Jiselle Peralta ’13 remembers Mary Armstrong often telling her students that they were great thinkers, but that it takes physical action to use that great thinking to create change.
As a first-grade teacher at Excellence Boys Charter School in Brooklyn, N.Y., Peralta applies the lessons she learned as a women’s and gender studies (WGS) major every day to influence the next generation of learners.
Her school serves a predominantly African American community in which gender roles are, more often than not, clearly divided, she says. In her classroom, Peralta strives to break through typical gender stereotypes, choosing to expose her students to all facets of gender. For instance, she does not decorate with “boy interests” like sports or trucks. Also important, she treats her students like equals.
“I am often asked if teaching boys is difficult,” says Peralta, who earned her master’s degree in education at the Relay Graduate School of Education. “My answer is the same each time: no. Society places us all into categories, and within those categories are stigmas and stereotypes that are difficult to debunk. I want my scholars to have access to and explore all things regardless of their gender. I try to steer them away from using terms like ‘that’s only for boys’ or ‘stop crying like a girl.’ I want my scholars to treat their peers with the same respect regardless of their identity.”
Peralta, who earned A.B. degrees with majors in psychology and WGS, credits Armstrong and the WGS program with empowering her to find her voice and fearlessly express her opinions. Now, she feels the responsibility to empower her own students.
“It’s up to me to take what I learned as a WGS major and put it into action,” she says. “I want to encourage discussions and raise awareness of so many important areas in the WGS field that affect us all. The WGS program has definitely built that foundation for me and continues to guide me through my journey post-Lafayette.”