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Diversity and Inclusion at SGY

Dear Beloved SGY Community,

In the wake of the recent election, I feel compelled to write to all of you to express what is in my heart and the hearts of many of you who have taken the time to share openly in the last week.  Regardless of your personal political beliefs, our country is severely divided right now, and many of us are fearful of what will happen to our rights, our values, and our day-to-day lives in this climate.  I believe in some ways where we stand as a nation at this time is an accurate reflection of the lack of progress we have made together toward social justice.  At the same time, it is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease and this wheel is now squeakier than ever, meaning that we are also poised to respond accordingly and to unite in listening to one another, seeing one another as unique, beautiful human beings, and standing up for our collective humanity.

I would like to acknowledge that I speak to you from a position of privilege as a White person.  This privilege allows me to commune with people of my own race anytime I want, especially in Eugene.  It means I don’t need to worry about doing something human like coming late to a meeting and wondering if people think that this is a reflection of my race.  It means my credibility is not immediately questioned because of the color of my skin.  It allows me to walk down the street without fear of being mistaken for a terrorist.  It allows me to write this email and to be taken seriously.  We don’t often acknowledge or think about the ways in which privilege operates in our lives and our blindness to this makes us part of the problem rather than the solution.  My point in putting this out there is to say, there is inherent power in privilege, and it doesn’t matter that the privileged may not have asked for such power.  With that power comes great responsibility to speak up against injustice, to act out against injustice, and to build a community where we can do that together.

I also want to acknowledge that I self-identify as a woman.  Compared to those who identify as men in our society or those who are seen as men, this is an underprivileged position.  Like all women, I have encountered misogyny, sexism, verbal aggression, emotional abuse, and physical threats to my safety as a result of my gender identity.  At times I have been brushed aside and have had to fight for respect in my role as a woman business owner.  Even in the field of Yoga, which is mostly women-dominated, men tend to be the figureheads and the spokespeople we know and trust, which is a reflection of the larger culture in which we exist.  I am moved to inspire women to find their voices, acknowledge their gifts, live in their hearts, and embody their strengths without giving their power away to those around them who may have more culturally conditioned power or privilege.  Many of you may recall that when I purchased this studio 4 years ago I changed the name in part because I wanted to expand our class offerings, but also in part because Bikram Choudry had been formally accused of rape and sexual assault, with several court cases pending.  As a woman and as a proponent of social justice I could not be in integrity with my personal values and the values of Yoga and also keep Bikram’s name on my studio doors. 

Our president elect is someone who has openly taken advantage of his power and privilege as a White person and as a man in ways that are oppressive, demeaning, condemning, minimizing, and dishonest.  This is not unlike the claims that have surfaced in the last several years about Bikram Choudry, except that the power handed to the President elect is far greater than that given to a Yoga guru in the United States.  In the name of social justice and as someone in a position of power in our local community, I am committed to providing a safe and inclusive studio space that upholds the values of Yoga: a space where diversity is promoted and welcomed, a space where sexual orientation, religion, gender identity, racial identity, cultural identity, and life experiences are acknowledged and validated, and a space where inclusivity is not just an aspirational value but a practiced value.  It is our differences that make us each unique beings of light, and together that light is so much more vibrant and complex than any one of us on our own. 

Inclusivity does not mean brushing aside the differences between us or saying that we are all the same.  We are not all the same, and that is profoundly important as it creates the foundation for deep connection, education, and transformation.  Simultaneously, we are all human beings on this planet, and according to Yoga, our higher purpose is to reconnect with our true nature.  That is a deeply spiritual place of love and belonging that resides within each of us – a space we were born into and which has been masked by social and cultural conditioning.  For me, this is also a piece of what it means to be inclusive.  In everyone who walks through the doors of SGY, I see the innate capacity for love and belonging.  All of our teachers share this value and this commitment to you.  This energy pervades the studio and makes us who we are as a community.

I am eternally grateful to each of you for sharing your uniqueness, your voice, your vulnerability, and your light with the SGY community.  SGY continues to grow and in our growth I am committed to encouraging and promoting diversity, educating and uniting our community against injustice, and providing a safe and inclusive space for everyone.  There is much more to be said and done in our political climate right now, and change begins within ourselves and within our communities.  Let us live the values we share and let us help shape the world around us.


With love and gratitude,
Jess

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