Guest column: A wake-up call

 

I learned something today that I must tell our community because I think many of you will want to know. I am the director of Birthwise Midwifery School on South High Street in Bridgton, and today one of our first-year African-American students contacted us to tell us she would be withdrawing from our program because she was concerned about her personal safety while traveling to and staying in Maine for our two-week academic sessions. When she was last here in September, she saw the many Trump yard signs, with few opposing signs to balance them; she saw the truck parked in the lot next door to Birthwise with “Secure the Border” signs; and she experienced awkward interactions with community members. Now, in the wake of our presidential election, she was experiencing anxiety about traveling to Maine from her diverse urban environment.

My first (private) response was to defend our community as being safe and tolerant and tell her she had nothing to fear. Then I listened more closely to what this student was telling us and how she experienced the Bridgton area as a black woman during a national election with the outcome we just experienced.

My own disbelief that Trump received the support he did in our local community, in the state of Maine, and all over this country, leaves me searching for an explanation of why a man who fomented fear of outsiders, demeaned women, and vilified whole cultural and religious groups could come to represent us in the highest office of the land. “People were just voting for a change” seems to be the consensus — it doesn’t mean people support any of the hateful things Trump stands for. As a white woman I have the privilege of believing that and going on with my life as usual, but black or Latina women tell us the landscape looks very different now.

Birthwise has been training midwives from all over the U.S. and Canada for 22 years in our little rural Maine village. Today we are questioning the viability of keeping our institution in Bridgton if we are serious about our commitment to diversifying the profession as we have professed. It makes me profoundly sad to think that we would need to move to Portland in order for our student body to feel safe.

So why did I feel compelled to tell you all this? It’s because I am learning, the hard way, that being a white person in the U.S. gives me privileges that I need to use for the good of others. Standing by while people say and do things that demean other people is not OK. As so many wise ones before us have told us: remaining silent in the face of aggression or injustice is siding with the aggressor. If things are to change at all, we must start speaking up when we witness even small aggressions happening around us. I for one do not want my home community to be known as a place that does not welcome certain people because their skin color, their religion or culture differs from most of ours. The student that withdrew from Birthwise this morning made me realize that whether or not I think all people are safe in rural Maine is irrelevant if one of my students tells me she feels unsafe — it was the best wake-up call I could have received.

Heidi Fillmore, Certified Professional Midwife and educator

Bridgton, Maine

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