Date of Award

8-2006

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Interdisciplinary Program

Advisor

Phyllis Brazee

Second Committee Member

Elizabeth Allan

Third Committee Member

Edward Brazee

Abstract

This study applies the tools of ethnography to examine how a conservative, upper-middle-class, small-town wife and mother, through a process of growing awareness that spanned roughly 2 decades, came to create and facilitate an after-school program called the Diversity Coalition, aimed at helping local adolescents expand their social justice consciousness; question received messages of class, race, gender, and sexuality; and take this awareness into the community through social activism. The methodology employed for this investigation was autoethnography, hence it is written largely in the first person. It is structured around a series of biographical vignettes, recounting (a) my growing up in a small-town Maine community where divergences of class and ethnicity were mostly subsumed, (b) my difficulties, as an older teenager and young woman, attaining authentic sexual selfhood, (c) my experience as a banking-industry professional in a corporate culture that was sexist and stratified racially, and in terms of socioeconomic status and gender roles and (d) the shattering, though ultimately transformative, impact of my gay brother's death from AIDS, as well as the deaths of two close friends and my subsequent involvement in hospice work. Through these vignettes, I closely examine the dynamics of increasing tension and internal conflict between my acculturated positions in society—"good girl," wife, mother, bank officer, "respectable" member of the community—and my dormant but awakening awareness of injustice, inequality, prejudice, hypocrisy, and other (largely unspoken) aspects of the middle-class value system in which I had lived and formed my world-view. That dynamic, as I unfold in this study, led to my creating the Diversity Coalition, which can be seen both as a further stage of my personal growth and an outward reflection of my new social consciousness and—because as every parent knows, children teach as well as learn. I examine the program, and my role as facilitator within it, through analysis of data derived from interviews with 3 Diversity Coalition participants, videotape documentation, a member-check interview, and my personal journals spanning 21 years and field notes. Finally, I consider challenges for the facilitator role and for the necessary personal change this work brings to light.

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