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An Episcopal, co-educational 100% boarding school in Middletown, Delaware for grades 9 – 12

“We Speak Your Names”
By AK White

This year’s UNITED paid tribute to the first and early girls of color at St. Andrew’s

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of coeducation, St. Andrew’s will embark on two years of events that seek to amplify the voices of the first and early women who in 1973, forever changed the culture of our school. We seek their truth and their stories; we wish to celebrate their journeys and hold space for their struggles. After our first coeducation panel event, this year’s UNITED Conference—an event designed to honor families, students, and alumni of color and deepen bonds between communities—honored those early women.

On November 10th, UNITED: “We Speak Your Names” brought to campus five of the earliest women of color to attend St. Andrew’s—Joan Woods ’76, Tami Maull ’77, Treava Milton ’83, Viviana Davila ’85, and Anita Pamintuan Fusco ’86. Co-Dean of Residential Life (and friend to many on stage) Stacey Duprey ’85 P’04,’10 moderated the panel.

“The stories of the first and early girls at SAS are important for our community to hear and reflect upon, regardless of race or ethnicity,” says Dean of Inclusion and Belonging Dr. Danica Tisdale-Fisher, who, in partnership with others, orchestrated the event. “What is important about hearing the stories of women of color who were among those first cohorts is that we are acknowledging how intersecting identities impacted their experiences here. It was wonderful to learn more about how diverse their individual experiences were, which made the conversation even more dynamic.”

UNITED kicked off with a Friday chapel with Milton, who delivered a talk on the importance of building authentic human connections. Drawing on the story of Noah and his ark, Milton suggested the community draw on its “inner Noah,” as she did as a faculty member at SAS from 2007 to 2016, in which she embarked on a journey to “build and create rooms where students could breathe, where they could be confused or unsure or angry or vulnerable or exhausted by being a brown kid in a beautiful yet overwhelmingly white space.”

Treava Milton ’83 at Friday chapel

Treava Milton ’83 

“People are desperate for authentic connection,” Milton said. “So I'm going to ask you all to have a conversation with someone who might be on the arc with you, find out about how that person might live, or what they may need to survive or thrive. … Understand that during your attempts to build, there will almost always be the possibility that giraffes will argue with elephants. Or the rhino will use water from the shark tank to hydrate himself, or the eagle won't be concerned about dropping waste on the tigers. But don't let that stop you from building. Build with passion, build with intentionality.”

Later in the evening, an intimate dinner in the Warner Gallery allowed current parents, alumni, and faculty to come together in conversation and community. St. Andrew’s students were also on hand to share their cultural gifts. Riya Goyal ’27 performed a traditional Indian dance with poise and grace, resplendent in a shimmering, crystalline sari. After, the Saints Steppers—a relatively new addition to St. Andrew’s that has wasted no time becoming a school powerhouse—commanded center stage with their bold, fiery choreography and affirming passion. Both performances brought attendees to their feet, and inspired thoughtful discussion about the power that comes with being a young person who can intimately share of themself in their community.

Riya Goyal ’27 performing at the UNITED dinner

Riya Goyal ’27

The whole school then gathered in Engelhard Hall for the panel. The five women discussed their paths to St. Andrew’s, which included being inspired by the school after visiting as an athlete on an opposing team, being recruited as an athlete, or being identified by A Better Chance, an organization that seeks to put high-performing students of color into national leadership pipelines via the conduit of top independent and public schools.

The conversation allowed for the women to reflect on some hard truths, like navigating their cultural identities at a time when they couldn’t find many in their school community who looked like them, while also balancing the fact that they were in the minority as women, too.

“I don’t know that I felt like an early girl as much as I felt the racialization of my identity,” Milton said. “I felt like I was drowning all the time. In my situation, it was a lesson in not what to do: I just kept it in because I didn't know where to go. Looking back, a lot of that was shame. That’s why it’s vital for us to know that as people of color, you have earned the right to be here.”

Woods was astonished by the student body. “I’m sitting here in this auditorium and cannot believe the diversity I see,” she said. “This was not the school I went to. Tammy and I were here, and another Black woman, Diane, and we had to find places of refuge, which was usually Tammy’s home in Lewes [Delaware]. We found a place to come together where we could be ourselves.”

Tami Maull ’77 at the UNITED panel

Joan Woods ’76 (left) and Tami Maull ’77 (right)

Duprey spoke to the importance of finding your person. For Duprey, that was Milton. “Once I found my person, there was nothing I couldn’t do,” she said. “And I know there are some freshmen here who are saying, ‘I haven’t found my person yet.’ They’re coming. I promise. And they don’t have to look like you to be your person.”

The panelist offered sage advice to students. Davila urged them to accept that the pace of becoming for all humans is not the same, and that to give grace is a gift. Woods urged Saints to have the courage to ask curious questions. “There were members of my class that had enough courage to ask me questions, even though they sometimes went about it obnoxiously,” she said, laughing. “I do believe that’s part of the reason why so many years later, these relationships persist. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Viviana Davila ’85 at UNITED panel

Viviana Davila ’85

Milton advised that we “dig deep into our communities of care and let them carry us,” and to not waste the opportunity to truly engage in the diverse St. Andrew’s community. “Learn how to live and interact with the people right at your doorstep,” she said. “It is a rich and powerful experience.”

To close, Duprey called upon celebrated civil rights leader Diane Nash, who visited St. Andrew’s years ago. “Diane stood on this very stage and said, ‘I'd like you to know that although we had not yet met you, we loved you, and we were trying to bring about the best society we could for you,’” Duprey said. “So I say to all of my first and early girls that you've done that for us without even knowing that's what you were doing. You are the shoulders that we stand on, and we treasure you and we're so grateful for you.”

Before the attendees gathered in Warner Gallery post-event to meet the panelists, a group of current students took to the stage to offer a moving rendition of “We Speak Your Name,” the poem by Pearl Cleage that inspired the theme of the event. After each refrain, each panelist’s name was spoken aloud, as well as other alumnae of color:

Because we are magical women,
born of magical women,
who are born of magical women,
we celebrate your magic.

Tami. Joan. Stacy. Anita. Viviana. Treava.

We are here because we are your daughters
as surely as if you had conceived us, nurtured us,
carried us in your wombs, and then sent us out
into the world to make our mark
and see what we see, and be what we be, but better,
truer, deeper
because of the shining example of your own
incandescent lives.

We speak your name.

Students reading poem on stage at UNITED panel

(l. to r.) Celina Bao ’24, Angela Osaigbovo’24, Sophie Mo ’24, Akeelah Romeo ’24

Click any image to expand.