Clarence Fanto } Berkshire Eagle
LENOX — The use of a gender-insensitive term during a recent middle school musical production has prompted a push for diversity education measures among district administrators, staff and students.
In an email to the community, Lenox Memorial Middle and High School Principal Michael Knybel took the blame for the "derogatory, slang term" that was included in the musical production of "Shrek." "That term was the 'T' word (tranny)," he said, referring to a slur used to describe a transgender person.
"My number-one priority as Principal is to make all students feel safe and comfortable at this school and we made a mistake," Knybel said.
The incident also came up for discussion at Monday night's School Committee meeting. A parent, Jessie Fried, had submitted a letter to the committee earlier in the day about the "offensive language" and she suggested ideas "to make the school safe for all students," said committee Chairman Robert Vaughan.
The "inappropriate, offensive word was in the script as given to the kids," he pointed out. "I don't know what conversations may have transpired prior to the actual production but the performances went on with the word used" in all the shows.
In response to messages received about the incident, schools Superintendent Kimberly Merrick swiftly arranged a workshop presentation for the middle school students on Monday by Gwendolyn VanSant and her team from the nonprofit organization Multicultural Bridge, which promotes training and education to achieve safety, equity and justice.
Hannah Van Sickle | Berkshire Edge
Great Barrington — Vanessa LeGrande first met Gwendolyn VanSant a decade ago—the pair got to talking at the fitness facility where LeGrande was working and the idea of a barter took shape, one that would capitalize on the women’s respective strengths: LeGrande would help VanSant create a fitness regime and, in exchange, VanSant would teach LeGrande Spanish. With myriad commitments pulling the pair in different directions, neither woman was able to prioritize herself in order to make good on the deal. While the barter never worked out, the friendship blossomed nonetheless. Last Monday evening, LeGrande was one of the first in a long line of friends, colleagues and admirers speaking on behalf of VanSant, who was honored by Berkshire Business and Professional Women as the 2019 Woman of Achievement for her outstanding leadership, creative energy, and numerous contributions to the Berkshires and beyond.
“You are an amazing power of example, not only to the little black girls, but to the little white girls, and the Chinese girls, and the Hispanic girls,” LeGrande said in her impassioned remarks at the Country Club of Pittsfield. “I thank you for them, I thank you for me, I thank you for letting me know by your power of example that there is nothing too silly for me to say or do,” she added. “It is never too late.”
LeGrande, who spoke on the heels of District Attorney Andrea Harrington and Multicultural BRIDGE co-founder Bob Norris, recognized her friend as a person of amazing character, integrity and pure, humble honesty—one who has paved the way for so many in the community. In a follow up interview, LeGrande elaborated: “Gwen, through conversation, has helped me to understand that I should no longer remain silent for fear of what change might bring. In fact, if I do that, I help stagnate the possibility of change. The people who have strong words and who know how to use them, if they are continually backed down from the same baseline society, then how do we bring about change?”
Josh Landes } WAMC
The auditorium of Monument Mountain Regional High School was the setting for both halves of the epic meeting – one of the longest in recent memory.
On the first night, a spirited debate was held over a nonbinding vote on a citizen’s petition designed to gauge whether the town supported changing the name of Monument Valley Regional Middle School – part of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District – to W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School.
“I’d like to point out that the campaign to rename the middle school for Dr. Du Bois is part of a multiyear, multipronged initiative to celebrate the life, work, and legacy of Dr. Du Bois lead by Gwendolyn VanSant and Multicultural BRIDGE,” said Dr. Lara Setti.
Setti is the chair of the board of directors of Multicultural BRIDGE, a Lee-based racial justice and cultural competency training nonprofit organization. She said the petition came out of conversations between BRIDGE, Great Barrington’s Du Bois Center, the school committee, and the town’s selectboard. Du Bois, who was born in Great Barrington in 1868, went on to be the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University.
Great Barrington town meeting votes to rename middle school after W.E.B. Du Bois; session continued to Tuesday night
Terry Cowgill | Berkshire Edge
Great Barrington -- Annual town meetings in Great Barrington are often marathons, but tonight’s was so lengthy, so tortured, that it had to be continued until tomorrow night (Tuesday, May 7) at 6 p.m. Same time, same place.
Before the adjournment at 10:10 p.m. in the Monument Mountain Regional High School Auditorium, the town meeting made history. After lengthy – at times impassioned – debate, voters overwhelmingly approved a motion to endorse the renaming of the regional middle school after W.E.B. Du Bois – scholar, civl rights leader, and Great Barrington’s most famous native son.
(Click here to see the complete town meeting warrant.)
Several speakers, including three from Multicultural Bridge, noted Du Bois great achievements as a scholar and civil rights leader. A handful of others, including some veterans, objected to Du Bois’ late-in-life embrace of communism.
Josh Landes } WAMC
A Berkshire County professional women’s group is honoring a woman of color with an annual award for the first time in its 54-year history.
Claire Richards is the president of the Berkshire Business and Professional Women organization, founded in 1965.
“We’re a group of women that come together to help and support each other for networking, for career advancement,” she told WAMC.
This year, the woman being recognized as the group’s Woman of Achievement is Gwendolyn VanSant, co-founder and CEO of the cultural literacy and competence training group Multicultural BRIDGE. She’s also Vice Chair of the Town of Great Barrington W. E. B. Du Bois Legacy Committee, and a member of the board of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts and UU Mass Action Network.
Andrea Hurley, chair of the BBPW’s communications committee, offered this selection from VanSant’s nomination letter:
“For over a decade, Gwendolyn has done critical work in our community serving some of the most vulnerable neighbors. She is a fierce advocate, whose compassion and commitment to justice and to honoring the humanity of every individual is inspiring.”
VanSant helped found the Lee-based Multicultural BRIDGE in 2007.
“We are a minority and women run organization, and we really have touched almost every corner of our community – corporate, schools, law enforcement, and we work with youth, we work with elders, and we really just work on promoting mutual respect and understanding and providing tools for our community to communicate better, and to get along better, create policies and practices that are more inclusive, and just to create a stronger sense of collective humanity,” she told WAMC.