PROFESSOR, RESEARCHER, ART THERAPIST
Aaron: I've been putting myself out there and associating my name and my person with this type of work for the last year and a half in a really intense way. And so it's going to take maybe a little bit of conversation and kind of context and just digging into it to get other folks to come into that practice with me.
Megan: What you were saying about, you know, um not right away volunteering, I think that plays in like kind of the intersectional part of who I am too, because one, I am so much in still a learning stage about antiracism and skill building stage that it's hard to like, um, identify that way, you know. And also I feel like it's a continuum and it's something that you, it's a lifestyle, it's a choice. It's a constant, ongoing thing. So you know, I think that that's part of it. Um, and also, you know, selfishly like a little fear of like, if I say I am this way and other people are like, well, I've been harmed by you, what does that mean for the program I'm in and what I represent and that kind of thing. So thinking about it that way, but then part of doing anti-racist work is doing things that are uncomfortable. Right? Yeah. And, um, and so that was like a little bit about my hesitation around it.
Aaron: You said something about wanting to not de-center whiteness in the classroom. Can you talk about that a little bit more?
Megan: So when I first started teaching that social cultural or the multicultural course, it really felt like I was focusing on white people trying to learn about their own white awareness. And the textbooks that we had were all about, okay, we're a white profession, blah, blah.
You know, so my black students were like, okay, well, what about me? Like what are the skills I need? What if I have a white supervisor or what if I have a Latino supervisor or Latino client? Like the power differentials that play out in that. So I saw that evolve in the 10 years from going from here's, how you work with, um, LGBTQ people. And here's how you work with Black people. To let's understand power and privilege and oppression and how we've all participated in this system. So, and I think in some ways that de-centers the white experience. Right, right. Because before it was, the teachings were on like, okay, we're going to say that it's a given that you're all white students and here's the lecture based on what you need to do about your whiteness.
I think we still have the same reaction from our white students that we did when we were teaching it that way as when we're teaching it this way. Which is I'm feeling bad and guilt and shame for being white. And then they stay in that place. And they either are combative or they just stay in the wallowing part of who they are. And I'm like, okay, get over this, get to the action part. Um, so I think now it's something that I think about. Whiteness and Christian fragility are a big thing in our program right now that we're struggling with. How do we not have that media focus of white is bad? And just say, it's like another one of those tools that we have of understanding what it's like being a woman and understanding what it's like being able-bodied or all of those things.
And I expect it to change again. I expect what we're doing now to be like this, the wrong way to do it. And we're going to learn a different way 10 years from now too.
Aaron: In my personal experience and in getting involved and creating a and cultivating a deeper understanding of what whiteness is and seeing it in my own life and then reflecting on that and thinking about what that looks like in the world around me. I mean, shame is such a huge part of that beginning experience of this horror of like this privilege I was maybe blind to now I'm seeing it and I'm understanding the implications of that. And I don't want, I don't want to be connected to those implications. Um, and so I'm wondering did you experience that level or that kind of feeling of shame?
Megan: I'm sure I dip in and out of that all the time. I don't know what it is that I'm built this way, but I can like have a feeling and let it pass. And I know that that's not true for other people that they can kind of stick in with it. Um, you know, there are, when I'm in mixed company and we're talking about these kinds of things. I try to listen, you know, all the time, and then I naturally just take up space because part of it is being a teacher and it's part of like, um, overcoming learning disabilities as a younger person, and like wanting to claim that space more and then understanding, you know, like the different things that factor into taking up space.
And so I think that kind of comes up to where I'm like, God, I just fucking, you know, I just talked so much or, I made it again about a white experience. I think I feel shame in those ways where, um, or am like, oh, another thing where I just didn't know something. And I, you know, recently we were playing a game and I made a joke about Tupac. Somebody I kind of grew up with. And one of my black friends just shut down. It's like, that was so inappropriate. It's not my relationship. Like, he's an activist, he's done all of these things. And, um, I was like, okay, I'm sorry. Like, I appreciate you bringing it up. This is a learning experience. And, you know, we can kind of move on. And then I was like, I spent that night reading about all of his activism and stuff like that. So it's easy when I'm in an environment where people are willing to call me in. I feel like that's not necessarily the, those moments of shame that I stick with, you know, like I feel like more like that's us, but that's so rare, you know?
Aaron: You talked a little bit earlier about your friends who do anti-racist work. And when I emailed you, you said I would like to pass this on to my communities. Could you talk a little bit more about those groups and how they formed or how you got involved with them and then what that looks like for you still today?
Megan: So I feel like I have three kind of groups that are active in my life right now. So the more recent one is the NCCJ group that was all people from SIUE - staff, faculty, different, intersections like ableism and gender and race and all of that. So it was a nice mixed group of SIUE people. And we still go back and we meet pretty regularly. So that one I applied to be in.
I have a group of white educators here at SIUE that are interested in anti-oppressive work. And that was when I was trying to find more support for understanding navigating the institutional accountability angle. And saying, okay, what do I do when my dean's not responding to this issue? And so that group is for that.
And then, I'm part of a listserv of art therapy educators and somebody had posted, I think it was after the George Floyd. Like I'm finally understanding this a little bit better. And a few of our black faculty are like, I am so tired of having to explain this to you all, and I'm not going to do this anymore. And so there was like this back and forth. I reached out to a friend in Boston and a friend in California. Since I'm in the Midwest to pull people from other coasts. And I was like, let's see what we can do. So there's about 33 are therapy programs. So there's, I don't know, a hundred faculty and we've had a pretty steady consistency of like about 15 that come every month. Dealing with our white shit group is what we call it.
Aaron: Dealing with our white shit. I love that.
Megan: We created kind of a curriculum around self-awareness, awareness of others, organizational awareness, that kind of thing. So we're into a year and 15 months of meeting with that group. And it's fucking scary to see, like some of the educators are like, I don't even know what intersectionality means. And they've been teaching people for 20 some years, and then we have other people who are like, you know, I'm into liberation. To have that spectrum and to have a place where, you know, for the most part, we can come in there and say, you know, I totally messed up with a student. What do I do? Or I'm dealing with this issue and, I'm realizing I need some more thinking around this thing. So it's been an interesting thing to do with that group that's kind of slow to talk about and trust these things. Because there's so much shame. We polled them in the beginning and they were like the terms that they came up, guilt, shame, inaction, paralyzation, you know, all of those kinds of things. That has been an interesting thing to do and to have a little more awareness about how little some people know too. You know, and I come in there with like, oh, I did this wrong. Like every month, I'm like, I have plenty of things to talk about. But there are a lot of people who are still really quiet.
So those are kind of the three groups that I'm part of. And then I guess I'm joining another group in my community because I was thinking, okay I'm doing a lot of this on campus and in my field, but I want to get involved in my community. And so there's an Alliance for Interracial Dignity that's part of the Webster groves area where I live. So I've been learning more about them and I'm going to do an activity with them, like a book reading or something in March.
Megan: I think I could be very lazy, like any white person could be and not read things I mean, I'm in a group of white educators that haven't read anything since the 1980. So I don't think that the profession forces me to do them. So again, I have to make a personal choice.
Aaron: Yeah. So talk about that personal choice. Why have you decided to do this work professionally, and not just professionally, you know, cause you've, you're also recognizing that it's important that you engage in your community outside of academia. Because like you said, you know, you could read an article about systemic oppression in the art therapy field and then just be like, okay, well that was interesting. And, and let it go. So what do you think kind of kept you?
Megan: Yeah, that's uh, I don't know if I ha- I think having groups of people that hold me accountable like that, that's part of it, but I want to have a better relationship with people. You know, obviously I'm in a profession where I want people to be healthier. And that's part of, if I really believe that that's part of this whole system, right. So it's not just like one-on-one conversations, I'm having with people, but it's about healthcare for all. It's about changing systems.
And I think that that, that has actually been ingrained by my parents. They were like of service to other people. So I just took it in this way where it was like, okay. But I was late to it, you know? I mean, I, I didn't have to make this choice. So I think part of it is like telling myself, I don't want to go back and how easy that is.
I also think it helps having a partner that's interested in this stuff too. So even if he wants to fight me and argue about this, it's still something that we talk about. Right. So we both read Caste, and then we talked about that. You know, understanding history is part of public policy and on all these different ways.