Women’s History Month Q&As: Kimberly Anderson
Name: Kimberly Anderson
Position: ASL teacher
1. In what ways are you grateful for the women who came before you and fought for the rights that we as women have today? How do you hope to follow in their footsteps?
“I am grateful that people paved the way because I wouldn’t be who I am without that. I look back at everything I’ve done—and I’m pretty outspoken about knowing what I want; I’m very sure—and had someone else not done it first, I feel like I would’ve been punished or penalized for acting like I do. So I’m very grateful that I can speak my mind and stand firm to what I believe in—not saying that I would chicken out or anything, but I’m glad that I can do what I do.
[I hope to follow in their footsteps] by doing just that. I was talking to [some of my students] yesterday about standing up for what you believe in, and I was telling them, if I’m not here in this job, it’s because I believe someone needs to take it further. Someone needs to make a stand for what’s wrong and make it right. So in terms of [American] Sign Language being looked down upon as a lesser language compared to other ones, I don’t think that’s okay. And I think with my background and how I am personality-wise, it’s going to be me. No one else has said anything, so I guess I’m going to have to do it, and I’m not scared to do it. [It] is really sad that some people are and that at one point in time, you couldn’t, but I feel like I can do anything, and I’m going to.”
2. What would you consider to be your greatest achievements?
“I think my greatest achievement is this program. I think looking at what other schools have and knowing that it started literally from nothing has been awesome. They gave me full creativity where I’ve been able to make it what I wanted to, all by standing by the standards. But I am proud [of] the program because when I look at my Level Four students, I feel confident that kids have truly learned something from me, whether [or] not it’s the language [or] how to be a person in the environment and ways to give back and contribute to society. When I hear that my kids are doing that, it’s a very proud moment.”
3. What are some of the most exciting experiences you’ve had?
“My most exciting experiences have been where I went out of my box or out of my comfort zone. Again, I wouldn’t have been able to do these things had women’s rights not been a thing. The things I’m most proud of, when I look back on my experiences, are the things that I did that people didn’t expect me to do. I grew up in a small town, pretty pigeonholed into what I was: I was good at sports; I was smart; I was quiet; that was me. When I went to college, I had the chance to really recreate myself. I had no friends that went up there with me, so it was just me, and I was like, ‘Well, I might as well start taking chances and risks.’
Two clubs that I joined were huge for me. One was the Baja Club, so it was welding. And what they did is they designed a car, like a little go-kart, and you build it—you make this car—and then you go race it around the country. So we did that, and I learned how to weld, and I learned how to grind all the metal tubing and the piping before I welded it; I learned all that stuff. And then when we went, I was actually the lightest person on the team, so I was able to do some of those tests on the car because you don’t want weight in your car sometimes. So it’s really cool looking back on that. There [were] only two other girls in the group because it’s predominantly male—I mean, they’re welding and building things. But when I look back, that is a hundred percent something I’m the most proud of.
[The other] was a roller derby. [Whip It] came out when I was in college, [and] at Central [Michigan University], we had a roller rink, and it was [a] dollar [to] skate [on] Tuesday nights. So that was the cool thing to do, and we would go there for a dollar and rent skates and skate. While we were there, there was talk about starting a roller derby club, and I was like, ‘You know what? That sounds really fun.’ I remember talking about it to my friends, and they were like, ‘You [have to] be kind of bad*ss to do that.’ [Roller derby] is like football [in that] you hit people while you’re racing. So there’s two blockers for you, and then there’s the back girl who’s the ‘weaker’ one. So they’re battling, and she’s got to get around before the other team’s equivalent. But you hit people and ram them. And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this sounds so fun’—just because it was different and it was new. I thought, why not try it? I love roller skating; this seems like it would be super fun; I watched Whip It; I can totally do it. I remember, I worked at the biology department, and all the professors knew I was doing it, and these old men would come and be like, ‘Wow, are you the derby girl?’ They were blown away. They were like, ‘I never would’ve guessed it’—because I was a secretary girl. I just sat there and did my thing. They were like, ‘That’s so cool. What brought that on?’ And I was like, ‘Why not?’ Again, it’s those experiences in college where no one knew me, so [I thought] I might as well try it. If it sounded at all cool, I went with it and checked it out. Because why not?”
4. What women do you look up to for inspiration?
“[I’ve got to] say my mom. [We’re] very similar [in] how we are. In the enneagram, we’re both ones. I saw her, growing up, going after what she wanted and what she believed in. She was [in] more of a managerial spot at work, but she still had people in charge of her, and she wouldn’t stand for some of the stuff [they did]. When she didn’t think she was getting paid enough or getting enough recognition, she told them: ‘I deserve more.’ So I think growing up with that really helped me become who I am.
The other [strong woman] I can think of is my grandma. You’d call her a ‘Karen,’ but she took action when she didn’t think something was right. I remember distinctly she bought cereal at the store, and it was all broken; it was all just crumbs. And she wrote them, and she was like, ‘Listen, I’m really disappointed that somewhere down the line, you are not providing what you said you would provide, and now I’ve wasted my money on it.’ And they sent her free cereal for life. I remember [realizing], ‘Wow, I have the power to do that’—not that I need free cereal—just by saying something and not being an innocent bystander.
I think growing up the way I did and having that confidence about myself, I fully believe if you have some kind of disagreement or opinion, share it and do something about it. Why sit there and wait for someone else to do it? Which is why I really like Women’s History Month because [in the past, women] were done sitting around and waiting for someone to [give them rights.] They did it. So now, at the spot of my life that I am with [American] Sign Language, I’m like, ‘Well, no one else is doing it. I guess it’s going to be me.’ And, like I said, I’m not scared to do that.”
5. How do you strive to be a mentor to other women?
“I hope that the kids [in] school come through my room and know that I’m very grounded in respecting each other and what I believe in. I’m very frank about the language and the community and the culture and why I do what I do, and I hope that other women—all students for that matter—see that and realize that they can be like me. At the high school level, a lot of people are lost and looking for something, and it’s really interesting.
I had a conversation with a student a while ago, and [they were making bad choices]—not in a good spot—and I said, ‘Do you think I’m an okay person? Do you like me, genuinely?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, I look up to you. I love that you have the confidence and the power to do what needs to get done.’ And I said, ‘Okay, I never [made those choices]. I’m getting what I need. I’m getting what I want. I’m doing what I love. Shouldn’t that be your goal in life?’
Being able to sit down with students who I think look up to me for whatever reason, I’m able to do that and say, ‘Well, this is what I’ve done. You shouldn’t feel less than or more than, but know that I got where I am by some of those choices.’ So I really like the spot I’m in—where I think kids can see a positive role model and know that they don’t have to do it their friends way or the highway.”
6. What obstacles have you had to face as a woman?
“I think growing up the way I did, I didn’t have to face a lot because my mom would always stand up for me. But I was your typical girl; I did ballet; I danced. I will say [that] some obstacles that I would have faced, I got [past] because I had three brothers. I think that really helped me be seen in a different light. I think [some things] would’ve been really big obstacles had I not had a male connection. My brothers were super athletic. I got into a lot of things because of them, even though they were younger. Trav did a ton of things; he did engineering and woodshop, so I took those classes to be with him. I think that if I didn’t have strong men in my life to want to follow, I would’ve had some issues. I don’t think I would be where I am today without that. Having men to push me and say that I can do those things was really beneficial for me growing up. I could’ve had way more obstacles, but I was lucky that I didn’t feel like I couldn’t follow them.”
7. As a member of a group that has been historically discriminated against, how do you stand in solidarity with communities who have also faced systemic discrimination?
“I think that goes with what I do for work. I’ve seen people’s opinions and voices be reprimanded and held back because of who they are. It’s really interesting at the time we’re at now, where we’re trying to heighten and call upon those minority groups to show what’s going on, and it makes me realize how privileged I am. It helps me to go back and recognize, what am I doing? How can this matter later in life? What am I doing that can be influential in a positive way? I’m constantly reminded of how lucky I am but also how hard I had to fight to get here and the choices I made to get here. I didn’t sit and wallow, which I think is really hard to teach to kids, and that’s why I hope they see that. That’s why I’m very frank about what I talk to admin about, what I’m doing, why I’m doing what I’m doing—because I want people to see that this could be a roadblock, but I’m saying no. I’m not taking no for an answer.”