The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

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The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

Ali Michael encourages race-based discussion

Johanna Pierach
DEIB. Ali Michael, Co-Director of the Race Institute for K-12 educators, focuses much of her work on making racially equitable spaces an accessible goal in the classroom.

On Tuesday, the upper school community gathered to discuss race with guest speaker Dr. Ali Michael. The assembly was the first of the Fall 2023 Community Engagement Speaker Series, “Building Healthy Multiracial Communities.” According to SPA’s DEIB Strategic Plan, the speakers of “different cultural perspectives and racial backgrounds” are meant to help lead the community in productive discussion on “building and sustaining healthy multiracial communities.”

Michael, Co-Director of the Race Institute for K-12 educators, works with school communities nationwide to make racially equitable spaces an accessible goal in the classroom. She has authored multiple publications, including the novel Raising Race Questions: Whiteness, Inquiry and Education. In addition, she has won the 2017 Society of Professors of Education Outstanding Book Award and is the co-editor of multiple novels. Through her work, Dr. Michael focuses on all races, acknowledging that each contributes to a multiracial society.

The assembly began with an introduction from Assistant Head of School for Student Development and Community Engagement Jill Romans, who reported the results of the DEIB survey taken by students last week.

“The big takeaway was the vast majority of students saw [conversations about race] as valuable for a variety of reasons,” Romans said. “…[Students] were asking for more practice to make it less forced or awkward,” she added.

According to the survey, those who agreed that it was difficult to talk about race with their classmates reported that it could feel awkward or forced, with some students feeling afraid of sounding racist or accidentally saying something hurtful. In general, there were themes of avoidance for those without a BIPOC identity.

Conversely, those who did not find it challenging to participate in conversations about race with their peers cited good relationships with those around them and general comfort in sharing, especially with those they know well or share identity with.

In general, the survey found that within the culture of race-based discussion at SPA, students have found it easy and challenging to contribute depending on their environment and personal feelings.

The vast majority of students saw [conversations about race] as valuable for a variety of reasons.

— Jill Romans

Once she took the stage, Michael walked to the front to connect with her audience. She focused on the definition of race and its misconceptions, explaining how melanin content is the only scientifically-based distinctive factor between peoples. Still, it is not indicative of anything other than skin color. Instead, race is a social construct created to justify horrible acts of racism.

“Race is the child of racism, not the father,” author Ta-Nehisi Coates said during a speech at the Matthew Knight Arena.

Throughout her address, Michael used quotes from other experts in her field, including this one, to drive home her points on the true origins of race.

Throughout her presentation, she referenced student survey responses to draw a connection to the community. “You all are so brilliant,” she said, audibly impressed by the thoughtfulness of the student body’s responses. Using these responses, she spoke on the importance of race-based discussion, both within the school and in the broader world. Dr. Michael emphasized that it is crucial to understand the value of discussing race and knowing how to go about these conversations.

The next speaker in the series is Howard Stevenson on Nov. 13, from 7:30-8:30 p.m. in the Converse Auditorium on the Goodrich campus. He will discuss race socialization and literacy, particularly as a tool for parents. SPA families can register here, and community members can register here.

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About the Contributor
Johanna Pierach, In Depth Editor
My name is Johanna Pierach (she/her). I’m the In Depth Editor for The Rubicon. At school, I’m involved in the Junior Class Leadership Council, HerSpace, IRIS, and KnitWits. I also compete for the Cross Country, Nordic, and Track teams. I love to thrift and go to concerts. I can be reached at [email protected].

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