M came to my retirement party last month. I was amazed and so grateful to see her there. The last time I had seen her had been shortly after her graduation ceremony. It was in a grocery store — but that story is included elsewhere in this book.
When I saw her at my retirement party, M looked great! Healthy, confident and content. She seemed to be as honoured by my recognition of her — and that I remembered her — as I was about her making the effort to attend my party. We stood stock-still and smiled at each other for what felt like half an hour. Well, it was probably only a minute or two, but by the time I realized what we were doing I thought it must’ve been way too long. We hugged and chatted and caught up with each others’ lives. She’s working at a good job, living with her partner and they have a lovely baby; I’m so happy for her. Yeah, we shared pictures.
I pointed, “did you see R over there?” She looked at me, losing her smile a little. Turning her back on them she said, yes, she had seen him. I thought, what hurt she must still be feeling…
Later in the event, I wandered over to R. We talked briefly about my human rights tribunal case; he said, “I guess you’re glad that’s all behind you.“
I looked at him curiously: “No, no,” I replied, “it’s not over, yet.” I mean, the Tribunal hearing is still coming up, and, before that, hopefully, another day of mediation.
It appeared to me that he reacted with some surprise. Why would he think it was resolved already?
Actually, although I was worried R or E would show up and make my retirement party awkward, I was glad R came: I had wanted to tell him that I appreciated his attempts to improve the behaviours of faculty and students in our department — I mean, he did try — and that I ended up being treated so poorly because he never receive the resources necessary to effectively lead a cultural change. I believe R understood the issues of microaggressions and systemic bias but, without training, he just couldn’t make things better. So, I forgave him. He looked a little confused by that, too. I left it there.
Before moving on, however, I asked if he knew that M was in the room; he said “you know she’s the one that used to be a he?” or something like that. Anyway, I looked at him curiously again. Why was that the first thing he said? Why didn’t he ask me how she was or what she was up to…?
I am very grateful for the amazing things said by so many people at that retirement party.
Thank you, all of you who came and all who signed my card. Thank you for talking about how you shared stories of my use of active learning in engineering classes; for sharing pictures of me in the classroom; for talking about our fun times teaching the ISW; for stories about our many conversations exploring the work of my doctoral research; for talking about how I inspired you to work on fostering inclusion in engineering, just as you inspired me; for talking about the common experiences you and I had in our respective fields of sports and engineering, and how we supported each other through the tough times; for reminding me of my many accomplishments — did I really do all that? — and of the many ways I succeeded in improving and influencing the organizational culture of the college.
I guess I didn’t really fail, after all. I did bring the college a long way towards greater awareness of inclusion and fostering a desire to make positive change. And perhaps I can continue to enhance the college’s future from the outside.