Preparing Boys for Life.

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Questions for Men
Carmen Epstein

I am grateful to work at a school such as Haverford that values assemblies … both ones like the Thanksgiving experience where we tell why we’re grateful, and also these more intimate Reflection Assemblies where members of the community share something -- an experience, an idea, a passion. 

I am grateful to live in this country. My family came from a country torn by a military dictatorship. My parents and siblings found safety and opportunities here, in the United States, right before bringing me into the world. I was the first person in my family to be born in this country, the first United States citizen.

I am grateful for the family I have created with my husband, Eli. Every Friday night, on Shabbat, we go around the table and say what we are “agradecidos” for -- grateful. Mila, my almost-5-year-old-daughter, usually starts and says, some version of what we all say -- a list of the names of the people sitting at the table and something specific about them that we especially love and appreciate. 

And there are many other things I am grateful for … but these are the ones that are part of my ongoing self-reflection … the things that right now happen to be at the forefront of my mind. The thing that makes these exercises of acknowledging what we are thankful for really meaningful, is that without purposefully taking the time to stop and think about them, we wouldn’t necessarily remember to be and feel grateful. 

I could easily replace the words thankful or grateful with privileged. Except that the first two require a consciousness that the third does not. I am privileged in many ways that I do not recognize. We are all privileged in some way. Even though we have very different experiences and backgrounds, come from different socioeconomic statuses and races and genders and religions and on and on, we all have privilege. But we do not always stop to acknowledge that privilege or think thoughtfully about how to utilize it in the world. 

The thing that makes these exercises of acknowledging what we are thankful for really meaningful, is that without purposefully taking the time to stop and think about them, we wouldn’t necessarily remember to be and feel grateful. I could easily replace the words thankful or grateful with privileged. Except that the first two require a consciousness that the third does not.

The first time I critically examined my own privilege was when I met my Israeli friend Iddo. 
I had grown up in NYC and always heavily relied on the public transportation system to get me where I needed to go. I was convinced that the NYC subways were the best in the country, maybe the world. They run 24 hours a day and can take you anywhere in the five boroughs for the same price. As long as there is no construction taking place on the line you want to ride, it is incredibly efficient and fast. But when I made a plan to go uptown with my new friend Iddo, I realized that the system I had held in such high esteem was not made for people like him. Because of my privilege, I failed to see how inaccessible it was for people unlike myself.

Iddo has been in a wheelchair since he was a teenager. He got into an automobile accident and was never able to walk again. Every subway stop in NYC has stairs to get its riders from the street to the station platform. Some stations include a handicap accessible elevator, but most do not. The fast and efficient system I used to get around was not as fast and definitely not efficient for Iddo, who frequently needed to ride in the wrong direction in order to get to a station with an elevator, to then switch lines to go in another direction, never quite getting to where he wanted to go but getting as close as possible, using a station with an elevator to exit. 

I was already an adult when I met Iddo and had this realization about my privilege. Having grown up relatively poor as a young child, with immigrant parents, I never considered myself to be part of “the privileged group” because I had not yet come to understand that there are different kinds of privilege and we are all more than one thing. 

Yes, I am the daughter of immigrants, but I am also an educated, heterosexual, cisgender, pass-for-white, English speaking, able-bodied daughter of immigrants. We all have privileged groups we belong to and we all have challenges that we face -- and the combination of those parts are the pieces that make up who we are. And our ability to see and understand ourselves better helps us to seek out understanding of others. 

We all have privileged groups we belong to and we all have challenges that we face -- and the combination of those parts are the pieces that make up who we are. And our ability to see and understand ourselves better helps us to seek out understanding of others. 

My daughter, Penelope, was born on March 12 of this year. It was late on a Sunday night, with no one else on the road when we made our way to the birth center. Eli drove a couple miles over the speed limit when a police car pulled us over. We stopped and when I realized that it would take time for the officer to run our plates before even getting out of his car and approaching ours, I got impatient. Without hesitating, I got out of the car and somewhat aggressively walked toward the police vehicle opening my winter jacket to show off my nine-month belly yelling, “I’m in labor!” The officer immediately looked up and said, “Oh! You are? Sorry! You can go.” I got back into my car and we continued on our way. It wasn’t until later that the weight of what had transpired hit me. I didn’t hesitate to get out of a car in the middle of the night to confront a police officer who had pulled my vehicle over. My lack of hesitation, lack of fear or caution, is part of my privilege. 

What can I do with that privilege? I can start by acknowledging it and naming it. The next step would be to use it intentionally to make seen or heard those that are neither.

It has also been a privilege to work here at Haverford. I have learned so much during my time here both from the students and the amazing colleagues I have. it is a privilege to work at a school such as ours that allows its staff to grow and develop as people and lifelong learners. 

It has also been a privilege to work here at Haverford. I have learned so much during my time here both from the students and the amazing colleagues I have. it is a privilege to work at a school such as ours that allows its staff to grow and develop as people and lifelong learners. 

My first reflection four years ago was an excerpt of a dance piece called Questions for Women. So it is fitting that this last reflection be an excerpt from a response piece entitled Questions for Men.” As an artist, it is difficult to create art. It is difficult to find materials, performers, venues, audiences, but all these things were provided for me here. I am grateful for that.

Just as the Questions for Women piece had been done before, the Questions for Men piece is created around critical questions I asked men here in this community. Along with the performers, together we built a dance performance. Within those answers that people shared are acknowledgments of privilege and admissions of vulnerability. 

I feel honored to have an opportunity to amplify the voices of others. I hope to continue to work on this piece and to continue to acknowledge the privileges I have, to find ways to utilize them to inspire thought and ultimately, create change.
 

See the full performance of Questions for Men: