Elizabeth Burbridge is the faculty adviser for the Intersectional Feminism club at Woodward, has participated in gender discussions during Week of Understanding, and participated in the Pride parade when WA's Sexualities and Gender Alliance marched last year. This past summer, Burbridge was also able to attend the NAIS Inclusive Schools Network Institute on Gender. Burbridge’s active participation in groups and events like these means that many on campus see her as a mentor and resource when it comes to gender and sexualities. We caught up with her to ask a couple questions about those topics.
What did you learn at the NAIS Inclusive Schools Network Institute on Gender this past summer?
My most important takeaway was this: every student has a gender. We need to address gender in our schools because every student is impacted by the way we talk about gender and address it in our school community, from the boys who think they can’t express emotion, to the girls who believe they shouldn’t speak up in class, to the students who don’t fit the binary representation of gender and worry about whether they belong.
How would you describe the WA students who are working on or thinking critically about issues related to gender and sexualities at WA?
I think the students who are working on issues related to gender and sexualities are doing so to make the school even more authentic in our desire to demonstrate a deep respect for difference. Students who speak out are less worried about themselves and more focused on improving the school community for those who will come next. Knowing that these topics can be divisive and marginalizing, I find the students who are working on these issues or raising points about them in their classes to be incredibly brave. Adolescence can be a time when conformity and fitting in is important, but so many of our students—and not just on these topics—are willing to stand up for their beliefs even when not popular. We need to nurture and encourage these young leaders.
How would you describe WA's culture as it relates to genders and sexualities?
Woodward is evolving and wants to make sure our school is safe and welcoming for all students, and we now understand that that includes students who might be marginalized or feel unsafe because of their gender or sexuality. Our students are much more open and accepting than my peers were a generation ago, and they largely want themselves and their classmates to feel accepted, respected, and loved.
What we need to do now is continue to explain why being a vocal supporter of this community is necessary for those not personally affected. In the same way that students of my generation were raised to be "colorblind" but we have since learned isn't the best way to tackle systemic racism, many students today believe that as long as they "don't care" about another's gender or sexuality, it doesn't need to be addressed. But this doesn’t tackle the larger systemic issues that exist. This is also true when it comes to issues of sexism. Some of us believe that when it comes to issues of identity "we are treated equally” today, but sexism still exists so that’s another topic that still needs to be addressed directly.
Additionally, for some, the acceptance of others in regards to their gender or sexuality has become a political issue, but I believe this is a human issue and an issue of human rights—a perspective that I think more in our community are coming to embrace. We are still making an effort to determine how to best support our students who struggle due to gender identity or sexuality. Our students are, as ever, leading the way.