Brace Center’s Summer Gender Institute Enables Education for Teachers

The Brace Center for Gender Studies’ Summer Gender Institute is a program that invites educators to participate in workshops that build their understanding of gender in schools. Flavia M. Vidal, Director of Brace Center for Gender Studies and Coordinator of the Summer Gender Institute, describes the program as an opportunity for faculty and staff to explore the topic of gender.

“The summer gender institute is a professional development opportunity for faculty and staff members from both independent schools and public schools that focuses on gender developing skills about gender issues, and about sexuality issues that can serve them in whatever area of the work that they do… it helps them develop their gender competency and awareness, and even skills of advocacy and so on so that they can become better educators,” said Vidal.

The program itself consists of multiple daily sessions on gender topics taught by various presenters throughout the week. The presenters choose topics related to gender that are important to them, whether they are topics that they explore in their daily jobs, or something they have been conducting prior research on.

“We invite a variety of people that we know who are experts on gender in some way or another, a lot of them are our own faculty members, some of them are people outside of Andover that we know either in other schools… or sometimes colleges and universities that do work related to gender… Each of the presenters actually selects their topic… and they use that opportunity to present that new idea as they would, for example, at a conference or a symposium,” said Vidal.

Emma Staffaroni, Instructor in English and Program Coordinator for Community and Multicultural Development, was one of eleven presenters who helped assist the institute the past few summers. She has led sessions exploring movements for reproductive justice and on the intersection of Islamophobia and gender.

“My workshops are meant to raise awareness about a particular feminist topic as well as provoke reflection and introspection…My hope is that the readings and activities I share give people a chance to see the world through new eyes, and possibly even develop deeper empathy for others…I hope that this helps the participants at the Institute to see our world differently, to understand history, and to push for change in their own communities,” said Staffaroni.

James Ventre ’79, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, participated in the program during its first year. He was drawn to the program because of his desire to learn more about historically marginalized and privileged communities. After participating in the program, Mr. Ventre applied what he had learned to his work in the Admission Team.

“The Summer Gender Institute helped me to understand better our essential work in creating intersectional equity and access to an Andover education. The Summer Gender Institute empowered us in our responsibility to foster a campus environment which honors intersectional identities and continues our imperative to move from diversity initiatives to a climate of inclusion. My equity and inclusion toolbox is much stronger,” said Ventre.

Many participants shared Ventre’s takeaways, including Nicholas Zufelt, Instructor in Math. After participating in the Summer Institute, Dr. Zufelt became more aware of the marginalization of women and gender non-binary in his field of computer science.

“I consider it an important goal personally and for the Math Department to ensure that our computer science courses are not reinforcing this trend.  I attended the Summer Gender Institute to learn about the ways I can create as inclusive a classroom as possible… I think having a working knowledge of these topics has a great many imperceptible effects on my teaching, from the topics that I choose to the examples I cite,” said Zufelt.

For Dr. Vidal, the program has a great opportunity to bond with other faculty members over issues of gender that are very important to her. She really enjoys how the program creates spaces in which participants feel comfortable enough to open up and share important past experiences.

“I really like the institute, I’ve loved every minute of it ever since we started, but I think my favorite part of it is the idea that you have people who are just so interested in gender as part of their professional lives but also as part of their personal lives… we end up creating spaces where people feel really comfortable sharing very intimate moments of their lives both as educators but also their lives as human beings and really seeing how gender is such a fundamental aspect of everybody’s identity.” said Vidal.