Marcus Legrand recommended Christy to participate here. It took a few months for us to put something on the calendar as Christy keeps herself fairly busy with teaching at eight different high schools while simultaneously pursuing a Master's degree. I am sure had we met sooner, our conversation would have still been rich, but I can't help but be thankful we met when we did as I've lately started pushing a bit harder and asking more difficult questions during these interviews and Christy was up for the task.
We talk about education, about inclusion, about our brutal history as a nation and our hope for a better future. I recommend listening to this interview as it is conversational and our passionate back and forth is easier to engage in through listening than it is through reading. But either way you take it in, I am sure you will be inspired.
CW: I am Christy Walker. I am a Latinx, cis-gendered, able-bodied woman. I have been married for almost 15 years to the love of my life, Alan. Together we have two wonderful dogs and we are the cool tíos to several nieces and nephews. Daughter, sister, cousin, friend, educator, equity champion.
ACT: What concerns you? What affects you personally and then what motivates you to do something about it?
CW: What concerns me the most is the lack of education of folks in our area. I don't necessarily mean in the traditional schooling sense, but I just mean that people are willing to be ignorant about issues that are going on. If you don't live in the particular skin, then you tend to not care about what other people are going through.
In my job, I see how underrepresented youth are treated and the opportunities that are missed. The lack of representation they have, it's heartbreaking. If I am one of their only teachers that can relate to them as far as our ethnic backgrounds, that's really sad. Even curriculum, how it doesn't represent who they are - they tend to be cast aside as a quirky sidekick instead of a hero in a story. It could be so simple. Change a word problem in math so that maybe the name is Diego instead of John to make people feel included. It's just very sad to me that people are so closed off to understanding other people and understanding why that's an issue.
A lot of people will ask me, Why is that so important for these students to have their names or have someone that looks like them? They've never had to think about it. They've never been the only brown student in the classroom. When the topic of racism comes up, everybody looks to that student. They've never been the only person of anything in any area and so they don't understand. They'll never understand what that means. And, to be honest, I won't understand that either because of how I look. But you need to be able to empathize and relate with that and not just cast it aside as if it's nothing. People tend to think that people's emotions, when they're feeling hurt, that they're just overreacting or that they're just angry and they delegitimize what they're feeling because, again, they'll never experience it. So, I guess I'm sad about a lot of things.
I think that people with privilege need to do what they can to help others that don't have that privilege. And I'm not saying to speak for them, but to help pave the way so that they can speak for themselves. Not step in and be the savior, because that happens, too - wanting to change everything for everybody. We can't do that. But what we can do is help people get to where they need to get so that they can be the change agents for themselves.
I see in education how unsupported these students feel. I do feel that there is a lot more support starting to happen, but it's not there yet. And there's still a lot of resistance and people that really just don't understand why it's important. I feel like I see it all the time. As a Latina woman, I get that a lot. Oh, well, maybe you're not quite capable of this or that. And I feel very lucky because of the color of my skin and my accent you can't tell that Spanish was my first language. I don't get that quite as much. My parents have lived in this country for 40 years and they still have accents. And sometimes we'll go out and folks will start talking to them and they'll respond and then the people that we're talking to will automatically start looking at me as if because they have an accent they can't understand what's going on anymore. It's like every day you see that. For me, I see that on such a small scale, but I know that the students see it every day and they live with it every day.
ACT: Why do you suppose there's this general need to try to be inclusive instead of our just being inclusive? Why are we in a position where we have to demand that people go out of their way to do what seems should be a natural part of being human?
CW: Oregon's racist by design. It's not a mystery as to why it's so homogenous here. We're the only state in the Union that had a clause that said, No colored people allowed. That is a huge thing! So, folks weren't welcome here. Now that our demographics are continuously changing to show a bigger representation of what the world actually is like, there has to be systemic change that comes along with that. It's not so much about trying; it is about being. And you have to start somewhere.
When changes are happening and you get more folks coming to school that represent with a marginalized identity, you have to make sure that they feel welcome. And in our community right now, they don't feel welcome. A place like COCC, we consider ourselves to be part of the community. And a lot of folks come here and it's not a one-size-fits-all. You have to be make sure you're open and welcoming to everybody. And I think there's a big focus on that right now because there's a shift happening. There are more people that are coming to be educated. There are more people that represent with different identities. And so it looks like there's this big light on diversity and inclusion and there is because there has to be change. If we continue going the way that it always has been, then that means it's not welcoming. Right? Because that's how Oregon has been. I think it's just the nature of everything where people are just okay with the status quo. And it's not okay to be okay with that anymore. You have to call things out. It's not just this one random person that's coming in here; there are hundreds of folks that are coming here.
I am an optimistic person and I believe that we can make change through education. I believe that the more that we educate people, the more that we give them opportunities, the better our society will be. And if we can start small within our small community here and then expand out, then wonderful. But this community needs to change.
ACT: Why is it true that ignorance became the status quo? Why is that we're not just naturally accepting, inclusive, loving, kind? Maybe this is rhetorical or maybe you have answer. Our learning to be inclusive of one minority group doesn't seem to naturally translate to our being inclusive of all the others. And somehow we have to start all over with each group. Why are we so determined to be so terrible?
CW: That is a huge question. And you're right, it shouldn't be that way. We should just be able to be open and inclusive of everybody regardless of who they are, where they came from, what their gender identity is, any of it. We should be able to live that way. And we are born that way and then we're taught what we should prefer. We're taught what is right and wrong.
Look at the doll test where they gave children a black doll and a white doll and asked them which one was better. They had students that were from the black community. They had Latinx students. They had all different types of students that were there - little kids, like five years old - and they were already identifying the black doll as the bad doll. And that's because that's learned. And why do we do that? Who knows? Because there is this hierarchy of, for some reason, white is better. I don't know where that came from. For some reason life got this terrible spin and now there's folks like us trying to repair it. And it is a huge task. It's terrible. It's very depressing to think about that. Why does life have to be like this when we could all just be together and we could all just love each other without these comparisons?
ACT: What do we mean to each other, individual to individual?
CW: I think that no person is an island. And you can't live life alone. We have to support each other and that's why we have to interact with each other. While the things that we do might feel so small-scale compared to the universe, it's important to do the best that we can with the life that we have. If you can make a positive impact, then you should. Personally, I feel really drawn and compelled to this kind of work because I feel like I've had it pretty easy, to be honest, in a lot of ways. Don't get me wrong, I've had my own struggles and my own share of things. But I also feel like I need to use the privileges that I have to help other people. Because we're connected. It's not fair that I get other things just because of the color of my skin. I didn't control that. I didn't earn that.
I feel like it's up to us to level the playing field so that we can all live in harmony. We have this one world that we're living in. How is it that it's okay to be battling each other over everything and fighting over everything? There's so much injustice. It blows my mind. What's happening in this world? How are people, for lack of a better term, so stupid? Or just so blind to things? And how is it okay to just live and not do anything about it? But I think that we're all interconnected. And what we do... you might not think that it impacts other people, but it does. There are chain reactions and there are things that happen. What we say and what we do affects others and sometimes in ways that we have no idea. So, it's important to be mindful of our actions and what we say and how we affect others.
ACT: Do you have a sense of purpose?
CW: I do. On the greater scale, I want to help change the world. But, you know, I think a lot of us do. On the smaller, realistic scale, I want to help improve our community. I want to help make changes in our immediate community and, like I said before, I think that we can do that through education. I think that when folks see that there are people out here that are really passionate about this and really care and that it's not just this surface thing - this one-off training and then I'm done - that it will be impactful. When folks start to see that we really are trying to make changes and that we really are responsive and empathetic to their situations, I think that's huge. I've been really lucky in my work and, again, I feel really supported by my work to be able to go into the community and make these kinds of connections and to provide opportunities for students.
The feeling when a family comes to you and just says, Thank you. We never thought that our child would have this opportunity or the student is crying in your office because they can't believe that they got that scholarship, those are huge moments. Folks that never thought that they could succeed because their whole life they were told they couldn't, now they're finally being told that they can. That's a huge change. It's a shift. And if we get more people engaged in that and telling them that they can do that, it's gonna change things.
If people keep coming here... and this is what I don't understand is the resistance to that. You know what? People are coming here. They're coming. So, why would you create these barriers and these blocks and make our community this hostile place instead of providing resources to help people be productive members of our community? It seems so backwards to me. If we want to be this harmonious place, why would we do that? Why be so closed off and not appreciative of what other folks can bring to the table?
ACT: Why should we expect any different the way we founded this country was so atrocious? Why do we honor Columbus? Why have we just gotten a museum that's completely dedicated to remember the atrocities that we committed during slavery? It's unsurprising that we're so terrible because we've only been terrible. But why is there terribleness in the first place? Why wouldn't it be the same when all it's been since is just rewarding climbing to the top and elitism and money? There are so many issues that come from this that are unfathomable, but we're still doing it every day. We all, generally speaking, continue to participate in the system. And that is human behavior across all nations and across all histories.
CW: Yeah, historically, these are patterns that we keep repeating. It just continues to happen. But without hope, then what are we living for? Then what are we working for? You have to hope for better. Because the alternative is what, to just be complacent with what we have? To me, that's not an option. And I think that there are other people like me that feel that way, too. It's shitty. It is. It's terrible. When you look at history it's hard not to be depressed about what's happening, especially when you see things being mirrored.
It's difficult. And you're not wrong that we have been terrible as a whole, as a population. And there have been these terrible choices made. There has to be people that continue to fight against those choices, fight against the system, that are willing to make waves, are willing to be disrupters. I know a lot of times when people start to know me, they know when I walk into a room they have to be careful of what they say. And I'm okay with that. And I have lost a couple friends because of it and I'm okay with that, too. Because I don't want to be a friend with someone who isn't mindful, who doesn't care about other people. I think that there are a lot of us out there that are fighting the fight. And like I said before, without hope, then what do we have? And that's probably a little naive and I understand that, but, to me, it's what I live for - hope for change. Something's got to give at some point.
ACT: Do you have anything that you'd like to say in closing? And what do you need to be more effective?
CW: I think that we need more platforms to be able to speak out. I think that we need to be invited to the table. While you were saying earlier that this is small scale still, I think that we need more things like this. You said 140 interviews? That's 140 people that you were able to reach out to and connect with. That's amazing! We need more of that. I think we need more people to step up and [be] willing to risk discomfort and to step out and not be complacent and to turn a blind eye. For me, what I need is support in that. And I need for change. I need for people to be willing to be open to change and not be okay with saying that it's okay to have things the way they are. Or definitely not saying they want things to go back to the way they were in the olden days. Definitely not. And I think the only way to move forward is to move forward with positivity and not to forget the past because the past should inform what we do for the future, but to look at the past as a tool - as a resource to show us what we shouldn't be doing to move forward.