Talk in the 10: School Board Thoughts

Fremont County is large, diverse, and filled with opinions, or “talk in the 10.” “Talk in the 10” is an opportunity for you, our readers, to articulate and share your thoughts about what is happening in the community with the community. Letters may have been edited for clarity and length, but generally have been published exactly as received. The views expressed in the following are solely those of the author. Send your letters to our editors by emailing opi[email protected]

I am working through my thoughts with you all on this month’s Lander school board meeting held on December 13 at 6 pm where a discussion of the library’s policies about reviewing books was held. I am feeling inspired by my friends, neighbors, and my comrades to be more open about my thoughts and reflections.

I have lived in Lander, Wyoming for just over a year. That may seem like a short time but Lander is home; my community. And I believe that in community, we hold each other accountable. It is critical and beautiful that as community members of Lander, and Wyoming as a whole, we talk openly, transparently, and in our own words about how we are interpreting the stuff that is going on right here at home.

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Overall, I keep coming back to this grounding sentence: “local politics do not happen in a
vacuum.” And Lander is no exception. Across the country, there has been a rise in censorship and real policies that ban books and voices. These books are often written by or discuss people of marginalized backgrounds. Silencing these voices is nothing new in the United States, despite our “commitments” to free speech, as free speech has only ever truly belonged to a certain few. However, much of the rise in the current book banning policies is a reaction to the movements for racial justice in 2020. Kimberlee Crenshaw Williams, a Black feminist thinker who is known for coining the term “intersectionality,” shares that with every social justice movement, there comes deep backlash. And we are seeing that backlash today across the country.

With that, it is completely valid that Lander community members felt threatened and on guard when we saw that there was going to be a discussion on library resources and policies at this month’s school board meeting. Especially since there were no clear, nor believable written intentions for why it was there. During the meeting, Scott Jensen said he was curious and just wanted to educate himself on library policy. However, it is 2022 and access to Google, email, and the library staff are readily available. It is not hard to find out about school district library policy. And if it really is, that makes me question the onboarding of school board members to this position.

Last Tuesday, the school board was met with a semi defensive but ready to listen crowd that wants to protect literary integrity of the library and the rights for kids to learn and for teachers to teach. When the agenda finally arrived at this discussion item, we were ultimately told that rumors were being spread about this topic and blowing it out of proportion. Possibly true. But our fears are valid.

Scott Jensen, and the school board as a whole, has a history of making harmful decisions. As this discussion item does not occur within a vacuum at a national level, it also does not exist alone within the context of the Lander school board as a whole. He was same board member who also introduced and led the efforts to take classes of marginalized people out of the school board’s non-discrimination policy back in May. We remember this. We remember the egocentric remarks he made at Lander parents of suicidal children who spoke up to protect their kids. His request to talk about the library policies during the national AND local political context was not a neutral request.

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I do not want to appropriate, misconstrue, or demean the definition of gaslighting. And this will probably come across as some fragile snowflake remark, but it’s important that we name when something doesn’t feel right. Because often in political contexts, people in power play their own insidious game under the disguise of niceness. It’s intimidating. It feels too scary to bring up hesitations. But dang, I’m just gonna say it. I felt that the reaction of Jensen/the whole board (telling us that our fears are unwarranted because he just wants to learn) had gaslighting tones.

Politics will always create emotions. So feelings and gut reactions matter. And it felt like Jensen was trying to get us to back away; to stop watching critically and carefully. To suppress our hesitations and lose interest so that some sketchy work can continue on.

I am typing this all to unpack details in an open and transparent manner. In a way that invites community participation and collective struggle. In many ways I thank newspapers, online editorials, and social media as a tool to speak up. However, it can be a slippery slope. Because words can be taken out of context. And when engaging virtually, there are no boundaries. But this is our duty, as a Wyoming community, to be engaged. So in this snowy week of sitting mostly inside, I’m putting my thoughts here. Hoping that my peers and those wanting to learn more about Lander politics will read and engage with this. I saw and I see how many of you care about this. So in words of Black feminist thinker, Sojourner Truth, “I am for keeping the thing going while things are stirring; because if we wait till it is still, it will take a great while to get it going again.”

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The discussion item brought up by Scott Jensen was a deep political move and we need to be very focused and honed in on detail. There is so much power navigating a collective struggle and working through our concerns together. Let’s keep this momentum going. Let’s use these details to avoid going down a path of continued silencing and harm.

Taylor Pajunen
Lander

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