TEDxStowe.” YouTube (video). Posted by TEDx Talks, May 31, 2019. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPfdAX–6ME. Accessed September 26, 2021.
Peter Langella (he/him) is a librarian at Champlain Valley Union HS in Vermont, where he co-advises the Racial Alliance Committee and Gender Sexuality Alliance. Peter also works as a school librarianship instructor at the University of Vermont and an English instructor at Northern Vermont University. He was a 2017 Fellow at The Rowland Foundation, a member of the first Induction Leadership Cohort with the American Association of School Librarians, and the co-recipient of the Vermont School Library Association’s 2020 Outstanding School Librarian Award (with Inclusion co-author Meg Boisseau Allison). Peter is also the co-founder and co-organizer of Teen Lit Mob Vermont, the state’s only teen literary festival. Connect with him on Twitter @PeterLangella.