This year, on December 7, 2017, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is calling special attention to the support of transgender youth in schools with national readings of I am Jazz a critically acclaimed children’s book by HRC Youth Ambassador, Jazz Jennings.

As the Dean of the College of Education, and an advocate of social justice in educational practice, I have purchased the book and will not only be reading it to my children, but will be recording a reading of it to post online (which will be available on December 7 as link via the College of Education’s Facebook page).

I am particularly passionate about this issue, not only because of the University’s pledge to inclusivity, but more specifically because of how my own experience as a teacher and former middle school administrator was touched so dearly by a young student who was described as “gender nonconforming” and “queer,” by his (yes, he prefers that pronoun; I asked) peers and school staff. In the years that I worked with this student, I made a commitment to be his advocate– a trusted adult who would uplift his spirit and support him through a very challenging time.

My efforts were not without difficulty; I recall an incident with one of my supervisors when I refused to punish/discipline this child for wearing clothing that did not conform to his birth sex. I had no idea that a pair of capris with embroidered daisies would have caused such turmoil. It is with such pride that I have seen this young, awkward adolescent (let’s face it, all adolescents are awkward) become a thriving adult, living in LA and scoring roles in movies and television shows, building and maintaining loving friendships. In my years as a school administrator, I have never known a child to have struggled so much with both peer and adult relationships because of the closed-mindedness and bigotry of others.  This experience made me a fierce advocate for youth who don’t always fit in the box of what many consider “typical.”

Feeling passionate about the issue is not enough. It is important to me that I use my role as a professor and academic administrator to take actions that demonstrate my commitment.  I use examples in my courses that are inclusive of the LGBTQ community. I arranged for the College of Education to occasionally offer Professional Development Institutes for preservice and in-service teachers on working with LGBTQ colleagues, students, and families. Last, I am currently supporting another MBU faculty member in the development of an elective course in LGBTQ issues in school/teaching/coaching settings.

I invite you to be an advocate with me, to read more about the National “I am Jazz” School and Community Readings, and to access the recording on our Facebook page on December 7th.

By Dr. Rachel Potter, Dean of the College of Education

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