First Person

S3 E2 | FULL EPISODE

How this High School Dean Supports her Queer Students

DaShawn is a Dean at a local Bronx high school. She shares her experience of homophobia within her family and how this past fuels her desire to create safe, celebratory spaces at the high school at which she works. She is the advisor to a young, but flourishing GSA, the success of which she attributes to her empowered students

AIRED: June 20, 2018 | 0:07:41
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TRANSCRIPT

People thinking that you are gay is one of the scariest things in high school.

I came out to my mom in high school but she kind of disregarded like girl, please!

whereas I came out through my guidance counselor who just happened to be out herself.

And that was the best experience of my life to meet a staff member that can identify the

same way I do and encourage me to tell my story.

As a dean I'm constantly in the hallways redirecting students making sure that they're safe.

If there's any situations I'm probably one of the first responders.

I constantly encourage them to advocate for ourselves.

GSA members constantly come to me and tell me things are not going smoothly.

They feel like people are being just this homophobic slurs being thrown around in the

hallway.

I must say when I first came in I felt like there was a lot of moments that I would be

in the hallway-

"Oh that's so gay."

And that's one comment that grinds my gears and so I personally would challenge students

and say "hey you know what's gay? I am! But you know what's not gay?

using that in the way that you're saying it."

And I always use those opportunities to teach them.

I teach a hip hop class every other day.

And it's a very unique class is very intimate and we kind of explore the history and hip

hop. The culture.

My goal this year is to create a music video with the students because I want them to be

able to express music in the way they see it but I want them to find their own voice.

Remember the topic that we're writing to today is going to be returning back to school.

This is the first day back from break and your goals for the remainder of the year.

I don't look like the typical teacher in the hallways.

So a lot of students would ask me questions and I started to get a lot of students to

come out to me and that made me feel as if I should share my story.

so that they know that they weren't alone.

When I was in high school I mean my friends always tried to guess the orientation of any

staff members and there was one counselor that we all assumed was a lesbian.

And just so happened she identified that she was. She came out to us during our advisory class.

and I have this woman that was you know brave enough to share that with me and that made

me feel like super proud to be who I was and they kind of gave me a push to slowly start

get into a place where I can come out to my family

When I left high school that was my time to go to college and I felt like I could be who

I really want to be.

But then I was forced to leave from school.

So I came back home to live with my mom and when I came back home and kind of was a

different person on the outside.

I had no hair and I wasn't wearing the clothes as she kind of bought me before I went to

college. At the time my sisters were going through a lot.

So my mom was really stressed out.

And then on top of me coming home to say hey by the way I'm a lesbian.

She kind of was like not feeling it.

And long story short I ended up homeless.

And during that time I had a best friend my best friend at the time she really was a huge

support system for me.

Her family took me in and there is where I finally like reconnected with my mentor.

She gave me some options told me about some different places I should try to get as who

reminded me how much I love working in education.

Oh my so many jobs is working with kids somewhere and a part of me always wanted to do that.

What I didn't know how serious I was about it and once I got here I didn't know what

to expect.

And being someone who you know wears men's attire but is female and as students challenged

me at first they would always say kind of very homophobic slurs or just mispronounced my pronouns and

things of that nature and I felt like I don't think they're doing it on purpose.

It was a moment that I realized they're not doing this on purpose this is just what they

know. They don't know any better and as a lesbian- an out professional.

I felt the need to be some kind of support for people like me and in this building at

the time, there weren't. and I felt like students needed that.

And I took that as a challenge for myself to step up to the plate.

I started advocating to the administration and I wanted to go to workshops.

I wanted to learn so hard to turn that information to the teachers and to the administration

are not as educated.

And once I was able to get that kind of approval and I started stepping up and getting promoted

to dean I was able to you know speak to the students in ways that I realize now I can

create a program where they can learn how to really express themselves and

use words that actually mean what they want to say and that's what I was able to do.

I don't want everyone to still be segregated or put in a space that's like

Oh now that's where the jocks go that's where the gay kids go.

No, I want everyone to know that we're all people we are human.

We all have you know feelings and emotions.

And I feel like me as a dean,

it doesn't matter that one I'm a female and that I'm a lesbian when I'm interacting and dealing

with your students.

Same thing with the male dean.

And we use this as only to speak to students often the fact that I'm a lesbian has nothing

to do with me telling you to get to class. Getting to class is what you're supposed to do my

job is to make sure that you do it. Orientation has no boundaries on that and it has nothing

to do with that.

And I want students to know: your classmate might be who he is, or who she is.

They may not use those pronouns but it doesn't take away that they're human

and they deserve to be in the streets safe and educated just like you because I need

them to understand.

I had a thousand reasons to give up in

High School.

So yes I am a strict Dean and I'm hard on them and I'm always making sure that they're

following the rules because out there when they graduate no one's gonna be there like that

for them and especially a lot of our alumni come back to always tell us how much they

missed our school building because we're like a family and I want them to know that I'm

just gonna prepare you for what's out there.

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