So Long, Farewell
After three years at Seisen International School, and six years total abroad, I have decided to return to the USA to be closer to my family. I have very mixed feelings about leaving Seisen, especially at this particular time.
We are still in the midst of a global pandemic. Recent studies have already shown a sharp increase in mental health disturbances, particularly with regard to depression and anxiety, in young people. I know that now more than ever, the wellness and social/emotional/mental health of our students is a top priority. As someone who has deeply cared for the students of Seisen, I feel extremely guilty leaving at a time when I might be most needed. Thankfully, I feel comfort in knowing that the teachers, staff, and administrators at Seisen will prioritize the mental well-being of our students, and that they will continue to be deeply cared for.
I am also sorry to be leaving when in the midst of this pandemic, the world has also reached a reckoning in the pursuit of social justice. The global Black Lives Matter movement has raised awareness of the critical need for justice and equality for our sisters and brothers who have suffered from racial oppression for far too long. We are all being called to reflect on our own privilege and to question how systems- political, media, and even educational, have perpetuated this oppression.
As a Catholic school, we have a particular obligation to fight oppression and injustice, and to stand with all our sisters and brothers who are marginalized and disenfranchised, just as Jesus did. In a recent Time magazine article, Pope Francis is quoted as saying ““We cannot close our eyes to any form of racism or exclusion, while pretending to defend the sacredness of every human life.” I am so inspired by the students of Seisen International School who have already sprung into action and started a dialogue about anti-racism, including preparing a 50 page document of resources.
In addition to becoming anti-racists, I think it is important to acknowledge the need for allyship to all oppressed communities- including the LGBTQIA+ community, immigrants, refugees, people with different physical and mental abilities, people living in poverty, and especially as an all-girls school, women.
As someone who grew up in a white, middle class, suburb of New York, I enjoyed much privilege. It was not until I had my first job that I began to truly appreciate oppression. My first job was a youth minister at a local parish. As with most forms of modern day oppression, the discrimination I faced was not overt. It came in the form of microaggressions. For example, as a woman, I was not allowed to proclaim the word of God from the church altar nor was I allowed to administer the Body of Christ unless I was wearing a skirt or dress. Women were forbidden from wearing dress pants or pant suits.
When I look back on this, what I feel most angry about isn’t that this rule existed, but that I willingly complied and spoke illy of women who tried to challenge this. What I recognize now is that I was actually displaying signs of internalized misogyny.
Internalized misogyny or internalized sexism is when women normalize certain negative beliefs and behaviors, and many times, this manifests into something called “horizontal violence” towards other women. Normally, this violence isn’t physical, but instead comes in the form of gossip, body shaming, disempowering, and a general feeling of mistrust toward other women. In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg speaks about how women in leadership positions sometimes push down and disempower other women because they feel there are too few seats at the table. Though I have compassion for this fear, I strongly believe that women need to be focusing more on building each other up. As young women, I am calling on each of you to set the example.
The first part of becoming an ally is reflecting on our privilege and our implicit bias. Our students have done an amazing job of putting together some resources on how to do this through an anti-racist lens. I would like to leave some resources here on how to do this through an anti-misogynist/anti-sexist lens. This is just a start, and I would welcome more suggestions and recommendations.
What Does Misogyny Look Like? New York Times article
Lean In by Cherly Sandberg
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders, Ted Talk by Sheryl Sandberg
“Nanette”, Netflix special with Hannah Gadsby
To my colleagues, the parent community, and most especially, to the students: please know how much I have enjoyed working with you and learning from you these past three years. I will miss you all so much, and hope that you remain in touch. And to say goodbye, I will leave you with a clip from one of my favorite movies.
When we compare ourselves to others, we’re not making an accurate comparison because we’re only going off the information we have access to
It is important to understand that grief is not a linear process. We do not start at one stage and then progress through to the final stage. Instead, grief is cyclical. It is entirely possible that one will reach acceptance, and then one of life’s milestones occurs like a wedding or graduation, and suddenly we are angry or sad again.
Last week I reached out to parents to ask how they were coping with the current global situation. Overwhelmingly I heard, "I'm doing fine, I just am not sure how to help my child".
Trying to maintain your "normal" routine right now is unhealthy, because what we are experiencing is not normal. Trying to go on as if nothing has changed is invalidating and can actually invite trauma to manifest in alternate ways.
I cannot think of a great opportunity for learning than what we are all experiencing right now. We are all learning new ways to teach and learn. We are all learning new ways to connect with others without physical contact. We are all learning new ways to be alone or be with our partner or be with our family.
Talking through the “what if”s is validating because you are creating space to listen. Using reflective listening, you are able to convey empathy. Another reason this strategy is effective is because it allows the person to think about the tools she or he already possesses and how she/he can use those tools to get through whatever they are fearing.
As I was cycling around my neighborhood yesterday, I noticed two of the sakura trees had bloomed. So of course I stopped, got off my bike, and snapped a picture. And it was a great reminder of how even when the world feels like it is in chaos, we can still count on nature to reassure us
There is a famous line in Francis Ford Coppolla's, 1972 Academy Award winning film "The Godfather", that says, "We go the mattresses". This line was made famous again in Nora Ephron's 1998 romantic comedy, "You've Got Mail". Essentially, "go to the mattresses" is an expression that means to prepare for battle.