The Other

stockton '77

Stockton State College, 1977

Today, I remembered what it felt like to be an “other.”

In 1977, I was awarded a full scholarship to attend college because I qualified as an “economically disadvantaged” student. It was a special program in New Jersey that still exists today called, “The Educational Outcome Fund (EOF).”

There was a catch though.

You had to be willing to be treated like a second-class citizen.

Each school had the freedom to run its EOF program however the administration felt it would yield the best results.  At Stockton, where I was admitted, we had to attend a special pre-admission summer session to assess whether we were “fit” for college. After all, the students in the program were all, you know, low-income.

We had to check into the dorms immediately after we graduated high school. Every morning at 6 a.m., we had to get up, boot camp style, and run a mile around the lake on the school’s campus. It was mandatory.

Next, it was a mad dash from the breakfast hall to all-day classes in remedial English and sMath, breaking only for a quick lunch.  There were grad school tutors who could smartsplain anything our low-achieving, yet promising, young minds couldn’t absorb. After classes, it was dinner, homework, and lights out. The program was regimented from morning to night.  If you didn’t conform, you forfeited your scholarship.

Naturally, as a somewhat oppressed club, we banded together and became known as a group of “the other” around campus.

There were always looks and sneers from the other summer students, as the group noticeably stuck out as mixed race, on a predominantly white suburban campus. We were branded “EOF students” and all of us knew what that meant.  Lesser than. Special, but not in a good way.  In a demeaning way.

I hated that feeling. I couldn’t wait to get on with my education, rise above my station in life, and shed my “other” skin in the dustbin of the Pine Barrens.

Today I was reminded of how it felt.  And it had to do with something as innocuous as Uber, the car-sharing service.  I’ll explain that in another post.  But, what I learned from this uncomfortable experience today is how effortlessly, because of the color of my skin, I was afforded easy social mobility once I got into the workforce.

I have no idea how many of my friends in that summer EOF program ever did finish college (I didn’t), or where they are today.  But, I am sure that the POC had a harder time than I did. That, regardless of their stature, education, accomplishments, and strong families, they’ve been “the other” all their lives with no escape. It’s shameful I’m just seeing them now in my rearview mirror, today in 2016.

And it’s simply because someone made me feel bad about myself today.

Black lives matter.  I’m getting it.  Really getting it.

 

Man Up

I wish I had more time to devote to this post, but we’re in a 24-hour news cycle, and the Cleveland kidnapping story will soon vanish from our short-term memory.  For those of us who’ve lived through and narrowly escaped domestic violence, this incident is (yet again) a long-term memory reminder.

“So, you know, I figured it was a domestic-violence dispute.”  What Charles Ramsey did – and I hope to God he is immortalized for it – is called “Bystander Intervention.”  As Amy Davidson writes in the New Yorker, “For Berry and the others to be rescued, in other words, two things had to happen: she had to never forget who she was, and that who she was mattered; and Ramsey needed to not care who she might be at all—to think that all that mattered was that a woman was trapped behind a door that wouldn’t open, and to walk onto the porch.”

Please take the 20 minutes to watch this TED video of Jackson Katz who asks a very simple question, “Why is violence against women a women’s issue?

 

Update: So, of course we now find out Ramsey has a domestic violence background of his own.

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High-Performing Women Perform – Always.

Read with some interest Paulette Light’s piece last week in the Atlantic.  “Why 43% of Women with Children Leave Jobs, and How to Get them Back.” Light is a good writer, and a budding entrepreneur.  She also has, as she says, “a similar background to Sandberg. With a BA from Columbia, a Masters from Harvard and an MBA from Wharton.”  She also has the benefit of a supportive, working spouse: “I know how lucky I am to have a partner who supports me in all ways, taking on more than his fair share of housework and parenting, sharing my philosophy, backing my ventures and listening to my struggles.”  Like Sandberg, Light is lucky.  For the rest of us, without those 1% head starts, it’s not so easy.  That said, I do agree with her.  And like my criticism of the Sandberg book, I hope she succeeds in getting her point into mass circulation.  This kind of thinking needs to start permeating the public consciousness in order to give women a modern-day break.  It actually will benefit me too, ultimately, but you’ll have to read to the end of this post to see that connection.

I left the workforce in 2001. First, I was laid off from a dot-com startup that went under.  The company was swept up in a tech sector that also imploded.  Shortly thereafter, 9/11 happened.  At the time, we lived in north Jersey and we were affected personally by the death of a friend.  It was at that time, I made the decision to retreat.  Quit.  Leave the workforce.  There is an image that is irrevocably etched in my brain of the footage from the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.  It is an image of hundreds of thousands of tiny pieces of paper floating to the ground.  Because most of my work life was pre-digital, all the work I had done in the sum total of my career had been done on paper.  That image signified to me, work is meaningless.  Nothing I had done professionally up to that point mattered at all in the grand scheme of things, and I felt compelled to politely bow out, and realign my priorities.

So I disengaged.  We moved into a small house that we owned at the Jersey shore, and I became a SAHM (stay-at-home-Mom).  We cut our family income by two-thirds (I was the sole supporter of the family until that point), and relied on my husband’s meager earnings in the construction industry.  I wanted to focus on my kids and my family – the only work that really mattered.

Now, unlike Ms. Light, I never struggled with “guilt, or “boredom,”  or ever struggled with “feeling overwhelmed.”  And I certainly never found myself, “many a mommygroup crying in the bathroom…”  No.  I LOVED being a SAHM.  During my 5-year tenure, along with all the home-cooked meals, gardening, doctor appointments, birthday parties, PTA meetings, etc., I was always busy.  This is just a sample of the projects I involved myself in:

  • Volunteered to be the press liaison for the local chamber of commerce.
  • Became a freelance writer for a leading NJ daily, the Asbury Park Press, covering local events
  • Helped brand and run a local township committee campaign
  • Managed my daughter’s singing career by orchestrating events and recording two demo CDs
  • Did PR and planning for a large volunteer Community-build Playground project
  • Organized a middle school Student Body President campaign for my daughter (she won)
  • Was part of a core team of volunteers to launch an annual event that celebrated our town’s heritage
  • Launched a small business for my ex-husband that generated over half a million dollars in its first year.

Had my marriage and the business worked out (very long story goes here), I would still be a SAHM.  In 2006, I had to return to the workforce as a single Mom–  financially and emotionally bankrupt, and desperate to support my children.  With a lot of hard work, I fought my way back into the professional world and was able to provide a decent quality of life for my kids with a combination of self-employment and employment.  But, I vowed upon returning to the professional world that I would not work in an office again.  There is something very stabilizing, very secure about “being here” every time my son (daughter now in college) walks in the door after school.

office

Every day my son comes home from school, he walks into my office, either plunks himself down on the rug or stands in the doorway, and tells me about his day.  We talk about his classes, how his work is progressing.  Anything that happened that day of interest.  He’s a good student. He spends most his time with his online gaming friends, but I can rest in the knowledge he is not engaged in most things that can derail a young, teenage boy (drugs, alcohol, etc.). I attribute my parenting diligence to that outcome. My middle daughter, who is a grown young woman now, will be graduating college next month at the top of her class.  I could not be more proud of all my children, including my oldest daughter who is juggling a busy schedule as a SAHM herself.  Both of my daughters are academic scholars.

Paulette Light’s main point in her piece revolves around finding a place for women who wish to return to work.  That place does not exist for most women, so we are forced to create our own businesses.  It’s not a bad option, but I assure you, especially as a single Mom, it’s a more difficult one.  Her advice is to create a mechanism for project-based work.  Interestingly enough, the business I just launched a few months ago, which is also somewhat in stealth mode, is focused on doing exactly that.  It’s not just SAHMs that want a more flexible work schedule, Dads do too.  The trending data suggests that 90 percent of firms have used contracted talent, and a recent Economist Intelligence Unit study found that 61 percent of senior executives anticipate a growing proportion of functions to be outsourced to contingent workers.

Net, net– If you want to bring talent back into to the marketplace without requiring them to “sit” there, you should invest in smart, high-performing professionals who can see this future and who care about what matters.  You can start here.

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