Dear D-E Families,
I write first to thank you for your patience, flexibility, and support of the school’s work to continue school life amid the challenges of a global pandemic. Thank you for lending us your children. It is a pleasure to work with them.
Many of you may know that I began my work as the Director of Equity and Diversity Engagement in the summer of 2017. It is common for schools like D-E to have a school wide leader to work full-time on many endeavors that deepen the school’s mission to embrace diversity. I am part of a network of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leaders working in school communities around the country. Our work is similar, in that we are charged with moving forward the DEI conversation and the day-to-day work of education around those topics. We all work to support students, to structure professional learning for faculty and staff, to assist with hiring more diverse teachers and staff, and to generally support our schools to commit to practices that create inclusive and equitable school cultures, where students and adults of many backgrounds and identities can feel they belong and can thrive. And, each school has their own culture in which DEI leaders participate. The culture at D-E is uniquely diverse; we are one of the most diverse schools in the New York City metro area. With that diversity comes so much excitement and growth, as well as particular challenges.
Our current historical moment has presented our entire nation with both a fraught and promising challenge. We are living in a global pandemic. Now, a global movement against anti-black racism has emerged in protest. For the past several years our country has seen the rise of racism targeting multiple communities of color, along with the rise of violent and deadly anti-Semitism. Our world, our society is at a crossroads. Will we embark upon a national healing process to transform injustice and inequity? Will our society affirm the lives and dignities of all? What work will schools do to aid in transformation? What work can we do at D-E?
During our days away from school during the pandemic, adults from all areas of the school and several Upper School students met weekly for “Equity Checks” – presentations and conversations around a range of DEI topics pertinent to our social and school-based contexts. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, we supported Black students and students of all racial identities to meet, to express their feelings and views, and to lead their peers in dialogues about being upstanders for justice. These recent gatherings flowed from the pain and the need to create community around what has been happening this spring, and they are connected to the range of equity and diversity conversations we have as adults and that we support among students at D-E. You have chosen a school for your children that has a clear mission that guides us all to “. . . embrace diversity in order to develop the skills, values, and courage to meet the challenges of a changing world and make it better.” How will we, as a community, live this mission more fully in 2020 and beyond?
Dr. De Jarnett has uplifted us all with his thoughtful reflections on the work we need to do going forward. Also, D-E has publicized a Community Letter that commits us to re-double the efforts in our DEI work. Over 1600 members of our community– parents/families, alumni, faculty-staff – have pledged to this work of deepening/redoubling our understanding and efforts to create a more safe, inclusive, and equitable world. More signatories from these constituents come forward each day. As I was preparing this letter to send to you, Black alumni and current students have stated a list of recommendations that are aligned with the deepening/redoubling that school leaders are involved in and planning for D-E right now. We are thankful to our alumni and students for their clarity and for their insistence that we at D-E do the work necessary for true belonging and equity.
For those of us who educate your children, we are called to commit to the life-long learning our mission inspires us to foster in our students. We intend to build upon the work of creating the diverse community that D-E has become, and to build upon the DEI-focused professional development work we’ve been doing at D-E. Before the final end of the year for employees, adults who work at D-E were given summer professional development work to prepare them for next year’s school wide conversations around equity, unlearning bias, and being an inclusive school. We are designing the work for teachers and others to engage in professional learning about race and racism, why and how it exists today, and how we all, including our students of all ages, are impacted by a legacy of racial inequity. Addressing racism and how it lives on a spectrum and how it shapes the very fabric of our nation, and of our schools, is so important in all that we aspire to do in our embrace of diversity. This work is timely now, urgent. As a nation and as a school, we all must unlearn racism in all of its forms and wholly support all of our students in this endeavor.
We also would like to involve parents in these conversations next year. Many families in our community already have these discussions at home. Many would like to learn more and to have more of these discussions in their families. There are many, many resources that help people think and talk about race, racial identities and racism from many perspectives – history, psychology/social emotional lenses, sociology, political science, cultural studies, etc. Please take a look at the following curated list of resources that we hope are helpful and practical for D-E families wanting to explore alongside educators this summer. Some of these pieces will give insight about having conversations with your children about happenings in the world:
Resources to help you talk with your children (and adults):
- How to Resolve Racially Stressful Situations | Howard Stevenson TED Talk- Lower School/All Divisions
- Hear the thoughtful, moving stories of Dr. Howard Stevenson, nationally known psychologist and the father of two African-American sons.
- CNN & Sesame Street Town Hall – How to Explain Racism to Kids | Video – Lower School
- Embrace Race/Raising a Brave Generation | Website with great insights and resources, including books for young children
- Talking About Race | Smithsonian Institute website with good insights and resources
- Talking With White Children About George Floyd by Ali Michael | Article from Independent School Magazine/Online Exclusive
Resources for adults and older students wanting to have a sense of various conversations about race, history, the present and schools:
- Race: The Power of An Illusion – Parts 1, 2 and 3 | Documentary
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi | Book (Note: the whole 8th grade will read this book next year. This is the young adult version of a combined Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi).
- Teaching Our Children To Fight ‘Baseless Hatreds’ by Roger Brooks, CEO of Facing History and Ourselves
- Getting it Right: Schools and the Asian-American Experience by Vivian Wu Wong | Article from Independent School Magazine
- Engaging the Racial Elephant by Sherry Coleman and Howard Stevenson | Article from Independent School Magazine
- High School Students and Alumni Are Using Social Media to Expose Racism by Taylor Lorenz and Katherine Rosman| Article from The New York Times
- Latino and black Americans are allies in the fight for racial justice by Janet Murguía | Op-Ed from The Hill
- Are Arabs and Iranians white? Census says yes, but many disagree by Sarah Parvini and Ellis Simani | Article from The Los Angeles Times
- Not Quite, Not White: Losing and Finding Race in America by Sharmila Sen | Book
- I Am The Villain Of My Own Story: Author Sharmila Sen by Kiran Manral | Interview in She the People
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo | Book
- NAIS Principles of Best Practice – Equity and Justice | Recommendations, National Association of Independent Schools
- Heavy Topics, Strong Classrooms by Elijah Hawkes | Article from Teaching Tolerance Magazine Online
- Privilege, Power and Difference by Allan Johnson | Book
For those interested in the conversation about what it means to be white/European-American:
- White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh | Essay
- How Can I Have a Positive Racial Identity? I’m White! | Ali Michael TED Talk
- How Did Jews Become White Folks? by Karen Brodkin | Book chapter
Ultimately, the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion exists to create more connected, more kind communities where people from many backgrounds are able to create authentic bonds and to better bridge to each other’s worlds. Creating anti-racist cultures is core to DEI work in schools. While talking about race and racism can be uncomfortable, what awaits us on the other side of the process is a more knowledgeable, understanding and supportive community.
With best wishes for a restorative and healthy summer,
Dr. Mirangela Buggs