Just Kidding: Identity and Joking Around, Discussions with Alison Park
Just Kidding: Identity and Joking Around, Discussions with Alison Park

By Eric Hogenson, Director of Grades 3-6 & STEAM Innovation K - 6

As you are aware, an ongoing goal for our school community is to deepen our understanding and intentions in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion. To further this work, we were honored and excited to welcome Alison Park to our campus on Tuesday, January 28. Alison, founder of Blink Consulting in the Bay Area, worked with our faculty and staff last year and has been a helpful guide in our journey over these last two years. 
Needless to say, we were thrilled to have her lead a workshop for our 5th and 6th grade students. Alison met with each grade level separately and posed thoughtful questions to the students about navigating the sometimes fuzzy line between joking around with someone and making fun of someone, intentional or not. To begin, Alison told the students a few stories from her own life about times when her friends had crossed the line with her. She challenged the students to think deeply about how important the appropriate use of language, body gestures, and popular culture references are, especially when an action refers to a person's identity. 
Alison deftly helped the students understand intent and impact of actions and words. The students worked in small groups to brainstorm ways to respond to a person if they were the recipient of a hurtful action or, alternatively, how to repair a situation if they make a mistake and hurt someone's feelings. Students identified resources and tools that they can employ in either situation. 
Later in the day, Alison met with our entire faculty and staff to review her work with the students. She reiterated that for young people to develop a deep understanding of each other, based on mutual respect, we need to carve out places for students to practice these skills. Alison also helped the teachers understand what they should reasonably be prepared to talk about with students, especially around the area of identity and identity slurs. 
We outlined some principles for talking about identity, including that there is no universally correct terminology. Also, that naming only "others" reinforces privilege and that naming "typical" or well-represented groups is an act of equity and inclusion, mutually. To end her work with our teachers, we talked about social media and the subtly racist, sexist, or homophobic memes and popular culture references that our children may be exposed to. Alison set the stage for our staff to continue conversations and goal-building around our practice of cultural competency and how to employ resources that will be useful to the community. 
That evening, Alison facilitated a workshop with our parents. She shared with them the highlights and takeaways of her discussions with the 5th and 6th grade students and engaged parents in an interactive workshop where they also explored issues about identity and joking around. During the evening event, parents talked in small groups focusing on questions including: How helpful is it to be politically correct? How does it waste our time tonight if we're politically correct? What is the difference between making fun of someone and joking around with someone? How do we bond through joking about our own identities? Parents shared some of their thoughts and feelings on these topics with the whole group, as we talked about how issues of identity come up in daily conversation and how we can help children learn to navigate an understanding of what is and is not okay to say in a world where there are often no definitive answers to that question. 
We look forward to continuing our conversation with Alison Park in the future and will keep you updated with our goals and progress.