Like all close-knit communities, St. Andrew’s has its share of language and catchphrases specific to its people and its culture. If you hang out long enough on campus, you’re likely to hear a school favorite: “hold space.” To “hold space” can mean a great many things; to our students, it mostly means to be consciously empathetic to another person’s journey, particularly when that journey might be starkly different than our own, and to truly listen and not only consider someone else’s voice, but find ways in which we can lend ours to it.
From March 29 through April 1, 2023, St. Andrew’s took the time to hold space with two back-to-back events, UNITED and the Thomas Hooper III ’71 Conference on Equity & Justice. The events sought to foster connections between current students, parents, alumni, and faculty of color; tell transparent stories; amplify marginalized voices; and enhance education and awareness about diversity and inclusion initiatives.
UNITED: REKINDLING THE SPIRIT
UNITED, a St. Andrew’s event originally launched in 2015, was revived this year, thanks to the efforts of Dean of Inclusion and Belonging Dr. Danica Tisdale-Fisher. “The point of UNITED is to provide a safe space for family, students, and alumni of color,” Tisdale-Fisher told the crowd at the UNITED dinner on Thursday, March 30. “It’s time for us to rekindle an essential event like this, in which we tell and hear stories that only further connect our community.”
UNITED 2023 officially kicked off the evening before, at Wednesday chapel, which featured a talk by alumnae Dr. Ali Antoine ’11, who spoke about her journey as a Black woman in medicine and her path to eventual self-acceptance.
A current OBGYN resident in New York, Antoine shared a vulnerable self-reflection in the form of a patient history about herself.
"Chief complaint: fear," said Antoine. "AA is a 26-year-old female with a history of insecurity, beauty, personal loss, personal triumph, who presented to the Icahn School of Medicine with a life-long fear of inadequacy."
Raised by a single Haitian mother battling MS, Antoine's family was plagued by a bout of homelessness and the horrific earthquake in Haiti in 2010. After her mother's passing in 2016, she applied to medical school "despite being certain she wouldn't get in."
Antoine shared her complex relationship with resilience. Overcoming the obstacles of medical school and graduating with honors led to the trials and tribulations of residency. So she put her head down and worked harder, which resulted in a panic attack.
"What I've learned is that the goal isn't to be resilient," said Antoine. "The goal is to invest in me and my happiness, and the resilience and strength will naturally arrive.”
Her parting message was that happiness is an act of choice. "Of course, sometimes it will be more difficult than others. We all experience so many emotions on a minute-to-minute basis, and I don't mean to undermine those emotions, but I want you to make those choices that increase your baseline level of happiness every day."
The next evening, the Warner Gallery hosted an intimate UNITED dinner that included alumni, parents, students, and faculty of color. Multiple faculty leaders of student affinity groups, including Dr. Phillip Walsh, Neemu Reddy, and Stacey Duprey ’85, gave testimony to what it’s like to helm these affinity groups—smaller communities made up of students connected by a salient social identity—at St. Andrew’s. Walsh noted he was more emboldened to “tell his own story” about his mixed-race heritage thanks to the spirited SAS students in the Mixed Race Affinity Group. Reddy, who works with the Southeast Asian Student Group, tearfully recounted the first time two students of South Asian descent singled her out on campus to say, “You look like me.” And Duprey, who has worked with affinity groups for women of color in various iterations over the years, said those relationships have been one of the greatest joys of her tenure at St. Andrew’s. “Being able to watch these young women find their voices and bloom … I feel like I’m a farmer, and I get to plant these seeds and watch them grow,” she said. “It’s incredible to witness.”
Student performers dazzled throughout the dinner hour. Sarah Rose Odutola ’23 kicked the evening off with a beautiful reflection on her identity, story, and culture; Kaden Murrell ’26 and Shawn Li ’24 brought the fire with spoken-word poetry that chronicled their narratives; Daisy Wang ’25 and faculty member Angelica Huang-Murphy teamed up to offer a classical musical selection; and the newly formed Saints Steppers—Masai Matale ’23, Shania Adams ’23, Tamia Ferguson ’24, Madison Rodriguez ’26, Gloria Oladejo ’25, Jayda Badoo ’25, and Ashley McIntosh ’25—transformed the room with their boldness, message, and spirit.
Following the dinner was a frank conversation about St. Andrew’s and identity. An alumni panel of Rob Thomas ’84, Kellie Doucette ’88, Ari Ellis ’89, Jessica Woolford ’08, and Ann “Barbara” Satine ’12 fielded intelligent, intimate questions from student moderators Zach Macalintal ’24, Heidi Forbes ’23, and Juelz Clark ’25. About 50 students gathered in Engelhard Hall to take part in the conversation. Each panelist offered thoughtful and transparent answers; most echoed sentiments of not feeling like they had a space to call their own on campus, and if it weren’t for the communities they formed with other students of color, they might not have made it through the first year.
There were moments of levity, like when Woolford, a “proud Dominicana” and Bronx native, told the crowd she was “really confused” when she arrived on the scene of St. Andrew’s traditional Square Dance. “Do y’all still do that?” she asked the crowd. “I had no idea what was happening.”
There were moments of pain, too, like when a choked-up Thomas relayed returning to his room one evening after dinner to find race-based profanity etched into his furniture. “I didn’t feel safe,” he said. “I didn’t feel loved. How was I supposed to navigate that as a kid? Luckily, I was blessed to have others near who saved me.”
While such truths were hard to talk through, Woolford and Satine both noted how wonderful it was to look out into the crowd of the students of today and see so much diversity. “I used to have to count to find people who looked like me, that’s how low the number was,” Satine said. “Looking out at you all, I am so happy to see that you have each other.” Woolford’s similar observation drew snaps from the crowd: “Look at all these melanated people!”
The last words of the night galvanized the students present: “Don’t just open the doors for the kids that come behind you, kick them down,” Woolford advised. “It’s not only what we do, it’s what we have to do.”
THOMAS HOOPER III ’71 CONFERENCE ON EQUITY & JUSTICE
Thomas Hooper ’71 broke barriers at St. Andrew’s. Hooper, who passed in 2020, was the school’s first Black president; later, so committed to the cause of St. Andrew’s, he became the first Black trustee and trustee emeritus. Hooper’s relationship with St. Andrew’s was steadfast as he worked to recruit and develop students to be the next generation of compassionate leaders and advocates for diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.
Thanks to Hooper’s pioneering spirit, his compassion, and his deep commitment to equity and justice, St. Andrew’s annual on-campus student-led equity conference is now known as the Hooper Conference.
Hooper’s granddaughter, Lauren Hooper Rogers, a successful performer and vocalist, opened the conference Friday, March 31 with a chapel talk in which she reflected on her father. Rogers noted she had three homes: Winston-Salem, where she was born; New Jersey, where she was raised; and St. Andrew’s.
“He poured into this place,” said Rogers. “This was his home, and it is mine, too.”
She noted all the things she took from her father, like the “ability to move forward with grace, with passion and understanding—that I got from him. And the hugs. My dad knew how to hug somebody.”
From her father, she said she also learned what was most important in life. “Life, for him, was about those things that feed your soul,” she told students. “Money was not my father’s priority for his time on earth. It was the work, the mission, and the people he surrounded himself with.”
The thesis statement for Roger’s talk was simple: love.
“If there’s any message I can take from my father to share with you all, it’s that love gets passed down from one generation to the next and to the next in ways that you understand and are aware of, and in ways that you aren’t,” she said. “Many of you have never once met my father. Yet his ideals, his passions, and his touch on the school reverberates through St. Andrew’s in ways that you might not ever know. But the love is there. The space he held is there. All of us has the opportunity to love another, to hold space for one another, even for those who we find it hard to love just yet. These are the lessons we should pass on.”
On Friday evening, the whole school gathered to make space for a conversation rooted in the intersection of mass incarceration, race, injustice, and the transformative power of education.
Students, faculty, and staff gathered in Engelhard Hall for a viewing of the first hour of College Behind Bars, a deeply human docuseries that chronicles the lives of men and women in prison for serious crimes as they struggle to earn college degrees while incarcerated via the Bard College Prison Initiative. The viewing was immediately followed by breakout sessions for all students to share their ideas and talk through the intersectionality that the documentary presented.
Students in one such group, co-moderated by Miguel Borja ’23 and Nick Osbourne ’23, were fixated on two specific points: One, echoed by each student in the session, is that the key to reform and change in terms of America’s rate of incarceration starts with equitable public education. The second—and much more divisive point—was the question of education as a human right, or a citizen’s right.
On Saturday, April 1, students then attended a panel discussion of College Behind Bars with two of the former inmates whose stories were featured in the docuseries: Tamika Graham and Giovannie Hernandez, both who now work in social justice. The two shared the stage with SAS student moderators Ashley McIntosh ’25, Miguel Borja ’23, Heidi Forbes ’23, Zach Macalintal ’24, and Ethan Williams ’26. Graham and Hernandez spoke on what they feel are the two most pressing, systemic issues facing the formerly incarcerated: housing and mental health initiatives.
Graham noted it was nearly impossible to get housing as a former inmate, even for someone like her, a U.S. Army Veteran. Hernandez recalled feeling “paralyzed” simply trying to cross a street after being released. “This is something I haven’t done in 12 years,” he told the crowd. “And I didn’t know how to work through it.” The panelists touched on many things—how they felt they were portrayed on screen; the divisive national narrative on prison reform; the difficulty of securing a job; rebuilding a presence in their communities. The overreaching theme, though, was how education empowers.
“I gained scholarly eyes,” Graham told an engaged student body. “Not only did I learn for the first time how smart I actually was, I saw the world with different eyes. Getting your college degree in prison is not for the weak. You have these people out here wishing you ill will; you’re trying to study and write a paper and you have to wonder if you’re going to come up on a razor, or a guard who’s mad because she thinks she’s smarter than you. I had to put up a wall around myself because this was too important.”
“The most profound impact for me was I saw all the missing pieces,” Hernandez said. “I never saw the art, the history, the physics, the language; having an education gave me power and control over my life, and over my emotions. I was behind bars, but I was free.”
Before the students dispersed to a meet and greet with the panelists, one student stood up asked the essential St. Andrew’s question: “What can we do?”
“Vote,” Graham said. “Have conversations. But the most important thing is to stay here, where you are, and get this education. You gotta change yourself before you can change the world.”