What’s in a Name?

The Carolina Women’s Center is not just for women.

The Carolina Women’s Center is here to serve all students, faculty, and staff at UNC. Its mission is to “create an inclusive education and work environment where gender is not a barrier to success, difference and diversity are celebrated, and everyone is safe to live, learn, teach, and work without threat of harm or unequal treatment.” It provides programming that promotes gender equity for people of all gender identities.

For the past three weeks, I have been learning just how difficult it is to communicate this message to UNC students, faculty, and staff as well as individuals outside the university. For example, in reaching out to UNC employees for recommendations of other staff members who would participate in CWC focus groups, several individuals have responded enthusiastically, saying they knew many women who would be interested, even though I hadn’t said anything about wanting only female participants in focus groups. Similarly, at the first-years’ orientation resource fair, male students didn’t stop at our table, and their parents reacted similarly. I heard more than one mother say, “That’s not for us. I have a son.” When the word “women” is in the organization’s name, reactions like these make sense. However, it makes it difficult for the CWC to promote gender equity if only women participate in programs and use CWC’s resources. Furthermore, students, faculty, or staff who don’t realize that the CWC serves them might need resources that the CWC has.

So what should the CWC do? I’m not sure that changing its name to something like the Carolina Gender Center would make a difference. However, it is becoming clear that many of my internship assignments will involve promoting the CWC in a way that educates UNC faculty, students, and staff and the community about what we do and who we serve. In the MPA program, we often talk about the importance of communicating clearly, concisely, and unambiguously. Creating a communications plan to address the confusion over who the CWC serves and what programs are available seems like it will be a priority for the organization in the future, and it is certainly going to be a priority of mine for this summer.

More on my CWC adventures next Wednesday!

CWC Alternative Spring Break Trip!

Please join the Carolina Women’s Center for an Alternative Spring Break trip!  We are going to pack up and head to eastern NC to work with local domestic violence, sexual assault, and child serving organizations in March.  The cost for the trip is $60, and the trip will start on the morning of March 9th, with students returning to campus the morning of March 17th.  Participants will need to cover the cost of some incidentals, such as meals on the road.  The CWC will cover the cost of travel, shelter, and most meals during the week.

Please contact Shelley Gist (sgist@live.unc.edu) with any questions.  Applications due by 5pm on January 18, 2013.

Application link: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WFBJLWD

Inclusive Language 101

Inclusive Language 101

Language is something that many of us take for granted. It’s easy for us to assume that the words we choose to describe people with, apply to them. And it’s even easier to take the inherent biases built into our language for granted. For example, anytime someone calls something ‘black’ or dark it usually means something bad. But when someone calls something ‘white’ they are referring to its purity, goodness, or lack of tarnish. These things, whether we recognize it or not, leave us with inherent biases in the way that we view race. Other words that we use suggest biases that exist in other realms.

Gender bias is a big example of this. When we discuss people who are professionals, depending on what the profession is, we feel the need to add gendered signifiers. If it is a job, like a doctor, people feel the need to point out that a woman is in this position if that is the case. This is suggesting, in an unstated way, that these jobs are male professions or that women are not suited to doing them.  Our use of language in this way just further codifies bias into our minds. If bias is in even our language, then it is quite difficult to remove from our society because it has become practice or habit, and is often used out of blatant bigotry. It is easier for people to excuse bias, or accept that people agree with their action upon biases when our language supports their actions. This happens in the same way that making rape jokes can comfort people who rape, to believe that their actions are more prevalent than they really are, or that their behavior is condoned by much of society.

We can begin to reveal biases in our culture, and prevent them from becoming more normalized by using inclusive language, that does not suggest color is equated to goodness and that professions are gendered. Similarly, the use of inclusive language is important regarding other types of gender bias. We can help eliminate gender bias by not equating people’s genitals with their gender, or vice-versa. The idea of biological determinism, which is the idea that your x/y chromosomes are what determine your gender, is an outdated one; we can see that the idea of having two genders has influenced biological studies about ‘sex’. By ‘sex’ I mean the gender marker, which doctors decided that you most closely fit biologically and therefore assigned to you at birth.

This point is important for people who do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. If someone asks you to refer to them with different gender pronouns than the ones you assumed they use, use the ones they asked you to use. Culturally defining everyone from the perspective of ideas developed from existing power imbalances, such as a binary construct of gender, only continues to perpetuate bias.  Consider these tips when making decisions about your language:

Don’t call sexually active women whores.  These individuals are in control of their sex lives, and that agency is their right; and, it’s probably good for them.

Don’t refer to professions in a way that suggests the gender of the person in the job.

Don’t use language that presupposes racial hierarchies.  For example, don’t call people the black sheep of their families.

Do use more descriptive words, rather than words that discount people’s actions or identities.

And most importantly, when people ask you to change your language regarding their identities, respect that request and defend it.

- Amanda Copeland, Women’s Studies Intern for the CWC

As a male anti-human trafficking assistant under the Carolina Women’s Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I am constantly approached by fellow peers who ask why I chose to align myself with an organization that has no personal relation to myself or my subsequent identities. Why human trafficking? Why focus on gender equity? Why focus on topics that are “not your issue?” Why, why, why…

To preface, here’s some brief trafficking statistics:

  • An estimated 2.5-27 million enslaved victims persist worldwide.
  • Victims are recruited from 127 countries and exploited in 137.
  • Human trafficking is the fastest growing lucrative industry in our global society, accruing billions of dollars annually.
  • Approximately 15,000-17,000 victims are trafficked into the United States each year, which is not accounting for those individuals trafficked within domestic borders.
  • For every 800 people trafficked, only 1 perpetrator was convicted.
  • 52%-58% of trafficking perpetrators are men.
  • Though women and children are the main targets for victimization, an exponential increase (often overlooked) in trafficking of men has been seen.

All of a sudden, those silly little “why” questions became far easier to answer.

With males being the dominate perpetrators of human trafficking travesties, as well as an increase in boy and male victims seen both domestically and across international cultures, the role of men in human trafficking mitigation efforts is clearly shown. However, our (men’s) veil of ignorance rendered from a lack of understanding and knowledge assures male complacency. Moreover, the lack of male involvement yields countless issues that further exacerbate this global epidemic, which is counterintuitive towards the end goal of complete eradication.

The Renaissance Male Project released a report on 10 Things Men & Boys Can Do to Stop Human Trafficking, which divulges into our glamorization of pimp culture, the increasing popularity of strip clubs and pornography, misogyny, sexism, the “harmless” and “victimless” effects of prostitution, and more. The efforts to abolish modern day slavery, analogous to other social justice initiatives/movements, rely heavily upon a diverse group of identities, including those that may not directly relate to the cause. The promotion of freedom, prosperity, social equity, and basic human rights is not a gender issue, but rather a human issue.

Stephen Bishop

CWC Anti-Human Trafficking Assistant


*Statistics found from the following sites/organizations: CAST-LA, The Polaris Project, and the UNODC Trafficking in Persons report.

LGBTQ Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking, or the use of coercion, fraud, or deception to force individuals into the commercial sex industry, has remained a global epidemic within both domestic and international borders. Predators utilize the vulnerability of their victims, many times preying upon homeless youth, individuals of low socioeconomic status, emotionally unstable or damaged adolescents, etc. This susceptibility, and subsequently the damaging societal views of particular identities, exacerbates this travesty, notably within the LGBTQ community.

The American Center for Progress conservatively estimates the number of homeless gay and transgendered youth within the United States, ranging from 320,000-400,000 annually. Moreover, this report signifies the disproportioned vulnerability of this demographic rendered from intolerant guardians, unstable friend/family relationships, and a lack of societal acceptance and understanding surrounding the topics of homosexuality and gender nonconformity. These damaging ideals lessen the feeling of self-worth within the psyches of LGBTQ individuals, making them easy targets for sex trafficking and other forms of deception/coercion. It is all too common for us, the United States, to believe the fallacy that “human trafficking is not a domestic issue,” which provides an unfortunate justification for complacency within our society.

From an international view, the Arab Gulf serves as a prime example of how certain policies within a geographic region can further complicate sex trafficking mitigation efforts. Members of the gay and bisexual male population in Kenya are being lured into sex rings within the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Many are deceived into this trade by false notions of job opportunities, seen favorable by Kenyans due to an exponential increase in unemployment rates. Many countries in the Arab Gulf are completely devoid of anti-trafficking initiatives and also continue to criminalize homosexuality. These crucial factors allow this systematic market to persist, while also providing little means of escape from this trade.

The aforementioned examples of both domestic and international systematic complications signify how LGBTQ individuals are prone to trafficking victimization, punctuating the need for a holistic intervention to decrease the prevalence of global sex trafficking.  A push towards progressive societal views pertaining to LGBTQ populations, policies that elicit acceptance and support for all identities, stark law enforcement efforts to eradicate this epidemic, and increased support for programs that aid victims of this deplorable “market” are a few of the many needed parameters within the anti-trafficking movement. In light of Ally week here at UNC, we can do our part, whether small or large, to diminish this corruption brought forth from social injustices by becoming an ally to the LGBTQ community.


This post was written to honor the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Ally Week 2012 sponsored by the LGBTQ Center.


Stephen Bishop

Junior; Public Policy

CWC Anti-Human Trafficking Assistant



Sex & Money national film screening tour comes to UNC

I was so pleased by the great turnout at CAST’s Sex & Money screening last night.  We were proud to be cosponsors and I was honored to be asked to serve on the post-screening discussion panel.

The film is a 93-minute documentary on domestic minor sex trafficking.  The filmmaking team talked to many of the nation’s experts on human trafficking, including some of my favorite allies – Bradley Myles from Polaris Project, Dorchen Leidholdt from the Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families, Melissa Farley of Prostitution Research & Education.  Others I know because of their work, such as Siddarth Kara and Benjamin Skinner (both of whom I’ve seen speak) and Mary Ann Layden (a colleague of our good friend Dr. Linnea Smith).  And the film includes conversation with my hero Lou CdeBaca, head of the federal Trafficking in Persons office, and someone who really gets the multiple and complex challenges of addressing human trafficking.

The film is extremely informative and well done.  In addition to accurate and robust coverage of the subject, we get to see some of the experiences of the filmmakers and their process of making sense of what they’re learning – and even a few welcome moments of humor.  I admit to being a little turned off at the choice to begin the film with one of the filmmakers on the brink of tears – kind of an odd decision.  But that was one “off” moment in what is otherwise an excellent production.

In addition to commentary and analysis by experts, Sex & Money includes interviews with survivors of sex trafficking, former pimps, former buyers, law enforcement, and service providers; there are also segments filming prostitution arrests.  And, there is some coverage of the volatile protest outside Craigslist’s headquarters during the advocacy to remove erotic services from their on-line postings.  Streetlight in Phoenix was highlighted as a promising practice provider.

The film addresses head-on the issue of the “choice” to prostitute.  The connections between, or conflation of, prostitution and human trafficking have created large fissures in the anti-human trafficking movement.  Some consider that consensual prostitution is possible and see no problem with consenting adults agreeing to a paid sexual encounter.  Others feel that prostitution is inherently degrading and exploitative and that the idea one could “choose” to prostitute is meaningless if there are no other viable and sustainable choices one could make.  However, there is no need even to discuss the possibility of choice when we are talking about minor victims.  The federal law (and most state laws, including North Carolina’s) removes the need to prove force, fraud or coercion in a situation where minors are involved.  The law considers it impossible for minors to consent to a commercial sex act; thus, any minor involved in any kind of commercial sexual activity is a victim of sex trafficking and should be identified and treated accordingly.

The film addresses the incorrect (in my view) perception that legalizing prostitution is a useful option.  As Leidholdt so eloquently noted, legalizing prostitution turns pimps and traffickers into legitimate business people and makes invisible the harm and violence done to trafficked and prostituted people.  Additionally, the countries and regions that have legalized prostitution have seen an increase in prostitution and human trafficking.

The film discusses the Swedish approach, which many of us see as a potential best practice.  Leidholdt and Farley both find this model to have great potential.  As many of you know, the model criminalizes the buyer, decriminalizes the “seller,” and offers necessary services to people engaged in commercial sexual activity.  The evidence suggests that this has reduced both prostitution and human trafficking in Sweden, although advocates acknowledge that many traffickers have simply moved their business to other countries that are more hospitable; others question the validity of the claim of success, arguing that rather than reducing prostitution, it has been driven underground.  This debate came up in the Q&A after the screening when an audience member asked why we don’t adopt that model in the US.  I replied that I think it is a very promising approach and that many advocates are working to move us in that direction.  However, the model is predicated on an understanding that commercial sexual activity is a human rights violation and antithetical to gender equity.  That is not an understanding that is commonly shared across the United States.

There were several chilling moments in the film, including an interview with a former pimp, who noted that “anyone can control a woman’s body, but it takes a pimp to control her mind.”  This man, and other commentators, discussed the highly systematic process of grooming and controlling prostituted women and girls.  Other interviewees discussed the valorization of “pimp culture” as a very problematic aspect of our society which discourages people from seeing the harm that prostitution does to those enmeshed within it and to our communities.

The film is on a national tour, and UNC-Chapel Hill was only one of two sites in the state to host a screening.  Thanks to the CAST co-chairs Caitlin Dixon and Stephen Bishop and other CAST members who planned and managed this event.  Thanks to UNC alum Otilia Enica, who started the process last year in her final semester as CAST co-chair.  Thanks to Christie Arnold and Elyse Elder who staffed the Carolina Women’s Center table at the event.  And, a special thanks to our co-panelists – Dave Dawson and Jack Moore from the FBI and Andrew Castle from World Relief.  Earlier yesterday afternoon, Dave also presented a wonderfully comprehensive training at UNC Health Care for our local SANEs and other health care and service providers.

If you’d like to learn more about human trafficking in general, or anti-human trafficking work in North Carolina, please visit humantrafficking.unc.edu.


Can you have it all?

Career panel participants - Thursday, Oct. 27

On Thursday, October 27, the Carolina Women’s Center, University Career Services and SYNC: Sophomore Year Navigating Carolina hosted Having (and balancing) it all:  a panel about achieving career goals and work/life balance.  We were honored to have with us several distinguished panelists:  Etta Pisano, Linda Butler, Channing Der, and Valerie Ashby.  We were very fortunate that Julia Sprunt Grumbles, a long-time friend of the CWC and our work and a phenomenally successful powerhouse, was willing to moderate the session.

I think it’s safe to say that most people are challenged by trying to succeed in their career and feel fully present in their life outside of work.  However, a substantial amount of research shows that this challenge disproportionately impacts women and that we feel extra pressure in this regard.

I’ll write more about this event in our Fall newsletter – watch for it in December!!

In the meantime – just a few nuggets:

  • All our panelists stressed the importance of having mentors – multiple mentors – and asking your mentors for help and strategic advice.
  •  Give back by mentoring others.
  • You can’t do everything well.  Do the best you can, don’t be a perfectionist, delegate when possible, and don’t self-flagellate – it’s a waste of time.
  • Stand up for yourself.  You can be both assertive and nice.
  • You can have it all – you just usually can’t have it all at once.

In the weeks before this event, one of my colleagues noted her displeasure with the term work-life balance, as it implies that life happens outside of work and work is not part of life.  I don’t disagree with this critique.  But/and, I am the poster child for the inability to prioritize my own needs and my multiple other interests with the joys and challenges of my job and with what I find is the significant amount of time required to do my job the way I think it needs to be done.   This panel gave me a lot to think about.


Thanks to Ashley Fogle, Elissa Zellinger, and Leah Josephson, who each helped make this panel a success.


Mean Girls, “fat talk” and Love Your Body Day

By Cara Arizmendi

In honor of  Love Your Body Day on October 19, Carolina Women’s Center volunteer team leader Cara Arizmendi contributed this post about women and “fat talk.”


“I thought there was only fat and skinny, but apparently there are a lot of things that can be wrong with your body.”

This humorous scene from the movie Mean Girls is a shockingly accurate portrayal of the dynamics of what has been called “fat talk.”   In this scene, the members of the “Plastics,” the most popular girls in high school, and Cady, the new girl, stand around a mirror putting themselves down, criticizing everything from their pores to their hips.

The girls who are considered the most popular, most attractive girls in high school feel the need to self-degrade as a group.  After everyone but Cady finishes criticizing their body, they turn to her, waiting for her negative body statement, because without one she is not conforming to the standards of girlhood and womanhood.  These are the dynamics of the pressure to engage in fat talk.

Sociologists and psychologists have studied fat talk as the tendency for girls and women to engage in negative body talk.  While fat talk most often includes statements about weight, such as, “I missed my workout and ate too many desserts” or “I hate that my jeans don’t fit me anymore,” it can include any number of body putdowns, such as the ones from Mean Girls.

In addition to the tendency to engage in negative body talk, psychologists have found that despite the frequency with which it occurs in groups of women, women do not actually gain enjoyment from fat talk.  So why do it?  While psychologists cannot pinpoint what causes fat talk, they do know that there is actually a perceived pressure by girls and women to engage in fat talk once one person in the group has initiated negative body talk as a conversation, despite the fact that girls and women do not actually enjoy it (Britton 2006).

While Mean Girls pokes fun at fat talk as a form of commentary, other movies seem to be promoting fat talk as a form of normalcy.  For example, Kristin Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids, a film considered female-friendly, expresses concerns about not being as skinny as one of her “frenemies.”  Movies with these scenarios are creating a form of cultural fat talk.  Film creators make movies featuring women who self-degrade their bodies as an attempt to create relevant characters for women.  However, because Hollywood favors skinny actresses, most of the women self-degrading their bodies are also conventionally attractive, thin women.  When these celebrities complain about their bodies on screen, it sends the message that even celebrities’ slender bodies are not good enough, increasing the pressure on average women to engage in fat talk.

What do we do about fat talk? 

First, try not to self-degrade your body in conversations.  From personal experience, I know that sometimes I think it will make me feel better, but it never does.  And while I do think we should talk about our insecurities, fat talk is not a productive way to do so.  Fat talk does not make anyone, the speaker or the listener, positive or happy about themselves.

Second, whenever someone begins to self-degrade, try to turn it into a positive conversation by talking about positively about your friend or yourself, or by starting a conversation about the negative effects of fat talk.

Third, whenever you see examples of fat talk in movies, TV, or magazines, have a conversation about the negative aspects of it with whomever you’re viewing it with.  Write to filmmakers or magazine editors who include fat talk in their media and explain the harmful effects of self-degradation.

While these techniques may not end fat talk all together, it is sure to create healthy, positive conversations.

Source: Britton L, Martz D, Bazzini D, Curtin L, LeaShomb A. (2006).  Fat talk and self presentation of body image: Is there a social norm for women to self degrade?.  Body Image, 3(3), 247-254.

Cara Arizmendi is a senior Women’s Studies and Psychology major from Chapel Hill.  She is an intern at the Carolina Women’s Center.

Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Prostitution and Sex Trafficking

By Christie Arnold

I recently watched a documentary about the trafficking of women and girls around the world for commercial sexual exploitation into forced prostitution. This film, Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, caused me to question the disconnect that our society makes between prostitution and sex trafficking. Although many people cry out against the enslavement of women in sex trafficking, there is often a failure to recognize that an existing structure of exploitation, which includes tolerated prostitution within the sex industry, is enabling and facilitating the crime of sex trafficking.

Many anti-trafficking and women’s rights advocates view prostitution as an inherently exploitative form of violence against women.[1] By its very existence, the sex industry is promoting the idea that women are commodities. This line of thinking extends to human traffickers who participate in the sex industry by targeting vulnerable women and girls and forcing them into sexual slavery. The UN estimates that up to 4 million women and children are trafficked into the global sex trade each year.[2] The key point: the prostitution in the commercial sex industry itself contributes to the trafficking of women into the sex industry. This illegal trade of women’s bodies exists because (primarily) men believe they are entitled to buy (primarily) women and girls. To meet this demand, women are trafficked into existing structures of commercialized prostitution. As the demand for commercial sex thrives and continually increases, traffickers find ways to increase supply into the commercial sex industry through force, fraud and coercion.

In the United States, elements of the sex industry, such as pornography, strip clubs, escort services and massage parlors, exist mostly uninhibited in cities and towns across the nation. The prostitution that accompanies these entertainment venues is seen as a victimless crime, and so is rarely restricted and often tolerated. Men who are caught soliciting sex from prostitutes, whether in the back room of a strip club or on the streets, are rarely arrested. Through this system, our culture seems to imply that it is natural or acceptable to pay for sex and, therefore, that it is tolerable for men to purchase a woman for sex. Many men believe that it is their right to do this, and our culture supports this thinking by allowing them to do so with few, if any, consequences. Thus, a market for the sale of commercial sex, an avenue for women to be bought and sold as sexual objects, has been created in the United States. And each year, hundreds of thousands of women and children from other nations are trafficked into the U.S. sex trade, into venues of prostitution, pornography and/or stripping.[3]

From this film, I learned that is critical for our society to recognize the links between prostitution and sex trafficking so we can begin to take a stand against the human rights violations that occur in the commercial sex industry. Both prostitution and sex trafficking are violence against women and are severe detriments to gender equality.

Melissa Farley, a clinical psychologist and advocate for women’s rights, stated in Nefarious that a society can never be truly equal when half of its population is being sexually exploited. This speaks to the harms created when prostitution is allowed or tolerated by a culture. To prevent this exploitation, it is important to speak out against the commercial sex industry and against the underlying beliefs that enable it. For sex trafficking to be eradicated, prostitution must also end. A change in the way our society views commercial sex is needed for the demand that drives both prostitution and sex trafficking to decrease. As more and more people begin to understand the connections between prostitution and sex trafficking, they will be better able to advocate for women’s rights and equality, and to aid in the movement to end commercial sexual exploitation.

[1] O’Connor, Maria. Healy, Grainne. The Links Between Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: A Briefing Handbook. 2006. <http://ewl.horus.be/SiteResources/data/MediaArchive/Violence%20Centre/News/handbook.pdf>.

[2] United States Department of State. 2002. Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act 2002: Trafficking in Persons Report. Washington, D.C.: Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, United States Department of State; and Arlacchi, Pino. 2000. “Against All the Godfathers: The Revolt of the Decent People.” The World Against Crime, Special Issue of the Giornale di Sicilia: 7

[3] U.S. Department of State, Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act 2000: Trafficking in Persons Report, July 2004. 23.<http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/34158.pdf>.

Christie Arnold is a UNC senior and international studies major. She is a human trafficking intern at the Carolina Women’s Center.

Mathematics, politics, and equity

Rochelle Gutierrez © 2011 by María DeGuzmán

Who would expect a talk on teaching mathematics to invoke Gloria Anzaldúa, Michel Foucault and Judith Butler?  Not me!  But that is what I was fortunate to experience at a talk given by Rochelle Gutiérrez on Monday, October 3, 2011.

The talk, entitled Cultivando Nepantler@s: Rethinking the Knowledge Needed to Teach Mathematics, dealt with the ways math is conceptualized and taught and how our limited understandings of math perpetuate inequality and discrimination.  Gutiérrez, instead, talked of teaching math as a subversive activity, of challenging the status quo and creating an environment of equity and inclusivity where all students can be visible and supported.

Gutiérrez problematized some very basic societal assumptions – we see math as something done in the head, something that only deals with symbols, rather than recognizing it as a social activity.  We are immersed in cultural understandings that being able to “do” math equates to a higher degree of intelligence and that those of us who “aren’t good at” math are inferior somehow.  We believe that if you use symbols, that’s math.  If you use your body, that’s not.  And yet, Gutiérrez points out, making baskets involves pattern recognition, symmetry, measurement – all mathematical concepts.  Why is that activity, as just one example, excluded from conventional knowledge about mathematics?  Who gets to police the language around what counts as math and how “we” are going to count it?

Different kinds of knowledges are necessary to teach math:  content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, knowledge about students and their communities, and political knowledge.  Political knowledge, in particular, is made invisible.  Everything about teaching is political – from curricular decisions to classroom practices to the location and population of schools.  We must recognize this.  The question becomes:  whose politics are being accepted or followed?  Some of these tensions are being played out in current discussions in Wake County about which students are placed in Algebra 1 classes and which aren’t.  Test scores matter but, in addition, the “professional judgment” of teachers seems to be functioning in a racialized, gatekeeping way.

In some schools, Gutiérrez observed, a number of strategies are being implemented to engage marginalized youth in math.  These include developing professional learning communities, improving and enhancing mathematical knowledge in teachers, and practicing culturally competent/relevant pedagogies.  There is nothing inherently wrong with these efforts, Gutiérrez asserts, except that they are often enacted in unhelpful ways.  For example, when teachers say “I want to empower students,” on whose definitions of empowerment are they relying?  Too often what this means, Gutiérrez says, is teaching them how to succeed in the current system, a definition she wants to challenge.  And, I would add, I don’t think you can empower another person.  You can only help provide the tools and create an environment wherein they can empower themselves.

Other problems exist.  Most of the available research focuses on elementary schools, not secondary schools.  The ways in which we choose to measure and describe the achievement gap are socially constructed and impacted by the structural racism in our society and the ways it operates.  True equity is more than just access to a rigorous curriculum.  We must recognize that teaching is a negotiated process which includes not only teachers and students, but families, colleagues, administrators and (I would add) legislators.

Gutiérrez demonstrates a profound recognition that one cannot be successful by rejecting the system.  We have to teach students how to play the game AND how to change the game, she says.  We can’t ignore the societal and systematic expectations that are currently constructed and reinforced, but we can work to change them.  And – even beyond the politics of social justice and equity – Gutiérrez insists – we have to rediscover how to play through mathematics.

Should you be a teacher of math or a teacher of students?  Yes.


Note:  This lecture was part of the UNC Latina/o Cultures Speakers Series.