This past week, I had the privilege of showcasing an upcoming chapter that I have written along side colleagues Nichole Grant, Annette Furo, and Pamela Rogers. Pam and I traveled to Chicago to attend our first ever AERA (American Education Research Association) conference, with a fabulous poster in hand. We were asked to do this by the editors of the upcoming collection: ‘The Disney Curriculum: pedagogies of being and buying’ Julie Maudlin and Jennifer Sandlin. This was a great opportunity to meet our editors, and fellow chapter writers.
For two graduate students lost in a sea of academics, this session felt like home. We were supported and encouraged to shine while sharing our research, and got to spend time answering in depth questions on the balance of Disney and learning.
Pam and I also reflected a great deal on what we saw/felt throughout our time at the conference. This is something we are going to work on further as a potential paper, but I just wanted to share a few observations I had as a graduate student and as a Canadian:
-There is more openness to feedback and suggestions at American conferences. People are more willing to challenge or suggest in these spaces
– The people of Chicago are extremely helpful and friendly. Maybe it was just me, but I definitely felt that welcome.
– Seeing the evidence of racial divides, as well as issues with health care, on the streets of Chicago was shocking to me. I live in the capital of Canada, Ottawa, and the discourse of our issues with minority groups, as well as our lack of support for individuals with mental health issues, is demonstrated in the homeless population on our streets. However, walking around Chicago I was forced very quickly into my visit to take in the narrative of racial divide. Almost all the individuals I encountered in the vicinity of the conference were African American, and a great majority of them had visible, physical issues, ranging from missing limbs to an individual with diabetes covered in open sores that were shocking. I struggled with this particular individual the most. I walked passed him twice on Friday…my heart crying out, seeing the pain he must be in, parts of his flesh completely gone. and I could do nothing. I didn’t know what to do. The conference went on, people flowed passed him on the bridge between the Sheraton and the Hyatt, and I felt inadequate to assist this man.
-I felt like I did not belong. This is a strong statement that I will qualify with the fact that many of the issues being dealt with at the conference were American, and not something I could often connect with. But also, as a young woman with dyed flaming red hair, many tattoos, and leopard print Keds, I searched for people who looked like me, who expressed themselves like I did, visibly showing their negotiation of culture on their persons. I did not find them, which felt very isolating. Perhaps they were there all along and the conference was just too big for me to see this, but it is how I felt. Interestingly enough, and something that will be explored further with Pam and our writing, those that often reached out to me, sought me out to speak about my hair, or to make me feel welcomed, were women of colour. I did not make this connection until our last night, talking over the day with Pam. However, it made me wonder quite strongly about how they felt about belonging in this space, about who owned it and how they negotiated it. Something about me made several women reach out to reassure me I belonged, and all I can think about is who disrupts the nature of belonging in massive, corporate feeling conferences like this. We will definitely be exploring this, and if anyone else wishes to share their feelings about belonging in this space, please feel free to comment