Riverdale's Professional Development Day Promotes Gender Inclusion

Riverdale's Professional Development Day Promotes Gender Inclusion

hoto Courtesy of  The Ackerman Institute   Logo for the Ackerman Institute's Moving Families Forward Program.

hoto Courtesy of The Ackerman Institute
Logo for the Ackerman Institute's Moving Families Forward Program.

American culture has come a long way in its willingness to accept and adapt to new expressions of gender. The media is taking big steps by honoring celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner for her courage, and CoverGirl recently presented its first ever male-identifying spokesperson. In this vein, Riverdale is also determined to become a more gender inclusive environment for all of its community members.

In an effort to be more welcoming and supportive, Riverdale recently hosted a Professional Development Day for all Riverdale faculty led by representatives from the Gender and Family Project at the Ackerman Institute. The day served as an opportunity to educate the Riverdale staff on how to successfully encourage gender awareness and to recognize community members who don’t conform to the gender binary.

The event, held on Tuesday, October 11, started with a lesson on gender vocabulary, presenting ways that teachers can discuss gender at school while ensuring that students of all different identities feel comfortable.

Dr. Abbe Karmen, an Upper School history teacher, was especially inspired by the Ackerman Institute during a brief visit last Spring, and wanted to follow through with what she learned. She decided to start with pronouns. Dr. Karmen said that she has always worn a label with her name on it for the first couple days of school. This year, she stuck to that tradition but also decided to include on the label the pronouns she would like to be addressed with and encouraged her students to do the same. “At the beginning of the year I gave table tents to my students and asked them to write their names on the front and, if they felt comfortable, to also write the pronoun they would like to be called by on the inside,” she said. “I just wanted to create a safe space for them.” Dr. Karmen explained and Professional Development Day emphasized that even the smallest changes in the classroom can have a big effect on how students behave in the outside world.

Professional Development Day also addressed how students respond to different genders in a classroom setting. The gender breakdown among the faculty at Riverdale is not evenly split, and there are certain ways that students listen to and communicate with one another based on preconceived biases.

When asked if she behaves differently in classrooms depending on the genders present, freshman Phoebe Hoffman said, “I don't think that I respond differently. However, I have noticed that some teachers will subconsciously make comments about what gender is speaking, participating, or calling out the most in class,” she said. Hoffman proposed that just openly talking about gender in classrooms will make it easier for both teachers and students to erase their stereotypical gender associations, whether they are intentional or not, and begin to treat everyone equally. This is exactly what Professional Development Day was hoping to encourage.

Ms. Cat Crocker, Dean of the Class of 2020, can understand Hoffman’s point. Ms. Crocker is proud of all that Riverdale has accomplished thus far, citing accomplishments like the recent addition of gender neutral bathrooms to the school, but she acknowledges that we still have a long way to go. “I'd love to see more gender neutral sports teams and students who do not identify as a boy or a girl participating,” said Ms. Crocker.

Both students and faculty recognize that Riverdale is already an accepting school, but the point of Professional Development Day was to consider what more can be done. The concept of gender is certain to keep evolving, and Riverdale strives to evolve with it.

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