Safety, Combined with Common Sense and Maturity, First

Seriously? This is getting exhausting.

This is not my favourite post to write ever. With the world up in their self-righteous arms lately, I’ve had a lot of tangential crap to deal with. Some people who have jumped to unfounded assumptions about Insanitek and the way it runs based off our support of homeschoolers (both secular and religious), my more chill social media posts that don’t take a political stance, and even who I may or may not follow on social media. These people have wanted answers about whether I would allow this or that at my company, in my classrooms, and in my labs.

The thing is, I’m annoyed beyond all belief about the indignant and arrogant stance of many people when they demand to have my answer about something I didn’t think was a big deal. These relatively innocuous things are things like what bathroom a transgender individual can use, religious practices allowed in the building, etc.

Here’s the thing most of the indignant people don’t realise: I’ve addressed all this before.

But here we go again, just to spell it out.

Point one: There are no “safe spaces” here at Insanitek; we value intelligent conversation over all. We believe in mutual respect for our fellow human beings, regardless of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

Read the previous post again, and you’ll see that we have a diverse student and scientist base here at Insanitek. Every one of them believes in mutual respect for one another as a value — even when the opinions vary widely from their own. This is a value we look for at the entry interviews to make sure that we have a community built upon respect and an open mind, not ego and attitude.

We even fight with our best friends, but we still love them.

What this means in terms of the current social justice conversations going around online is this: If someone believes you are in the wrong, they will state so and back it up with facts from textbooks and encyclopaedias. They have a library and the internet at their disposal to do so. You are expected to do the same no matter your age, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, sex, or any other arbitrary label you could come up with.

Mutual respect and civility on both sides of the debate is expected. 

We know that this is difficult for small children, but frankly their debates (usually) only go so far as which superhero rocks the hardest. We work with them from day one to understand how to back up their statements as they go through our programme in order to debate well as they get older. Eventually, the Great Superhero Debate escalates into 5 – 7 year olds running for comic books and pouring over the books. They compare the books with each other, “arguing” on who is cooler.

That’s exactly the spirit of our company — geeky, fun, and backed up with evidence.

Point two: Religious freedom — for everyone.

Hijab. Cross around the neck. Tarot decks. Kippa. Whatever, it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because we bring people aboard based on the above value of openness and respect. This simple value allows people to work side by side, sharing their love of science and other geeky things, while also discussing their personal views on life at large. The only thing I put in the rules is that each person is responsible for their own personal safety as it pertains to their job. For example:

  • If you are a person that likes to wear long necklaces, you should tuck them away under your shirt before bending over a chemistry solution that could dissolve it or a machine that would yank it and harm you.
  • If you are a person that needs to kneel to pray, don’t do it in the middle of a high traffic zone.
  • If there is a need for specific foods for you to eat, don’t use the chemistry supplies to make it. (Seriously, though, that’s sarcasm. You should never use chemistry supplies for cooking — cross contamination could be very, very bad.)

    Common sense, mindfulness, and constant reminders can keep you from walking into radioactive toxic waste — unless you want to risk death for a wishful mutant superpower.

The key is safety always first.

Yes, we have training sessions that not only show you how to use the tools of the trade, but also announce the dangers associated with using them. While we can (and do) offer suggestions for people to keep themselves safe, it is ultimately up to the individual to find a way to balance their outward signs of belief with the safety to keep themselves whole and healthy. It’s called personal responsibility, but it’s also a great deal of trust based on respect. And the fact that they are mature.

Point three: Using the bathroom. 

Welp. I never thought I’d have to publicly discuss with people’s private lives on how to use the bathroom. But, here is how we deal with the sensitive issue at Insanitek.

There is a benefit of bringing in people who are relatively mature for their age that also have high moral standards. I don’t have to worry about boys looking up girls skirts, girls sniggering at boy’s crotches, or any other overtly sexual thing. Oddly, I haven’t even had to worry about teens looking for rules to break by taking a smoke break in the privy. (Then again, there is a smoking area outside for people to use if they have that vice.)

There was one hilarious incident when a pipe broke in a boy’s bathroom, the girls pipped up, “As long as you don’t pee in the sink, you can use ours!”

The most useful bathroom in the world for transgender folks in transition.

The kids worked it out themselves that the boys could take the first 5 minutes of break, the girls the last 5 minutes of break to split one of the bathrooms in a central location — and all other bathrooms would be normal. They even managed communications to coordinate all this. All they had to ask us adults for was an extended passing period before they were expected to be in labs.

It was easily granted — even if we did smirk at their creativity to solve the problem. It worked, and it was a real life problem they solved on their own. We are still very proud of them.

When it comes to our one transgender kid (teen in transition), we’ll him Eric — obviously not his real name. When Eric and I sat down to talk about this when he was admitted to Insanitek, he said he was worried people would judge him. (Then Eric was an Erica, so she was self-conscious.) I noted that we have several bathrooms that were single stalls — but they are not centrally located to the labs. Eric opted to use those for the time being, but within a few weeks, after getting to know his fellow mates at Insanitek, he decided to use the girls room first, then the boys room while in transition.

It’s not a choice or rule that I could make without embarrassing or hurting someone.

I was happy we had several single-stall, unisex bathrooms that Eric could use before he was comfortable with choosing what would make him happiest while other students acclimated the situation. I don’t know if this would work for the next transgender kid (or adult) we would have here, but this open-mindedness and having a few unisex bathroom options is a great place to start.

Point four: Socioeconomics will not hold us back.

Even if we have nothing, we’ll find a way. Together.

For those of you that haven’t read it before, I was homeless. I know what poverty is like. I know what a struggle it is for the family. That’s why we have options at all different prices — including free resources. Two character traits I look for in all members of our community — regardless of financial status — are the love of logic (and geekery) and tenacity.

The love and passion will fuel the person to stick with it, reasoning through the overwhelming emotions, while the tenacity will make sure that even the shittiest days will be story-line markers when they are successful.

When those traits are there, it doesn’t matter how crappy things get from time to time economically for all of us at Insanitek. We will find a way to work around it, make things happen, and see success. And, it may just be that financial needs will create a new, more awesome way to do something that is more affordable for a larger spectrum of people.

Hopefully this will be the last post I’ll have to write in this vein. I’d much rather the tone be a happy reminder of how awesome people are in general, not the “I enforce all this bullshit” type of tyrannical post. That’s just not how things roll around here. We don’t have a set, written policy as things are always changing. Things will always change based on the people and other details involved in the situation, and I firmly believe that an individual humanitarian approach based on mutual respect and from a place of maturity is best.