We Need a #MeToo Movement for Depression


I am stunned–not surprised–today at the news that Anthony Bourdain committed suicide at the age of 61. It was the successful business woman Kate Spade just a few days ago. The stigma and shame around depression drives people, even (maybe particularly) highly successful people in our society, to keep mental health struggles a secret. A secret that is closely held and private. A secret that they do not share with their closest friends and family. I say that I am not surprised because I have experienced living a double-life, a split existence, where I performed as a professional, friends and colleagues would say I was “really together” while at the same time in my personal space at home and in my head I struggled with a deep depression. In today’s world we preform our most attractive and happiest selves on social media–look at my best selfie, look at my vacation photos, look at all the cool stuff I am doing. We censor our images of ourselves, we censor our personal realities in ways that drive the silence about our struggles even deeper inside of ourselves. My shame about my depression kept me from getting help for a long time–even today I have hardly told anyone about my mental health issues except my therapists. That’s how deep the shame goes and how sharp the disconnect can be between one’s performance in the world and one’s personal deeply held reality.

We need a #MeToo Movement for Depression.

We need to care about this problem and not just give it lip service when there is a school shooting or when someone famous takes their own life. The rates of suicide are dramatically increasing and mostly among my age group. This of how long we have held our depression so close to the vest that it feels impossible to reach out, to see that there may be a different way to experience yourself.

This disconnect between how we perform in the world and how we experience our personal selves frightens me–this is what drove me to get help when I was younger and compels me to get help today. Although I have done a lot of healing over my lifetime, I still have the tendency to feel so ashamed of my depressions that I talk myself out of getting professional support and sharing my reality with those closest to me. Okay, I will say it out loud–during these times I have had conversations with suicide. This scares me, because like Bourdain and Spade I have so many good things in my life. So, I am stunned by the suicide of Anthony Bourdain, but I am not surprised that he kept his pain to himself. Fortunately, I have come to understand that asking for help with mental health struggles is a sign of strength, not a weakness, as society would have us think. But the shame is so pervasive that it can feel nearly impossible to show that kind of strength, especially when you are performing “so well” in the world. After all, if I visit my Facebook page things seem pretty great . . .

A couple of years ago one of my students showed up to class on the day of her presentation about a woman activist and asked me if she could do something else. I trusted her, as she was a high performing and very bright student, so I said sure and gave her my support. She started by asking the class some questions: Would you go to a doctor if you broke your ankle? Would you see a physical therapist if you need help recovering from an injury? Etc… We all said yes, sure. Then she asked, Would you see a therapist if you were feeling depressed? She courageously admitted her own struggle with depression to the class and spoke poignantly about her experiences with shame and stigma. I had viewed her through her performance as a student, that is what I knew of her, and was stunned–not surprised–to learn that she could not get out of bed some days because of her depression. What a brave moment. She was shaking, but so brave to share her authentic self, to break her personal silence, and to challenge all of us to consider the shame and stigma surrounding mental health issues.

There have been other times students have shared in their class writing about similar struggles with depression–I must say that usually they are students who are bright, participate in class, are performing well at school. They look like they have it together. I have no idea of the double life that they are living. I do understand, at their age I was living a double life, too. These lives are precious.

We need a #MeToo Movement for Depression.


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Voices of my Global Women’s Studies Students ~ What gives you hope?

Ruby's Self Portrait

Self-Portrait by Ruby

Ruby shared that she painted herself in front of a Frida Kahlo painting to say that Kahlo’s voice was important in the past and it is now Ruby’s time to be a voice for the future.


We cover a lot of difficult subjects in my Global Women’s Issues class, as well as learning about inspiring women activists from around the world who are resisting oppression and fighting to create a better world. During our last class session, hoping to end on an optimistic note, I asked my students to write their responses to the question: “What gives you hope?” I was moved and inspired by their thoughts and sentiments, especially the sense of community that they felt with each other in the class. My students give me hope. Here are some of their responses…


I found hope in the most unexpected place, within myself, within my work, within conversation. Thankful for the opportunity to do so, as many do not have the opportunity. So thankful for this space.

My younger brother calling himself a FEMINIST!

The little children in our world gives me hope. This is because I believe hate is taught and with the world is becoming overall more accepting, I think their generation will help make the world a better place.

Learning about women activists that have done so much to help improve their own community. Seeing others speak up about women’s rights–right to own land, the right to speak their mind, and the right to freedom. It’s very moving and it makes me feel hopeful that we’re moving towards a better society that recognizes women as being equal to men and nothing less because we’re not less, we’re awesome.

Optimism. Inspiring activists. When someone else believes in the same thing I do. Quotes I find on the internet. Children playing and laughing. Animals. Memes. Music. When I see people do nice things for each other. Support of loved ones. Personal strength. Knowing there’s so much more out there. Little kids when they’re sleeping. Fun times. Laughing.

It gives me hope to learn about activists who are using peaceful forms of protest based around the arts, especially through film and music. It is wonderful that there are activists making documentaries that simplify large issues into easy to understand–but still representative–works of art.

 Racquel's Painting crop

Painting by Racquel

Racquel shared that the dark background signifies the difficult, sad realities that we learned about in class. She draws a line between her new knowledge about the world and herself as a person to protect and preserve her sense of her life and self in the midst of this knowledge.

My personal progress/growth. The feelings colors give me/doing art/creating. Lemonade (both the drink and the album). Rain Dove (someone I look up to). The color pink (my phone case, water bottle). Other women and/or activists.

People who aren’t afraid of being “different.” POC. Being educated/not ignorant. Everyone’s strength. Feminists. Love (I know it’s cliché). This class and the people in it.

Something that gives me hope is having classes that help us. For example, this Global Women’s Issues class that gives me a new mindset and makes me learn about issues I would have never known about. I hope that we will have more conversation and talks about what is going on in our world. So education gives me hope.

Classes like these where I hear my peers talk about important topics!

Activism and community service. Seeing people do things without expecting things in return. Giving back into the communities that need it.

Women empowering women. Classes like Global Women’s Issues. Professors like Sheryl Fairchild. Students (men/women/trans/etc.) that take classes like this and become educated. Feminism. The women in my life.

What gives me hope is freedom to pursue what I want. Education to continue to better myself and spread knowledge to others. And for the future I look forward to a better justice system. Women’s issues globally are our issues.

Little girls give me hope.

My hope comes from…love. What gives me hope is knowing that I can go on and things will get better. My hope is my future. My hope is my ancestors.

Being surrounded with individuals who react with the same emotions when exposed to unfortunate truths.

Xitlali (see-tla-lee) gives me hope. Xitlali is my 12 year old sister. She’s young and sweet but she’s very smart and very important to our family. I can’t see myself without her…

Animals and their purity, specifically my dog, Mabel. Local leadership. Youth work for the community. Random kindness. Becoming more knowledgeable. “We are living in the best of times to be a human” — progress . . . however minimal it may be.

Hope gives me a chance to make a difference in myself, friends, and the people around me.

The Women in my life — Empowered Women, Empower Women

Alma's Painting

Painting by E



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Mr. Nice Guy Gives a Wink to Guys Who Sexually Harass Women

I am often offended by right wing and sexist articles in our local newspaper, Fairfield Daily Republic, and most times it is not worth my time to respond. But today’s column from conservative “Mr. Nice Guy” was too offensive to ignore in the ways that he perpetrates what my students call “rape culture.” Here is my letter to the editor…

We are in a moment that I hope will change the culture of sexual harassment and gender-based violence that women face on a daily basis. In response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal, 140 California women legislators and staffers have signed a letter and created a campaign called “Enough” to say that sexual harassment is rampant in our State Capital, too, not just in Hollywood. A “Me Too” hashtag has gone viral where women are joining in to add their voices to say, “This is enough!” I teach at a community college and my students, both female and male, are encouraged that there may finally be some change in what they call “rape culture” where women are routinely blamed for their own victimization and men rationalize abusive actions as “boys will be boys.” You can imagine my offense at Mr. Nice Guy’s column on October 20, where he blames Hillary Clinton for the sexual harassment perpetrated by her husband towards other women and where he invokes the term “bimbo” to dehumanize female victims in general. Most offensive of all is how he justifies assault of women (referring to Donald Trump’s taped admissions of such behavior) with a wink and a nod to other men, “Guys, none of us have ever made comments like that, have we?” Guys, if you have, then women are changing the “game” and you will not get away with it in the future. I would like to see Mr. Nice Guy face the 140 powerful Sacramento women who are trying to create positive change for all women. They would certainly be offended by his sexist comments–this is “rape culture” and it needs to stop.


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The Election, Feminism & Alienation

“Clinton & Trump are just cartoon characters”

Just hours after the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States, I found myself on an early flight to Montreal to attend the National Women’s Studies Association conference, an annual professional gathering of over 2,000 feminist scholars, teachers, and activists. It was a surreal experience. In the first workshop that I attended there was no mention of the election results. I found it disorienting to try to discuss “the dream course that you would like to teach in the future” when it felt like our (those whose values are rooted in diversity, social justice, and human rights) world had been turned upside down. During the course of the conference, some participants talked about imagining the conference as “returning to the Mother Ship” expecting comfort and transformational action; they were disheartened that the conference went on as usual, as if the U.S. had not just elected a leader who professed beliefs and policies antithetical, hostile really, to the values that feminist knowledge and work stands upon.

As the conference went on, however, speakers were angry and expressed their anger in keynote and panel presentations: an indigenous speaker called out the shock that many were feeling, particularly addressing White feminists among us: “If you are surprised that the U.S. is built upon racism and violence, then I feel sorry for you. We experience this violence every day.” While the election may have made visible historical racial fissures in our contemporary social fabric, that have merely been pushed underground—for some giving a false sense of progressive social change and for others only masking the racism of their everyday lives—it may have also unveiled identity politics as the center of gravity in feminist relationships. In Montreal, concepts like intersectionality, generally foregrounded in feminist discourse, shifted to the background as participants grappled with coming to terms with recent events. Conversations at the conference, and since in feminist blogs, challenged White feminists to take a measure of responsibility for the group of White women who voted for Trump; after all, my colleagues charged, this was a failure of White feminism. In my view, this charge does not get us closer to understanding what took place at the polls: this group of White women has always privileged their class interests and religion over their gender when voting. The group of White women who voted Republican has always voted Republican and has never identified with feminist values. We understand quite well, within theories of intersectionality, why a group of White women voted Republican; what we do not understand fully is why so many people across the spectrum were not invested enough in the outcome of this election to participate at all.

We know from election statistics that nearly half of all eligible voters did not cast a vote. We know that only one quarter of eligible voters supported Trump—one quarter of voters made this decision for all of us. This is not a mandate, but rather a result of mass alienation from the political process. It seems to me that it is critical for us to understand the conditions that led nearly half of voters to stay home–this is the central feminist concern.

My Students…

“We feel dead inside”

“The government is just so corrupt—it doesn’t care about us”

Through my own process of trying to come to terms with the election, I have tried to listen closely to my students, in the same way that I have tried to understand my feminist colleagues and their perspectives on the culpability of White feminism. I truly cannot generalize across my very diverse student group, but they have had things to say that have caused me great pause. Prior to the election, in a discussion about social justice movements in the 1960s and 70s and in response to my query about how younger people feel about such movements today, one of my students said, “We feel dead inside.” That moment will be with me for a long time, as it speaks to a feeling of deep alienation from the political process. On the other hand, I have students who are politically much more involved and knowledgeable than I am, representing the other end of the spectrum. Post-election discussions also revealed a sense of alienation, but perhaps, in a different sense. Students emotionally expressed that they believe the government does not listen to their needs: “The government is just so corrupt—it does not care about us.” This is perplexing to me, because these young people have grown up with Barak Obama as their President, a President who has clearly had the best interests of young people on his agenda (health care reform, protection of undocumented young people, gay marriage, he calls himself a feminist) and who has had a flawlessly un-corrupt Presidency. How do I understand these sentiments? I see that these students have not understood and experienced those aspects of the Obama legacy that did listen to and care about the needs of young people—they are personally alienated from and do not see themselves connected to these benefits, and moreover, see the source of these benefits as corrupt.

I also have heard students say things like, “Clinton and Trump are just cartoon characters—this doesn’t have anything to do with my life.” Or, “I don’t get involved in politics—I don’t want anything to do with that.” To be fair, I have heard these same sentiments from some older people, too. There is a palpable sense in these statements that my students and others do not believe that national politics has anything to do with the realities of their day-to-day lives.

It’s Not about White Guys…

My early take on how we ended up here was that the election was a multiple systems failure, a perfect storm of sorts. And with a perfect storm, it seemed impossible to predict that disparate forces would combine in such a way as to create these unthinkable results. I have read and listened to analyses, ranging from Cuban voters in Florida who were angry at Obama, to military families in the mid-West who resonated with Trump’s pro-war tough guy talk, to Black Americans who did not rally around Obama’s legacy, to the effects of social media news bubbles and fake news. While much discourse in the media has focused on White working class men, as the deciders of this election, I disagree that focusing on this contingent of Americans explains the complex dynamics at play. While this group may have voted for Trump (as did wealthy White men, and as feminists remind us, White women) this represented only a quarter of the electorate, and a group of people who were easily motivated and stirred up by hate speech and promises of strong-arm leadership. I firmly believe that trying to understand and attend to the needs of this group is missing the point; these Americans clearly have deep seated racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, and homophobic beliefs and voted their value systems. As some say, it was tribalism, where no matter how offensive their leader, they were loyal to their tribe. We (those who value diversity, social justice, and human rights) will not change their minds or tribal mentality if we understand them better; the best we can do is out number them and keep their values out of mainstream politics and policy-making.

The common thread that I am beginning to see in all of the analyses, whether people voted or not, is alienation. The point is not the White guys who voted for Trump—the point is to understand why nearly 50% of voters stayed home and allowed Trump supporters to win. Why were so many alienated from the stakes in this election? Alienation was a double edged sword: it kept people home, but it also shaped those who voted for Trump. For example, analysts claim that the White working class feel alienated in a highly globalized world, where they believe that they are the true victims of globalization. Furthermore, the information age has left them behind and with a nostalgic longing for the manufacturing age to return. In this case, alienation ignited this group to vote for an extremist who tapped into that very alienation.

At the eleventh hour President Obama tried with all his heart to rally Black voters, young people, and other liberals who elected and supported him. He directed his message specifically at African Americans—vote to protect my legacy, to protect the gains that we have made. With all his passionate appeals, Obama was not able to rally masses of Black voters—some were alienated from his legacy and stayed home. The same is true for young people who Obama rallied in the past—they too were alienated from his legacy and did not vote. And so it goes with other liberals…

Although President and Michelle Obama focused a great deal of attention on military families, those in the military and their families voted for Trump. I found the analysis interesting. Since the elimination of the draft, most military service has fallen on the working class, primarily living in the middle of the country, and there is a strong culture around military service and patriotism. Those associated with the military liked Trump’s tough talk about “bombing the hell out them” and “America first” and rallied for him. Obama reduced the number of troops in harm’s way, decreased U.S. involvement in war, and, along with the First Lady, attended to the needs to veterans and family members. However, similar to my students who feel that the government is corrupt and doesn’t care about them, these Americans feel that the government does not respect them—they are alienated from the very progress that Obama has made on their behalf.

Post-Truth, Fake News, Social Media & Information Bubbles…

I am not convinced that we are merely repeating a prior period of conservative rule, that we have been here before. I believe that the technology age is fundamentally changing our relationships and our attention. I benefit from and enjoy many aspects of modern technology; however, the price we pay is an alienation from close relationships with each other and a sense of community and responsibility for each other. I realize these are broad statements that are based on my own observations and experiences, and I leave the analysis to those with expertise in the areas of political theory and technology. However, when our attention is on a device and not on other human beings, something vital is lost in our investment in one another. In my view, this was the wind that blew through the perfect storm.

Particularly disturbing to me is the idea that we are in a post-truth era, where facts and science do not matter in public discourse, but rather what matters is feelings and perceptions. After all, post-truth was the “Word of the Year” in Oxford Dictionary. This alienates all of us (extremist, conservative, and liberal) from a common ground from which to debate, compromise, and seek solutions. I do not see a way forward for productive dialogue in this post-truth moment—what is the common ground that we can stand on to even begin a conversation when facts and science are denied. We have relied on science—the scientific method as a way to truth. We have relied on facts that are verified by reliable sources. Justice rests on being able to determine what is right and wrong, true and false, moral and immoral. We now have leaders that unabashedly say, “Facts don’t matter” and “Science is a hoax.” We have leaders and their pundits denying that blatant racism is racism at all. We are without a ground for dialogue…

Normalization & Irreversible Damage: “Let’s just wait and see what he does”

We have elected an extremist government. With every new appointment, Trump is demonstrating that he meant exactly what he said during the campaign. His was not a complex or subtle rhetoric. One of my students encouraged his worried classmates to “wait and see what he does.” We are watching an extremist administration unfold—to call it anything less or to compare it with past Republican administrations is dangerous. This is not Nixon. This is not Watergate. If the Trump presidency is tinted any shade of normal, then we risk normalization of extremism. Then, I cannot imagine what the ultra-extremism of the new political fringe might take up. After all, the Alt-Right is rebranding itself for participation in the mainstream. Trump is the legally elected President of the U.S., but he does not represent me or my values. I refuse of normalize his presidency or his extremist ideologies.

In my view, we don’t have to wait and see what Trump does. The moment he was elected there was irreversible damage—Assad and Putin moved on Aleppo and civilians–men, women, and children–were killed…

The Thread of Alienation…and so it goes

Finally, in this new era I am afraid of my own tendency towards alienation. The unbearable political and social realities of the election cause me moments of withdrawal in self-preservation. I think seriously about leaving the country. I have spent my career working for some aspect of social justice, so I can easily justify being done with my work life, my involvement. Leave it to others. For now, I see my students tap into their optimism and desire to be part of what’s good in the world. How can I not do the same?

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False Promises: Oh, But Miss Fairchild, A Phone Will Keep You Safe…

This moment made me pause and I still feel caught in the implications of this conversation.

I don’t remember what started me down this road in my Introduction to Women’s Studies class, but I was sharing with the group that I am one of the few people who still has a flip phone. It’s a bit of a conversation piece for me, especially on campus where it seems that students have their faces in their phones as soon as class lets out, walking between classes, and even during class, if they can get away with it. I explained that I have not felt a need for a smart phone, except for once when my flight was delayed and I missed my connection from Chicago due to weather. As the plane sat on the tarmac for a few hours having been diverted to Indianapolis, and everyone realized that connecting fights in Chicago had been cancelled, EVERYONE, EXCEPT FOR ME, was on their phones making reservations for a hotel room in Chicago for the night. This was the first time I felt at a true disadvantage, because everyone else had a capacity to take care of themselves that I did not have.

In a sincerely concerned voice, one of my students said, “Oh, but Miss Fairchild, the phone will keep you safe.” She went on to describe an app that you can activate and press a button for help if you are in a dangerous situation. When my students and I talk about self-defense during our discussions about violence against women, it is not uncommon for a student to share that she carries a knife or pepper spray for protection. These strategies and their promises as self-defense tools, along with the smart phone, worry me. This is why…

I still carry my training in women’s self-defense in my body and in my thoughts today, even though the several years that I studied with Impact Bay Area was over 15 years ago (in those days the acronym was more fun—BAMM—Bay Area Model Mugging). I learned that the most valuable and effective self-defense tools are in your own body, in your muscle memory—if you are assaulted and need to fight back, YOU are your best chance. An assault may come out of nowhere. A physical assault is most likely to come suddenly without time to dig into your purse, pull out and aim your pepper spray. A knife or other weapon is more likely to be taken away from you and used against you in an assault. I learned that something like 85% of assaults are broken off with determined resistance alone—if you are not an easy target and resist with your voice and actions, then an assailant is likely to back off.

I learned that our instincts are essential to keeping us safe—we are animals, after all, and our senses and gut instinct guide us in dangerous situations. Back when I was training with BAMM, there were a number of high profile cases where women were murdered when they were wearing headphones (remember the Walkman?) while jogging. There was lots of advice at the time for women not to wear headphones when out alone, to not block out one of our most valuable senses—hearing. Today, total distraction is the norm with smart phones; not only do women use headphones, but also their sight is focused on the phone. Not only one, but two of their senses are shut down, severely limiting instinctual responses to the world around them. I learned that awareness of your surroundings and confidence are important to walking through the world safely—if you move through the world this way, you are most likely to be left alone. The goal of self-defense training is to never have to use it.

If a women is attacked violently, and suddenly, she will need all of her faculties and instincts to assess, think quickly, maybe fight, to get out of the situation. In BAMM, we learned how to go from zero to 100 when fighting off an attacker. It is hard for me to imagine a woman with her hearing and vision tuned to her phone sorting out a situation in a flash second and responding at 100 percent. The phone may be dropped, the purse with the knife or pepper spray may be dropped, but a women has her raw instincts, her judgment and training, and her body to defend herself. Contrary to the promise of safety, I feel that if a woman believes that her phone will keep her safe, the same phone that steals her vital attention away from everyday ways to remain safe in the world, the reverse is actually true. This promise of safety makes her more vulnerable…

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Stories of Hope from Women’s Studies

I was asked to do an inspirational talk as part of a student leadership event at Sacramento City College. Below is the transcript and images from my talk…

Sac City Talks — April 2016

Stories from Fairchild’s Women’s Studies classes at Sacramento City College will highlight students who have surprised, challenged, and inspired the educator to imagine and hope for a different kind of future for women and girls–a future where women are valued for their ideas and voices.

Sac City Talks 7

Nicole’s Poster

When I was asked to do this talk, I immediately started worrying about what I would say. However, within a very short time my mind switched gears from worrying about what will I say, to worry about what will I wear? How will I look? What will I wear so that I don’t look fat? I don’t wear high heels and it seems like most women who I have seen on Ted talks wear high heels. It was interesting to witness this process in myself. You see I teach Women’s Studies courses, we study and deconstruct these cultural pressures that value the appearance of girls and women more their voices. Even though I teach this stuff, I too have internalized and have to actively resist these oppressive messages…

I love teaching Women’s Studies at Sac City College because I meet people who inspire me and give me hope for a different future—a future where women are valued for their abilities, their ideas, their voices.

I am going to share a few stories about my students, but first I would like to ask you to think about a woman in your life who inspires you—picture her, do you have her in your mind? Now hold her close while we talk…

Sac City Talks 1

Colleen’s Final “Essay”

I was expecting essays as I waited in my classroom for students to drop off their final take-home exams for my Global Women’s Studies class. Colleen arrived, not with an essay, but with a large three-panel collage that she had created in response to our final writing assignment. She had taken many of the concepts presented over the semester and artistically translated them into a complex and beautiful visual representation. Visual art does not meet the requirements for my course–this was not in the syllabus. Colleen was a returning student, coming back to community college in her 50s to complete a degree. I personally related to Colleen. I too am a returning student mustering up the courage to re-enter college at about the same age. As Colleen presented this piece of artwork to me, she shared, “I couldn’t say what I know in writing, but I knew that I could in art.”

Sac City Talks 2

Colleen’s art lives with me today and I discover and see new things in her piece all the time. I share it with each new Global Women’s Studies class on our first day. I say to students, “This is our syllabus. This is what we will be studying. Now, tell me what you see…”

Colleen surprised me and opened me up as a teacher to valuing artistic expression in my classes. She challenged me to think of literacy in are larger way and to understand that literacy can be expressed in art.

Sac City Talks 3

Nancy’s Self-Portrait

Every semester my Women’s Studies students are required to do an autobiographical essay. Thanks to Colleen, I suggested to students that I would be open to an artistic option.

Nancy responded by creating a poignant self-portrait where she claims a strong feminist identity and surrounds her image with positive words—a powerful statement because girls and women are so often criticized and diminished. Nancy also wrote a poem to accompany her self-portrait. In Nancy’s words, these pieces are “a culmination of learning to appreciate one’s abilities and flaws, while living in a world full of criticism, hierarchy and superficial ideals.”

Since I teach Women’s Studies and I went to college, for the first time, in the 1970s, my students tend to think that I was involved in the Women’s Movement. The truth is that feminism and the Women’s Movement were not on my radar at all…I was a community college student, like them, struggling to find enough money to stay in school and live on my own. I really only started learning about these issues 10 years ago when I decided to go back to school. In contrast, young students today are so articulate about social injustice and I am continually impressed with their knowledge and passion.

Sac City Talks 4

Lan’s Spoken Word Poem

Lan, an engineering student in my WS class, wrote a spoken word poem to express her views about social justice issues– as a woman in a male-dominated field, Lan had a lot to say about feminism. As a woman of color Lan had a lot to say about racism. Lan was chosen to be a speaker at a celebration for students in STEM–she wrote her poem for this audience.

Lan was scared but determined, she predicted that some of her professors and peers would not welcome her creative social justice message—she was doing something outside the box calling out sexism, racism, classism, in a group of mathematicians and scientists.

She told me that “These words wouldn’t be able to come out of my mouth unless I had taken your class.” I was nervous for her, too. I attended the event to provide moral support and to witness this act of feminist courage! Lan performed with a fearless and passionate voice, and some allies in the audience cheered. My feminist glow was short-lived though–Lan later shared that, as she predicted, behind the scenes she received push-back from some in her academic community.

Sac City Talks 5


I didn’t think much about connections between Women’s Studies and STEM until students like Lan made that connection. I recently received an unexpected Facebook message from Allison, who had taken my class over two of years ago. This is what she said: After learning in your class about the lack of women in STEM, I decided to try majoring in computer science. Well, now I’m in my third semester of computer programming courses and I love it! I tell everyone that I chose this path because of your class.”

She goes on to tell me that she is working with one of her professors to create a Women’s Section of the introductory course in programming “in hopes of bringing more women into the field and providing them an encouraging, women-friendly environment for that crucial first step in learning to program.” Allison, like Lan, made this connection!


Sac City Talks 6

Alexandra’s Rome

While Allison chose an unexpected path because of my class, I too have chosen an unexpected path because of one of my students. Alexandra was a very quiet young woman who always sat in the back of my class. She had this quirky thing where she would come up after class and ask me to address cards and letters that she was sending to friends—I do a lot of writing on the board and she liked my handwriting!

To my surprise, Alexandra stayed in touch with me after leaving Sac City. She worked to save money to fulfill her dream of returning to school for International Studies. Now and then I was surprised with post cards or a note from her travels. When Alexandra asked me for help editing a personal statement for a university application I learned that she had lost her mother as a young girl and was raised by her grandmother. I also learned that she had recently lost her beloved grandmother—she was truly on her own. The title of her essay was “Fear is a Liar” and she described a moment of insight as she is flying home alone from Rome, the image of the Colosseum in her thoughts, and she sees fear for what it is—fear tells us that we can’t do something, makes us doubt ourselves. Makes us think about what to wear instead of what to say.

Alexandra is now studying in Rome. She has inspired me to imagine a bigger world for myself—I have been accepted into a Global Women’s Studies PhD program at the National University of Ireland in Galway. I am a returning student, yet again. An international student, thanks to Alexandra! When I sink into fear about traveling so far away and studying with people I don’t know, I think of Alexandra and tell myself, “Fear is a Liar.”

Sac City Talks .5

Allie’s Poster

Sac City Talks Bio…

Sheryl Fairchild is Adjunct Professor of Women and Gender Studies at Sacramento City College, serving students for the past four years. Sheryl has a special interest in women who return to college based on her own experience of going back to school after a twenty-five year absence. She earned her MA in Women and Gender Studies from San Francisco State in 2008, and returned to earn a second MA in English Composition in 2013. Returning to school yet again, Sheryl has just been accepted as an international PhD student in the Global Women’s Studies Program at National University of Ireland Galway. She is committed to feminism and social justice, and is passionate about empowering her students.


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A Shooting, My Campus, & the Things We Tell Ourselves

SCC Shooting

I really didn’t think that the campus shooting had a lot to do with me as I showed up for my classes on Tuesday at Sac City College. On Thursday as I was leaving the campus in the late afternoon, something was going on. Police cars, fire engine, ambulance were racing to the campus. I could see a group of students gathered on the sidewalk as I walked across the large parking lot to my car—I thought to myself, Oh, some sort of medical emergency. As I began my commute home I received a text message, then there was a breaking news announcement on the radio—a school shooting at Sac City College. The campus was on lockdown. Later I learned that a group of young men were arguing, a fight ensued and Roman Gonzalez was shot to death, another student shot, another stabbed.

As horrible as it seemed that a shooting would happen on the campus where I teach, it never occurred to me that any of my students would be personally involved. After all, I teach Women’s Studies and this incident involved those other kinds of students. I told myself, and heard a kind of litany over and over again at the college as classes resumed the next week: It was an isolated incidence. This was not an active shooter event. It could have happened anywhere—on the street, at the light rail, at the mall…

Faculty members were encouraged to talk to their students about the shooting. I opened up my class that morning offering a space to talk about what happened. I said some of the things I had been telling myself. This was an isolated incidence. This was not an active shooter. It could have happened anywhere… Students began to talk about their experiences during the lockdown—it was very scary because they had no information about what was happening—they were receiving calls and texts from family outside the campus who had heard about the shooting on the news… I thought, This is good, we are processing the event.

Then a student raised her hand and said, “It was my brother who was killed, Roman Gonzales.” Another student shared, “Roman and I are friends and we had just gotten out of class…” I was stunned. This moment shattered all of the beliefs I had told myself and expressed to my students to distance this event from my own life, their lives. I had talked about the shooting in such a generic way, unaware of the personal connections to this tragedy for my students. At least, my students and I were able to directly offer our condolences and support to those who had experienced a traumatic personal loss as a result of this isolated incidence.

I reflected on my own self-talk and the talk going on between faculty that day and in the days that followed. I felt sick. In a conversation with someone, I said that I despair over gun violence in our society; she responded, “It’s not the gun, it’s the person.” Well, it was the gun that killed Roman. A fist fight would have had very different outcomes for those involved and the campus community. It is the gun that kills. Towards the end of the week a faculty member sent a message to everyone on the exchange: “Our students are sick of talking about the shooting…” Some will live with this shooting for the rest of their lives.

At the end of the week I decided to attend a Town Hall meeting that had been called to debrief faculty and students on the shooting. The chancellor, college president, chief of the district police department, and our local police captain were all there to speak to us. They are women, except for the chancellor, and I respect and like them very much. They say the same things that I told myself, that we have been telling each other as a campus community. The police chief adds her assurance, “The campus is safe.” Well, not really. I always hate when this assurance of safety follows a shooting. It is false. It is a lie. I don’t understand the logic. The president of the college talks about all of things that have been done since Roman was killed: moments of silence at board meetings, discussions about alert systems, lockdowns, and on and on. Towards the end of the meeting a student asks, “What is the campus going to do to honor Roman? He was one of our students.” Another student asks, “If Roman had been a member of another community would the campus have responded differently?” The heart of the matter…

What I learned is the things we told ourselves after this shooting, the killing of one of our students on campus, serve an important personal and social purpose. It was an isolated incident (It doesn’t involve me. I am not at risk.). It could happen anywhere (It is random. It is not embedded in our social fabric. There’s nothing we can do about it.) It wasn’t an active shooter (Why should I care? Thugs are going to shoot each other.) It’s not the gun (There is really nothing that needs to change about gun culture and violence in the U.S.) The campus is safe (No need for outrage or social change—we are all okay.) The things we tell ourselves and each other distance us personally from caring and outrage, and perpetuate a social milieu where we accept and feel we can do nothing to change the ever present violence in our lives.

I felt relieved the week after, the aftermath was over. I arrived on campus the following week happy to be seeing my students. As I walked to my classroom and observed students coming and going, for the first time I asked myself, “I wonder who is carrying a gun in their backpack.” I felt ashamed of myself for this reflection. This had everything to do with me…

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