WMDSC brings disability justice to Teach for America!

This post is from Nai Damato, WMDSC’s Board Chair.

I just got home from the Teach for America 25th anniversary Summit conference. It was very social-justice oriented. TFA is making a big effort to outgrow the white cis-female savior teacher stereotype.

There were a lot of workshops on race and anti-racist work. To list a few…Then and Now: The New Civil Rights Agenda, ‪#‎StayWoke‬: Stop the Violence, Increase the Opportunity, Every Student Counts: Moving the Equity Agenda Forward for AAPI Students, What is the role of white leaders on the path to equity?, Shutting Down the School to Prison Pipeline, Letter from Birmingham Jail: Perspectives on the Long Road to Equity.

There were two on gender/LGBTQ issues, namely Navigating Gender Dynamics in the Education Profession and one I attended, Beyond Marriage Equality: Safety and Empowerment in the Education of LGBTQ Youth. It was all very intersectional, e.g. most of the LGBTQIA panelists were Black, Latinx, or People of Color. There were workshops on class, international perspectives, and rural education. That said, I was really bummed that for all the times “diversity”, “intersectionality”, and “inclusion” were mentioned, not once was disability named alongside race, gender, sexual orientation, faith, culture, and class.

There were three events by Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective. The keynote, Practicing Disability Justice: Ableism, Mass Incarceration, and Movements for Racial Justice by Lydia X. Z. Brown and a breakout workshop also by them, Radically Intersected: Disability in Asexual, Queer, and Trans Communities. Natalia M. Rivera Morales and I co-presented on Recognizing and Combatting Ableism as an Educator. So I guess we were the ones putting Disability on the Social Justice map.

Let me end with two highlights! At the Beyond Marriage Equality workshop, a lesbian school principal from a DC public charter school I walk by all the time talked about how a trans student came out at age 4 and was totally supported by the school. Even while telling the story the principal used the right pronouns. No one dead-named her. And then as it turns out the mother of that student was in the audience and stood up and mentioned it was her daughter!

The other highlight was that the event organizer asked if WMDSC would be willing to have a role in the training process for incoming TFA’ers on how to be inclusive of and advocate for disability. This would be so exciting because we definitely need to talk about disability in a general educational context and not just leave it to special education. Not to mention many abled special education teachers still have a lot of learning to do. As a survivor, having this opportunity would be so meaningful. I was abused in school for years, partially because of ignorance, but also due to willful discrimination, and I know I am far from alone. I still witness a lot of ableist dynamics in the schools I go into now. I can’t think of anything more empowering than being part of the solution through informing educators, so that future generations of disabled students can have a positive educational experience!