In the midst of all of the challenges in our country, I decided to enter my local school board race. This is an article I wrote in response to persistent debates about the qualifications of each candidate. This was written in the immediate aftermath of Justice Ginsberg’s death.
This week, as we honor the profound legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, we are also seeing increased threats to the basic civil liberties of women, people of color, and those who identify as LGBTQ+. Senate Republicans are going back on their words from just four years ago, where they said that placing a new justice on the Supreme Court should not happen during the same year as a presidential election. Instead, they are seeking to push their nomination through as soon as possible, many vowing to approve the nominee even before they know who it is. On the line are issues such as universal health care, women’s reproductive rights, and much more. At the same time, President Trump announced this week that he is expanding his ban on racial sensitivity training and instead is seeking to promote “patriotic education.” In these actions, he is trying to rewrite history and to squash discourse about the systemic racism that has plagued this land even before the United States was formed.
As I consider the national debates about equity and representation, I cannot help but connect them with the election I am involved with at home--my run for a seat on the School Board in Alameda Unified School District (AUSD). Many Alamedans are debating the merits of each candidate, wondering which combination of us is best positioned to support AUSD during this tumultuous time. Justice Ginsberg said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made...It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” This premise is so simple and applies to all groups of people--representation matters. With a current female-majority school board, and with five of the seven candidates being women, I am heartened to know that women will be well represented in AUSD. This is how it should be--in a female-dominated profession such as education, males have historically held most of the leadership positions, so having a majority-female board is a powerful indicator that women’s voices increasingly matter in the places where decisions are made.
Representation also matters for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and as well as for people who identify as LGBTQ+. I have learned through my career leading educational initiatives at the school, district, or state-level that discussions about the issues at stake, inclusive of all of those impacted by those decisions, is the best way to ensure that we develop lasting and equitable outcomes for students.
As a white, cisgendered, heterosexual woman in this work, I have been on a journey to understand my own biases and how they influence the way I interpret the world and the people I encounter. In this journey, I have also sought to understand what I represent to those who do not share my identity, and how to be an ally to BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities. For a long time, I thought that the best way for me to be an ally was to use my voice to speak on their behalf in the places where I held influence. While this kind of advocacy is needed, I have come to understand that my allyship does not replace the direct experiences and impact that people from those communities bring to the table. Rather than speaking for others, I now understand that one of the most significant ways for me to use my privilege is to make space at the table for underrepresented groups to speak for themselves.
Representation matters among our leaders not only because people from underrepresented communities can draw upon their experiences to shape our policies, but also because they open the door to increased engagement from those who share their backgrounds. Further, representation signals that all identities matter, are welcomed, and valued. What a powerful and essential message to send during this time, especially to our children.
Because of the detrimental impact of bias, racism, and white supremacy in our country, we must create safe spaces for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students, families, and staff to share their insights and ideas, and we need people who share their identities to support and guide this work. Alameda Unified will be a stronger, more community-centered district with increased representation of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC individuals at every level of our system, including at the school board. While it might seem counterintuitive for me to stress that representation matters since it could divert votes away from me, there are bigger issues at stake than my personal political gain. If 2020 has taught me nothing else, our unity as a country requires that we step outside of our own interests and work towards the common good of all. My support for Alameda has grown stronger than ever through this election process, and I vow to remain in the work no matter the outcome of the election.