By: Moonasia Williams
BSA has welcomed brand new art and academic teachers but we also have welcomed those who want to make a change to the BSA community and that is exactly who Melanie Hood-Wilson is. I conducted an interview with this lovely woman on her vision for BSA and what she wants to accomplish in working with the BSA community. Below are my questions and her responses.
Who are you and what’s your name?
My name is Melanie Hood-Wilson. I am the new DEI Coordinator for Baltimore School for the Arts. I am a BSA alum, class of 1989 Acting.
What is your goal for Equality and Inclusion? Why is this important?
I want to help BSA become a place where all students feel welcome, loved, and included for who they are- all of who they are. This is crucial to develop the safe and brave spaces where art can happen and where young artists can feel able to satisfy intellectual curiosity, grow, and progress.
Why is being diverse important to you?
Diversity brings a wealth of perspectives and life experiences that lead to all of us having greater and stronger understandings of the world we live in, our nation, and our community of artists and intellectuals here at BSA. Art is about portraying life in all of its intricacies. It’s important that “life” doesn’t only mean one type of experience.
Is there anything you think people misunderstand about what you do?
I think some people think that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion equals “woke.” There is no such thing as woke. We are all on a journey to a place of better understanding and deeper respect for the people with whom we share this earth. And we all come at that from different perspectives and different starting points. The goal is for all of us, students, staff, and even parents, to come to a deeper and wider understanding of each other so that we can treat each other with sensitivity, respect, and empathy.
As an alumni do you think that BSA has changed?
Like any dynamic community, BSA is ever-evolving. When I attended BSA, it was very much a school for young artists who happened to be high school students. We did not have clubs or a student government or a consistent newspaper.There was little, if any, attention to mental health or issues of equity and inclusion. We did, however, receive a super-rigorous arts education, some have called it an “arts boot camp” that made us tough and ready for the challenges and rigors and, yes, the ruthlessness of the arts world. One hallmark of being a first year student was seeing more and more of your classmates disappear each quarter because they were kicked out for not meeting expectations.
Do you think BSA prepares students for the future?
Yes! BSA today is very much a place for high schoolers who are artists. There are so many more resources and also programmatic considerations for students who are struggling academically, artistically, socially, and emotionally. Students are now given greater opportunities to find their way and to find their strengths without the threat to being booted. There is also a deeper understanding of adolescent development and how to teach and mold young artists, intellectuals, and activists in a way that is appropriate to their stages of development. Treating a teenager like an adult doesn’t make a teen an adult. It just makes that teen stressed out and mentally unwell.
Why did you pick this field and what motivated you and your interests for change?
I have been an educator for almost 30 years. I have been a Baltimore City middle school teacher. I spent 18 years in educational leadership designing and managing programming for adults with disabilities at a local community college. I have led educational nonprofits, served on a lot of nonprofit boards, was president of Baltimore City Schools’ Parent and Community Advisory Board (PCAB), I am a charter school founder and served on the school system’s charter advisory council. I started my educational consulting business in 2019 to continue my work of providing customized education for struggling learners and those who learn best through alternative methodology, as well as educational programming and development for underserved populations.
Did you receive any backlash while doing what you do, and if so how do you overcome that?Fortunately, I’ve yet to encounter professional backlash for what I do for a living. Now, social media is another thing!!!
Do you think BSA is a good community and if so how did it influence you to come back and help?
BSA is one of the most dynamic and exceptional communities of learners that I have ever encountered. The old slogan, “Where the arts change kids’ lives” is very true of me. My happiest time as a student was at BSA. I absolutely loved my time at Sarah Lawrence College, but BSA is home. It’s such a joy to return in a way in which I can be of use to this community. I am in awe of the activist spirit that is so alive in today’s BSA kids. This was not nearly as true when I was a student. This made me super excited to come work with these amazing, passionate young people to help them to refine their worldviews and their understanding of the diverse world in which they are coming into adulthood.
For people who don’t know what you do, why should people know about your job and why it is important?
I want BSA students, staff, and community to know that I am here to help build understanding of the diverse backgrounds, life experiences, identities, and personalities that make the BSA community. My goal is to help.
Do you think Diversity,Equality and Inclusion is something that all schools should have and if so why?
Principal Roz and all of BSA to build a place where we all respect and accept each other for all of our differences and work together as a stronger and more unified community of artists and intellectuals. This is work that should be happening at every school. Our differences are the elephant in the room- most schools don’t address differences and hope not to discuss them in meaningful ways. However, if we don’t acknowledge and discuss cultural differences in a meaningful way, those differences end up being acknowledged in ways that are often hurtful, exclusionary, and alienating. My job is to help avoid that by facilitating learning and open communication.
What do you hope for in the future and what do you do?
I am hoping for a long and fruitful relationship with BSA. I have big plans for next year and beyond! I’m just getting started!!If you would like to contact Ms.Hood-Wilson you can contact her at. firstname.lastname@example.org or meet with her office in the brownstone on Wednesday.
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