A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Mix It Up Day

The Emory House has only three permanent residents: Amir, the dog, and me. But if you looked at the mail that comes through the slot every day, you'd think it was an apartment complex. I seem to have a lot of transient and/or jetsetting friends and relatives, and the Emory House is a handy mailing address. I've been given authority to winnow the stacks of catalogs and non-profit newsletters as I see fit, and put aside the rest.

The other day, I was glancing at the Southern Poverty Law Center's interesting Report. The SPLC is committed to tolerance education and to monitoring of hate groups. The current issue's front-page article is about the fifth annual Mix It Up at Lunch Day program. Four million students in over 10,000 schools participated in this program in 2006.

On Mix It Up at Lunch Day, kids are encouraged to sit with someone they don't normally sit with. Individual schools can organize this program any way they like. Kids might be instructed to sit together by birth month: all the January babies together, for example. Or different kinds of candy bars could be passed out, and then all the Milky Ways would sit at one table, Snickers at another. High school students might be encouraged, but not required, to sit with different people at one of a few specially marked tables in the lunchroom.

The lunch table does seem to me the ideal place to start breaking down barriers. Cheaper and easier than busing, for one thing. And it's surprising how much discrimination does occur at lunch tables.

When I worked as a collector for Sears, I was very aware of the boundaries. All the collectors were women; all the managers, men. The collectors used titles to address the managers: "Mr. Hyer," "Mr. Ribera." The managers, however, addressed the collectors by their given names: "Betty," "Carol." This despite the fact that most of the collectors were old enough to be the managers' mothers. In the break room, the managers never mixed with the collectors. I would sometimes be one of the few people in the office on a Friday night. The number two guy, Chuck Pelouze, who was my neighbor and whose daughter played with mine, frequently angling to get invited to our pool, would never give me the time of day in the break room. He'd sit at a separate table even if we were the only two in there.

When my daughter was a first-year student at Smith, she was in Laura Scales House. It's a beautiful residence hall which, with its sister house, Franklin King, forms a semicircle. The center of this Georgian-style Siamese twin is a gracious dining room. French doors on either side lead to loggias for each house. Incredibly in a school so hyper-committed to diversity and political correctness, Scales women all sit on one side, King women on the other. Within each side, there are Asian tables and African-American tables, too.

Well, in 1997 this system was in place, anyway. Maybe after five years of Mix It Up at Lunch day in the lower grades, King and Scales are finally integrated. "Comfort zones" are comfortable, but they can be dangerous.


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