By Lise Shelton, Assistant Head of School
Central to who we are as a school are the Bay School Precepts. Guidelines rather than rules, they ask us to be the community we want to be: caring, intentional, aware. The aspirational quality of the precepts suggests that they are not easily realized. They require work and vigilance. We may not yet fully or consistently live up to them but we commit to trying because we believe our community will be the better for it. While we attend to all of the Precepts, one –“we value the richness of difference and diversity”—carries special resonance in our work with teens who are in the process of defining themselves.
Diversity—broadly defined—is the nature of the world. At Bay, we aspire not simply to acknowledge this reality but to value it. Valuing diversity means, in part, readying our students to interact with the world. We teach our students how to engage with people whose viewpoints, backgrounds and goals may be wholly different from their own: they are learning to be inquisitive, observational, self-aware, skilled in communicating across difference, and willing to hold multiple realities.
These abilities can help them not only in the future but also right now as they work to write a compelling analytical essay, create an effective solution to an engineering problem, take careful notes during a chemistry lab or discern the economic and ethical implications of cap and trade. As they engage with others who differ with and from them, students also learn compassion; they learn to be patient, courageous and resilient as they (and we) walk through the confusion and conflict which can arise when we encounter the unfamiliar or the seemingly incomprehensible. Valuing the richness of difference and diversity goes hand-in-hand with developing the skills of innovative problem-solving, critical thinking, effective communication, meaningful collaboration and ethical decision-making which are at the core of a Bay education.
Whether an institution values diversity is often measured in numbers. Make no mistake, diversity in the student body and staffulty does matter, and each year we seek to increase our diversity. But numbers aren’t the whole story. What about the mindset or attitudes toward diversity? At Bay, not only do we see valuing diversity as an educational imperative, we also see it supported by a commitment to equity and inclusion. As a school and as individual teachers, we are always asking ourselves: does every student have equal access? Does each student feel seen and heard? Every student, indeed every staffulty member and every family, should feel Bay is their community, not a place where they are on the outside looking in. That every Bay student has the same access to technology, Intersession options and healthy lunch; that every student has the same access to tech support, college counseling and SAT/ACT test prep; that incoming Bay 9th graders unfamiliar with independent school culture have a week-long acculturation before they start classes—all reflect Bay’s desire to provide equal access to our students and families.
Beyond access, every student needs to feel welcomed to participate fully. We like to say that no-one should have to check her/his identity at the door. We want people to bring their full, authentic selves. At Bay, being inclusive requires our being aware of when we are unintentionally excluding—be it through narrow language or cultural assumptions or just unexamined habit– and then making changes to our language, behaviors or policies. For Bay staffulty, we develop our awareness through on-going professional development; whether it is discussing works such as Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi, attending in-services or conferences on race, gender or learning, and the brain, or participating in weekly staffulty- led conversations on identity—we seek to understand how our socialization, unintended biases, and privilege may affect our ability to be truly inclusive educators. I must say, having worked at several wonderful independent schools, how impressed I am by my Bay colleagues who take on the hard work of unpacking their own experiences of privilege and bias and who do so to better guide our students as they navigate the complexities of identity and society. (Please see below for librarian Rachel Shaw’s accompanying blog on the staffulty discussion group, White People Unlearning Racism.) Bay students also develop greater awareness of identity, inclusion and social justice by attending conferences such as the Student Diversity Leadership Conference or the White Privilege Conference and through Freshman Seminar, advisory, and all-school gatherings. In the classroom, inclusion means teachers make curricular choices so that all students can see themselves in the curriculum and can hear those voices that may be missing from the room. It can also mean that students, together with their teachers, co-create classroom norms and criteria for assessment. Even the idea of getting frequent feedback from students is related to inclusion. Ultimately, we see our focus on equity and inclusion as a way to validate all learners and as a means for students to learn from the diversity that surrounds them.
Do we feel that we have fully lived up to our aspirations regarding diversity, equity and inclusion? No. Just as our larger society still struggles with these issues, so does Bay. But we try not to shy away from the hard stuff– the honest self-assessments, the difficult conversations, the on-going work—as we pursue a better Bay, a better education for all of our students.
If you have any questions or ideas about how Bay is supporting diversity, equity and inclusion, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
White People Unlearning Racism Groups
By Rachel Shaw, Librarian
As one of Bay’s founding faculty members, I helped create a culture that I believed was inclusive, warm, and accepting for anyone and everyone who joined us. In 2008, just four years after our founding, a few of our students of color told me that they didn’t feel welcome at Bay. I was dismayed but encouraged them to continue sharing their stories.
Our students of color had several experiences with white students that were offensive; they felt judged and not accepted for who they were because of their race. Inside I thought, How could my experience of Bay (as a white faculty member) and their experience of Bay (as students of color) be so different? I had this sinking feeling that I was missing something incredibly important.
As librarians are wont to do, I started reading.
Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race and Joseph Barndt’s Understanding and Dismantling Racism: The Twenty-First Century Challenge to White America gave me a helpful introduction to the concepts of racial identity development, white privilege, and systemic racism. I also participated in several anti-racism workshops for white people through a local program called The UNtraining. This education helped me begin to build a bridge between my experience as a white faculty member and the experiences of our student of color.
Because I love Bay and want all of our students to feel safe and welcome here, I wanted to share my growing understanding of the challenges of systemic racism with my colleagues. A couple years ago, I invited my white colleagues–who were interested in understanding how racism plays out in our lives, at Bay, and in our society–to meet.
This group, White People Unlearning Racism (WPUR), has grown from a handful of participants in its first year to 17 this current school year. Several of us have continued our professional development through attending the White Privilege Conference, UNtraining workshops, and doing the reflection activities in our summer reading book, Waking Up White . Our Morning Meeting presentation last year brought issues of whiteness and race to the larger community and helped support White Allies For Justice, Bay’s student group, now in its second year. Participants have found that they are more thoughtful and aware in their interactions with students and staffulty of color as well as other white people.
We can’t make progress on racial diversity in independent schools if we don’t talk about white identity and systemic racism–something that other independent schools are realizing as well.
Historically, an intentionally all-white group has has caused harm to people of color. In the context of anti-racism work, however, an all-white group creates a safe space for white people to share how we have absorbed negative stereotypes of people of color and acted in ways that perpetuate racism. Having people of color in the group hearing our process could be hurtful to them. Through WPUR, we are also creating a community of white people who care about racial justice, who want their interactions with people of color to be as authentic as they can be.
For many students Bay is a warm and accepting place; that part hasn’t changed. And since that eye-opening conversation back in 2008, we have more resources for students to explore their racial identity through a variety of student-led clubs including Unity Club, Black Student Union, Hispanic/Latino Alliance, White Allies For Justice. All of us in the Bay community need to intentionally and courageously engage the racial elephant if we want to see each student unlock their potential, as our mission states. I want to particularly invite any white person reading this, to do what we ask of our students: take a risk, do some reading, have a potentially uncomfortable conversation. Our community will be all the stronger for it.