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My Notes: 2009 NYSAIS Diversity Conference

A week ago today, I sat at the NYSAIS Diversity Conference held at the Lycee Francais school, in NYC. The topic, What is Privilege?: Race, Ability, Gender, Age, Class, Sexual Orientation, Religion, Ethnicity and Other.

One of the keynote speeches was delivered by Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian who is Senior Pastor of the Haydenvill Congregational Church in Western Massachusetts. Ayvazian spoke in-depth about the role of allies who need to interrupt the cycle of oppression by being agents for change. She told all of the teachers in the audience that they were allies, with one vocation in mind, CHANGE.

Who are allies? "Allies are people who belong to a dominant group in our society and are capable of lending a hand (and an ear) to those who are not in the dominant class." (Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian) Ayvazian pointed out that we are born into these groups, so therefore they are not by choice. We have an obligation to act and work on those who are targeted and do not have a choice via birthright.
 
"Allies investigate, are committed, and notice racism by omission…and are committed to act and work with others." 

"We all are privileged because we’re not multi-targeted." Ayvazian explains that multi-target means that we have more than one indicator to hold us down: race, ability, gender, classs, age etc.

Ayvasian also spoke about her own son, who as a child, was only allowed to watch Disney movies unless he was able to explain the subliminal messages in them. 

Other interesting quotes and thoughts…

 "We are socialized to not be outspoken critics–just absorb and believe."

"cultural racism is what our students breathe in everyday."

"with privilege we are dealt a hand that is rigged by chance."

Parker Palmer – Let Your Life Speak (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2000)

As young people, we are surrounded by expectations that may have little to do with who we really are, expectations held by people who are not trying to discern our selfhood but to fit us into slots. In families, schools, work- places, and religious communities, we are trained away from true self toward images of acceptability; under social pressures like racism and sexism our original shape is deformed beyond recognition; and we ourselves, driven by fear, too often betray true self to gain the approval of others.