I write to share an update on St. Andrew’s work supporting racial equity, inclusion, and understanding. This work has always been important for us, but the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor and the ongoing school and national conversations about racism and inequity make our commitment and attention even more urgent. We must focus our collective efforts and commitments on becoming antiracists and affirming, in all we say and do, that Black Lives Matter.
As you learned from my letter on June 29, we have developed opportunities for our Black alumni and alumni of color to meet with us on the telephone for one-on-one conversations to reflect on their experiences at the School, talk about transition to college and professional life, and share recommendations on the important specific action steps we can take to develop, improve, and strengthen our School culture. In the fall, I will expand those conversations to include all alums as well.
In addition to these conversations, I want to update you on the continued efforts of the St. Andrew’s faculty to advance our community’s understanding around justice and racial equity.
Dean of Diversity Education Devin Duprey continues to work intensively with our current students. She writes:
“Over the past weeks, I have met and worked with faculty, students, and affinity groups to develop a framework designed to support and guide students and faculty as they explore the individual and collective questions related to racism, white supremacy, and other forms of brutality, oppression, and injustice. ‘Cultivating an Antiracist Mindset, Community, and Culture’ is adapted from the model I co-created with Tracy Yuan for our Lyceum event exploring the rise of Anti-Asian Xenophobia during the COVID-19 outbreak. With opportunities for engagement co-led by students and faculty, resource lists, external events, internal programming, conversation groups, and workshops, this model centers the work of antiracism. Each module aims to promote reflection on key questions, explore our individual identities, foster habits of hearts and mind, and uncover ways that we can take action. It is our goal to use this framework to further advance our mission of creating a community in which all members are valued as their true authentic selves and where the humanity of all is honored, upheld, and protected.”
Dean of Faculty Development Emily Pressman continues to inform the full community of current students, faculty, and staff of important Lyceum events that feature conversations about race, equality, and justice both in schools and in our society. She writes, “As historian Ibram X. Kendi has put it: ‘To be antiracist is a radical choice in the face of history, requiring a radical reorientation of our consciousness.’” Emily’s Lyceum document, open to all members of our community, offers multiple offerings that are part of the study of the history of race and power, implicit bias, and systematic racism. Emily also makes specific recommendations to faculty regarding important professional development opportunities in diversity areas. Last week, she convened a faculty group to watch and discuss a session offered by the Wells Collective on Teaching, Loving, and Believing in Black Girls. Emily described the session this way:
“It offered powerful frameworks for further understanding the experience of Black girls at St. Andrew’s, and our work as teachers, mentors, and coaches. It opened up spaces for great moments of reflection on our community and goal setting for how we can strive to be better. Each one of us must make sure we are centering teaching, loving, and believing in our Black students in our work as St. Andrew’s faculty.”
Dean of Teaching and Learning Elizabeth Roach shares her perspective on required school summer reading and guest author visits in 2020-21:
“For this upcoming school year, two brilliant, award winning writers will visit St. Andrew’s. Their novels, sent to all students for summer reading (and which will be studied in classes next year) will stimulate ongoing thought, reflection, and discussion about the complexities and importance of racial identity, the immigrant experience, storytelling, and the legacy of slavery.
Elizabeth Acevedo is an Afro-Dominican performer and writer of The Poet X, which won the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Xiomara Batista, the narrator in The Poet X (a novel written in verse), explores and wrestles with her identity as a young Dominican American woman growing up in Harlem, a twin, and a poet. Her voice—often silenced in her house and at church—is persistent, clear, compelling, and urgent in her poems, allowing us—as readers—to access a multiplicity of thematic questions about growing up first generation American, Latinx culture, sexuality, religion, gender, and family. Xiomara needs to speak through her poetry. We need and want to listen.
Yaa Gyasi, born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, contends with the Atlantic Slave Trade in her ambitious and sprawling debut novel Homegoing. A series of connected stories, the novel ranges over generations and continents, showing how slavery and colonialism persist and transform through time and centuries. In 2017, when asked about the legacy of slavery, Gyasi responded: ‘Black people in America were slaves for longer than they have been free. That imbalance (over 200 years of slavery, 100 years of Jim Crow, 50 years of post-civil rights freedom), is staggering to think about. It is ridiculous to argue that slavery ended many years ago and therefore doesn’t matter. History is not discrete or neat. It doesn’t happen and then end. It informs our present, and I hope that Homegoing is able to show how.’”
Personally, I am reading and writing intensively, trying to understand and pinpoint just how St. Andrew’s must improve and sharpen its approach and dedication to the experience of Black students and students of color. I am seeking to understand how education can play a leading role in the changes we need in America.
In support of these goals, I am offering two classes this summer, one designed for new students introducing them to the opportunity and responsibilities involved in strengthening the ethos of the School. The course features important conversations and readings about St. Andrew’s approach to human rights, diversity, inclusion, and proximity.
The second class will be held in mid-August on the work of the Equal Justice Initiative and Bryan Stevenson. The course will begin to formulate a new approach to American schools’ study of the history of white supremacy, racial oppression, and reform movements in the country. We will specifically discuss the Black Lives Matter movement, the recent murders and sustained violence towards Black people, and the urgent work ahead for all of us in the coming weeks and months.
These are painful days of grieving and mourning, but we will get through these difficult times together. We express our solidarity with and support of the Black community by standing with and standing by your side, here at St. Andrew’s and beyond.
I will continue to keep you updated on our progress and next steps over the next few weeks and months.
- 2020 Equity Work
- Headmaster News