Sunday, March 20, 2011
Freeburg Tee-Shirts -- Midwest Advocacy Trip-- Part III
In the last post, I alluded to a difference between Ethan and me. During our tour of the high school, Ethan told the principal that a student openly called us 'midgets.' I probably wouldn't have done that. Ethan made the right call. It was better for the principal to know what happened, considering he later told the assistant principal and the superintendent about the incident. The tour was not the only time during the visit that Ethan's more aggressive approach reaped a positive outcome.
As part of the student interviews, the first day of our visit to Freeburg we asked the student groups what they believed other high school students, outside of Freeburg, thought about the Freeburg Mascot. The majority of the students gave a positive response. At least two of the groups related the positive response in the form of anecdotes about the Freeburg Midget Tee-Shirts. They told us stories about wearing the tee-shirts while away at camp, or while visiting relatives out of state. According to the students, many people, who saw the tee-shirts, wanted one for themselves. "Where can I get one of those?" people outside of Freeburg would ask the students. "They think it's unique," the students told us, when we asked why people outside of Freeburg would want a shirt.
Between the student interviews, and our presentation to the School Board, Ethan and I didn't have much time to reflect. But while at Steak & Shake, we talked about what it meant that the shirts were so popular outside of town. We found it difficult to believe Freeburg school spirit extended well beyond the city limits of Freeburg and the Illinois state line. We knew that the popularity of the shirts had more to do with the antiquated popular culture representation of dwarfs as inherently funny because of their physical difference. Also, in the face of rising awareness against use of the word 'midget', the shirts give people who believe physical difference is funny a free-pass to use the word.
While at dinner, after Ethan mentioned that we should mention the shirts at the school board meeting, I (the cautious one) suggested that we do so by raising the question, "Why are the shirts so popular, because of school spirit, or objectification of difference?"
At the meeting, Ethan didn't present it as a question. He basically told the board that people outside of town aren't buying shirts because of their love for the high school. My heart started beating a little faster while Ethan talked about the shirts, but again, his assertive nature paid off. The next day, the Superintendent brought up the sale of tee-shirt as the piece of our presentation that really stood out, and he recognized the tee-shirts as an issue that needs follow-up.
And follow-up is key. Ethan and I plan to visit six different districts as part of this Midwest Advocacy Trip. We've planned well for the visits and the interviews, but we don't exactly know what will happen after the visits. At least in Freeburg, the tee-shirt issue gives Ethan and me an open door through which we can continue to communicate our message. A message which will hopefully influence future decisions.