Thursday, July 12, 2007

Power

My Advocacy professor, Dr. Gentle, is a brilliant and original thinker, as well as an inherently kind person. I like and respect him both for his intellect and his respectful manner with his students. One of my classmates said that the hallmark of a good graduate school professor is one that makes you think in a totally different way about issues you've already considered, and Dr. Gentle definitely qualifies.

Dr. Gentle and I have had several good conversations, and I've learned a lot from him. He debriefed me after my meeting with Dean Evillene, advising me to seek my own internship next year and not approach the dean of the school with my quandary; it just wouldn't get me anywhere. When I told him some of the things she said to me, he said, "Well, you know what she's really saying: 'If you mess with us, we will mess with you.'"

"Isn't that an abuse of her power?" I asked him.

"After this is all over," he said, "you might want to write a reflection paper on the nature of power." I thought, "I'll just blog about it."

Yesterday Dr. Gentle walked us through a power analysis. You conduct a power analysis as part of your strategic approach to a "target" -- the person or institution you'll be dealing with to advocate for something. He asked whom we wanted to analyze, and I said, "Dean Evillene!"

No one in class was particularly surprised. But Dr. Gentle went along gamely. He told us the kind of questions we needed to ask -- where did she get her education (someone in class with a laptop looked at her profile on the school website: Fordham BA, Hunter MSW, CUNY grad center DSW), what kind of work has she done (research and direct practice on child welfare and battered women), what institutions is she affiliated with, where did she grow up, what kind of books and movies does she like, what about her personal life?

"When I was in her office for that lovely and pleasant meeting," I volunteered, "I saw a picture of her with her arm around another mannish, short-haired woman in a pantsuit. So I think she's...." I wanted to say, "The gruff, insensitive, middle-aged butch lesbian type, like Dr. Octopussy" but I held back.

"Gay," said Dr. Gentle. "Yes, she's been partnered with a prominent woman rabbi for many years. She's very open about that. I don't know why you students have trouble just saying that." Written out it seems a little harsh, but he wasn't castigating me, just pointing out an interesting reluctant tendency on the part of all of us.

You notice a few things right off the bat about Dean Evillene, Dr. Gentle told us. She's a New Yorker, born and bred. She has some pretty strong feminist credibility for two reasons -- working with battered women and being openly gay. And as the person who places 1,000 student volunteers at NYC nonprofits every year, she's one of the most powerful social workers in the city.

In my opinion, this makes what she did to me even worse. If she's got all this power, then she didn't need to wield it so cruelly and nastily against me. If I have so much less power than she does, it is reprehensible for her to use her power to denigrate me. And I'm not the only student she's treated so disrespectfully. She sets a terrible example of a feminist and a social worker.

I stated as much, and Dr. Gentle tactfully skirted the issue. He doesn't like taking sides, and frankly, taking my side against one of the most powerful social workers in NYC wouldn't be a very strategic move. He did point out that as manager of the internship department, she serves as a gatekeeper at the school. Essentially, she was hired to say no to students and make them do things they don't want to do. In that regard, she's a sterling success.

Among the attributes that confer power are privilege (i.e., who your family is, what race you are, what country you were born in), the ability to deploy numerous people to do as you will or suggest, and personal gifts or talents. I will never be able to overpower Dean Evillene in terms of the number of people I can command or influence, but I do have a gift for language. Powerless people have been satirizing the powerful for millennia; it's our only means of rebellion and defiance. If this blog ever is published as a book, Dean Evillene won't come out smelling very good.
Copyright (c) 2007 "Ayelet Survivor"

6 comments:

  1. go the dean and tell her you're a raging lesbian.

    that will solve EVERYTHING!

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  2. I think this Dr. Gentle is a smart and capable teacher, from whom you can learn a lot. But I wonder whether it's wise to let your struggles with administrators play out in such a public forum as class?

    Also, there aren't too many prominent lesbian rabbis, period. I think we can narrow the Dean's partner list to one or two likely suspects. She may have a problem with you--on a purely visceral level--for being Orthodox.

    What do you think?

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  3. Carmen, I trust Dr. Gentle and my classmates, or I wouldn't have brought my troubles to them. Besides, the classmates are all on my side -- several of them have also had run-ins with Dean Evillene and don't think much of her.

    I don't know if the Dean has a problem with me being orthodox, but she's actually not even Jewish, so I don't think the anti-ortho reaction would be as strong as it would if she were a reform Jew like her partner.

    Maven -- if only it were that easy....

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  4. It is wonderful that you have such a supportive professor and classmates! But I agree with Carmen. Keep your head down and get through the program so that you can get on with your career and focus on what matters. Don't waste your mental energy on trying to change someone like Dean Evillene.

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  5. If ever your blog is published, think twice about hashing out at a prominent person in your field while you are still a green newbie and before you have established a name of your own. You don't want to shoot yourself in the foot before you even got off the ground.

    I feel it is better for people to look forward to better things and spend their energies trying to achieve them, not to seek out ways to revenge people from the past. Revenge isn't pretty and stirs up bitter energy. Not a good vitamin for one's psyche. Best to get rid of it and feel clean.

    I'm glad you trust your teacher and your classmates, but remember, words have a way of getting around...

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  6. Riva and bella, you never let me have ANY fun ;) You're probably right. If this blog is bookified, I shouldn't include the entries dealing with Dean Evillene.

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