Friday, March 22, 2013
Well, I'll tell you. Life may not always be a cabaret, old chums, but it certainly was yesterday -- when I was on a panel at Dr. Tom Cooper’s freshman class “Ethics & Communication” at Emerson College with Rabbi Albert Axelrad and Eileen Flanagan (a healthcare expert and Tom’s wife). This was the fourth year -- MTPC’s founding and former executive director Gunner Scott was the trans expert panelist the first three years and helped refine the case study we helped the students explore.
I had a great experience, and I think the idea has a lot of potential. Many thanks to everyone involved! I hope to join you again next year.
Prior to our class session, the panel and the students had been given a detailed case study, complete with separate sets of questions about what they would do and why for those studying Journalism, Visual & Media Arts and Communication Studies, Public Relations and Marketing Communication, Writing Literature & Publishing and Performing Arts, and Communication Sciences & Disorders.
The case study asked the students to imagine their professor was Terrence “Terry” Cooper – much like Tom, but also an elected public official soon up for reelection, whom his students want to cover through a documentary, media pieces and a play. In moments of weakness, Terry reveals to a few students what very few know: he might have terminal cancer, was assigned female at birth and transitioned to living as a man years ago, and is converting to Judaism. When rumors spread through the class, he pleads for privacy.
Class was held in Emerson’s Cabaret (pictured) and students set the space up quite professionally in terms of furnishings, lighting, sound and otherwise.
The panelists arrived a little early and got acquainted – I had emailed and dined with Tom in the weeks since Gunner had passed the torch, but I had never met Rabbi Al or Eileen.
When the 20 students arrived, they were given some handouts -- the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th of these MTPC materials, and a document about HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act) provided by Eileen (during her presentation, Eileen also played an audio clip from a video explaining HIPAA to patients).
There were also a few guests present, and more student and non-student guests had been invited; panelists were also invited to bring guests.
During the first 45 minutes, Tom read the case study and MC-ed the show while also playing Terry. Each student played a role in one of three groups, speaking for a couple of minutes apiece. The first group was media professionals: a journalist, a public relations representative, a marketing campaign organizer, a human subjects expert, a documentary filmmaker, a writer for the New Yorker, and a film producer. The second was philosophers: Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, Carol Gilligan, Friedrich Nietzsche, John Rawls, and Ralph Potter. The third were a surprise to the other students and the panel: Terry’s daughter, Terry’s doctor, a transgender rights advocate, the mayor of Boston, the dean of Emerson, and a student trying to enroll in one of Terry’s future classes.
After that, Tom read the panelists’ bios, and each of us spoke for five minutes. We then had a Q&A session with the students, which Tom facilitated, and then Tom had the students vote by a show of hands on several questions about what if anything of Terry’s disclosures they would reveal. After that, the panel gave our closing thoughts and the class was officially ended, but students were invited to come up to the stage and speak with us, and a few did.
Somehow all of this went even better than planned, and took less than two hours -- and then Tom treated the panel to dinner at nearby Tantric (Indian Bistro).