“We’re continually working as a group to create a more inclusive and accepting environment. These sessions have allowed us to learn more about each other and to help us serve as allies to those in the LGBTQ+ community. We have learned how to be proactive, and to really be there for one another, and that is so incredibly important in fostering a safe environment for current and future members,” she said.
Equality & Inclusion (E&I) Trainings are mandatory for everyone from Board members, to staff, to members, to volunteers. Each session begins with a PowerPoint presentation by Vicki Ferrence Ray, Co-Chair of the E&I Committee and a Board Member of Cadets Arts & Entertainment. A new month, a new touchy subject. But Vicki is great at normalizing topics that can feel uncomfortable to discuss in a large group.
At the end of each training, we break out into small groups to talk about the topic at hand — in this case, Sex, Gender, Orientation, Identity, LGBTQIA+, and Pronouns. Yikes. The power-point vanishes, and suddenly there are about nine faces next to your own on the Zoom screen: A mom in her 40s who will be volunteering on the food truck; an early-20s Asian-American female dancer; a black brass instructor who is a band director in the “real world;” a few white, male, 19-year-old brass and percussion players; and the color guard caption manager. One member of the E&I Committee leads each small group discussion, so your group leader could be anyone from a CAE Board member to a member of the 2021 Cadets Color Guard.
We introduce ourselves briefly, and then we talk through the questions, one by one:
- How can we, as a collective, and you, as an individual, ensure a safe and welcoming place for all people at The Cadets, and demonstrate it?
- Have you experienced or witnessed discrimination at The Cadets or elsewhere? How did or would you respond?
- How would you handle responding to a microaggression at The Cadets?
- Do you understand how to report a problem at The Cadets?
As people start talking, you immediately realize how different their perspective is from your own. As you share a personal experience of your own in turn, you see a lightbulb come on for someone else.
This is hallowed ground. A safe space. This is The Cadets, where vastly different people come together, and we don’t merely manage to tolerate one another. Rather, we learn the profound truth that every single person is needed. When we support and celebrate each other’s individuality, we find the common ground to come together as The Cadets. We are empowered to create something truly spectacular, something so much greater than the sum of our parts.
It’s been 21 months since we’ve sung our corps song in person, but that’s finally about to change. Knowing their differences, each night, The Cadets will stand together. Everyone will feel the hand of an accepting brother or sister resting on their shoulder, as they extend their hand to another.
The Cadets have just one session left in this year’s Equality & Inclusion Curriculum before move-in to spring training on June 28. Stay tuned to cadets.org for more updates soon!
The Equality an Inclusion committee is a committee of the CAE Board of directors and is comprised of a diverse representation of board members, staff, corps members, alumni, and volunteers. The committee is led by Denise Bonfiglio, CEO; Vicki Ferrence Ray, Committee Co-Chair and Compliance Officer; and Darcie Aungst, Commitee Co-Chair and The Cadets Artistic Director.