BENNINGTON — Bennington College added a new position to its faculty six months ago. The diversity office is run by an alum who plans to empower all persons at the college.
Lydia Brassard graduated from the college in 2008 after finishing her thesis, "Alumni Perspectives on Race at Bennington College." It wasn't until she had an African American professor during graduate school that she realized her interest in history and anthropology would lead to her commitment to "gender equity, anti racism, and free expression of who people are across the board."
"In terms of studying race, it came about because I was interested in U.S. history and I did not feel that studying from elementary school or primary school that I was getting the full story, and I was pretty suspicious, but I didn't really have any reason to be at that time," Brassard said. "There was so much I didn't know and I was trying to learn about U.S. history and it turns out that it's much more complicated and dynamic than I had known up to that point."
Brassard's transcendence comes from being a transnational adoptee from Guatemala and came to the states at three months old. Her parents are both ministers which allowed her to have a different interpretation than others of how a church operates.
"You learn a lot from a very young age about the expectations that people have," she said. "You learn a lot about how people think about how the world operates and when you're young and you don't fit into a category."
Outsiders believed Brassard and her sister, who's the same age as her, were best friends and really close because of their different skin tones. She also grew up in predominately white neighborhoods, which lead her to explore people's identities and differences at several times and places.
"Difference looks different in different places at the same time and at different times historically," she said. "Race in the U.S. in 2015 looks very different in Brazil in 2015. Who identifies as white and who can identify as white, what that looks like, what access whiteness gives you, employment or education, and in terms of the length of your life. So, it's about recognizing that there's a historical specificity to race in the U.S."
Her duties aren't the norm and include empowering individuals across the institution's board. Instead of hosting a Black History Month event, she facilitates the discussion in groups in which people wish to learn about such issues and how, Brassard believes, the talk should be about equity and not equality.
"How do we make diversity, inclusion, equity, anti-racism, social justice part of our institutional mission rather than black history month or women's history month. It's all of that and more."
Brassard's position primarily concerns being a coordinator for the institution and interacting with all sectors of the college as well as being a professor.
"Being a part of it but also observing how students are talking about race how we're talking about it in faculty meetings, how we're talking about it on the staff side in terms of diversity and inclusion and where the themes are that have in common, where they diverge, where can I bridge things that diverge," she said. "That's how I'm approaching this work and its evolving, which is the other exciting part."
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.