Within a few hours of being here, I feel the familiar magic that is a United World College. Everywhere around me are students and teachers from all over the world, committed to common values of peace, justice, understanding and sustainability. Being faculty, not student, is a spider's thread between branches of the same tree. The calm, strong intent is rich in the air, meddling with the smells of indian cuisine for lunch and the thickness of the monsoon air.
I learn that I am going to be helping organize MUWCI's Triveni program. One of the reasons I was so keen to come to Mahindra UWC was to be involved in the shift away from purely academic programming and towards project based learning and eventually, a UWC diploma: to equip students not only for the world of elite Ivy Leagues that too often steal away the bulk of UWC alumni, but also for street-level activism in their own communities, or perhaps, some combination of the two.
As part of a series of skill-building workshops I am designing and running along with other Triveni staff and MUWCI faculty, I am leading a discussion on leadership styles, based on the four quadrants laid out by the NOLS school of outdoor education.
It has been four days since I landed.
Opening the circle of some thirty youths, almost all in their first year at Mahindra UWC, I decide to borrow a tradition of facilitating I have experienced in the Cultural-West. Say your name, where you are from—whatever that might mean to you—and your gender pronoun preference. After a few raised eyebrows, the ball gets rolling. People giggling, young women referring to themselves as female, young men as men, obviously. Then the young man, who says that he prefers being referred to as “she”. People are quiet, giggle. The speaker smiles. Are they making a joke? Even I don't know, though I hope they aren't. She is not. Later, she will describe that she had never been given an opportunity to chose her gender pronoun. She discovered she was queer a year ago, stood up in a community meeting at MUWCI, announced it, and sat down.
In that moment in our small circle, she opened the minds of people from countries and cultures around the world.