Ian Schroeder is a graduate student at the School for Social Service Administration. Ze tutors at Hyde Park Academy.
As a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I struggled to find a work study job that would work with my hectic and demanding schedule. For my first quarter I worked at a tutoring program on the north side, and started winter break determined to find something closer to my home in Bronzeville. I was ecstatic to find NSP and begin working at Hyde Park Academy (HPA), but I was thrown into my first day unsure of what to expect. As someone studying Social Work after several years serving street-based youth, I was a little disappointed to discover that I would be working only with the college-bound IB students. My favorite people to work with are young people that push back on the systems of oppression layered on their lives with so much force they often aren’t in school. My older sister and I were the first people in our family to graduate highschool, let alone graduate college. How was I going to relate to these young people who did their homework on time, took initiative to show up to school, and regularly followed HPA’s dress code?
In a conversation I had during my first week with my supervisor (who happens to be a rockstar advocate for her IB students on a daily basis), she apologized to me for the classroom etiquette of these young people. In this moment, I was reminded of the fact that people cannot see my roots in poverty when they look at me. I struggled through highschool, breaking all of the rules but falling in love with how learning took me away from the war zone in my neighborhood. While after years of experience with young people, I expect and enjoy the challenge and realness of building rapport with youth of color as a college-educated visibly-white boi. To this day, it still surprises me that other folks who serve this community in more structured settings (like after-school programs, highschools, support groups etc.) seem to expect me to be put-off by the behavioral expectations in these settings. In reality, I had never known anything different until I pushed myself into undergrad to escape an abusive partner.
In a recent English class at HPA, we were discussing Jane Eyre and whether there is economic equality for women today (there isn’t, in case anyone reading this was unaware). While my supervisor brought up the fact that there are a staggeringly disproportionate number of women vs. men students, I noticed that it was not mentioned that there are an even more staggering number of white teachers considering the student population of almost exclusively those of color. I was left with questions, as usual, about my role as a white person in fighting the racial injustices that structure our world. I was speaking with one of the students about this lapse in discussion after class, and this student looked at me like they were recognizing me for the first time. I will never forget her response of a simple, “Huh, yeah. No one has ever brought that up.”
That class and reflection moment made me realize that relating to young people who know they are college-bound was not going to be as difficult as I had thought. Even my whiteness and thus contribution to white supremacy seem to be a bigger issue to faculty and staff than to the young people (keeping in mind that we can never know how others feel unless they tell us). Rather, the assumptions of class privilege have been the hardest to overcome. I was deeply touched and surprised when it was clear that my trans*-ness wasn’t as much of an issue as I had assumed it would be in another discussion with my supervisor in which she inquired about my pronouns on behalf of the students. I have worked in many adult-only settings in which this question is never asked, and it always touches me that young people are much more wise, vulnerable, and caring than our society gives them credit for being. I move forward to continue wondering how my identities play into the ways I serve the students at Hyde Park Academy. I look forward to continuing to grapple with these questions and with my role as a NSP tutor.