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Equity Matters! Community Speaker Series

Thursday, Jan. 19, Paine Mountain School District kicked off its “Equity Matters!” Community Speaker Series. This series came about as a response to the Vermont School Boards Association Equity Mini Grant. The grant allows for five community forums as well as a broad selection of books focusing on social justice and equity issues that community members may bring home to expand their personal libraries.

Despite the winter weather advisory issued across the state, about 30 community members, including students, parents, staff members, school board members, and administrators, were in attendance to hear Dr. Jae Basilierie, chief diversity officer of Vermont State University, speak on gender identity and equity.

Dr. Basilierie started their talk by reviewing vocabulary and getting a sense of the levels of knowledge the audience had in relation to gender identity. They continued their talk by contextualizing the content around the current conversations happening in Northfield and the neighboring town of Randolph. There was conversation around the guardrails that define and protect current societal gender norms, as well as the difference between the cosmetic changes (i.e., normalizing females wearing pants in public) that have occurred over time versus the fundamental changes (i.e., normalizing the use of pronouns and gender nonconformity) that we continue to work on. 

Community members were active participants asking questions and seeking advice on everything from the appropriate way to ask someone how they preferred to be addressed, to navigating relationships with people who are not accepting of name and pronoun changes.

Alex Silowash, an eighth grader at Northfield Middle School, attended the presentation because, she said, she feels that “everyone can learn more … they can always expand their knowledge.” She also said it was important to attend because she has “friends that identify differently, and she wants to understand what they are going through.”

The need to be educated in order to become a better advocate and ally was echoed by Lee Ann Monroe, principal of Northfield Middle/High School. The school has been working on equity for the last several years, and this equity series “shows the students that we’re working towards making it a safe space.” She is “thankful for the board for doing the work and taking the steps to show a real commitment to equity.” 

Superintendent Matt Fedders said he was pleased to see such a good turnout and is excited to continue bringing these opportunities to the community. This sentiment was also shared by Dr. Basilierie, who agreed that “it is really important, especially when discussing often underexplained social justice work, to find opportunities for knowledge that is accessible for everyone.”

If you are interested in learning more about social justice equity issues and how they impact the school environment, there are four more sessions being offered through this series:

  • Feb. 16: Race and Equity — Williamstown Middle/High School.
  • March 16: Mental Health and Equity — Northfield Middle/High School.
  • April 20: Disability and Equity — Williamstown Middle/High School.
  • May 18: Movie Screening: “Listen Up!”, a musical written and performed by Vermont Students — Northfield Middle/High School.
All sessions are from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Admission is free, but please RSVP@CVSU.org.