Even just casually passing through classrooms, hallways and common spaces, it is hard not to notice the lack of diversity. In a city with 50.7% white population reported in the 2021 census, the upper school has a 74% white student population and an almost completely white faculty. Last spring’s survey collected information; next steps were announced last month. While there is some debate about whether the action steps are performative, the truth is the plan focuses on small, measurable action over time.
Director of Intercultural Life Naomi Taylor and IC Program Specialist Alexis Iris brought the 9-12 student body together Apr. 15 to talk through the data and the plan. This is the first time in a long time that the school has conducted a wide-scale survey across grades, guardians, faculties, non-teaching employees and alumni, which is to be applauded. The assembly mainly focused on the reflection of the community in terms of diversity, inclusion and safety. While the data showed a safety ranking above three on a one-to-five scale, it was also noted that slightly over 81% of the survey takers identified as white. Feeling safe in a space surrounded by those who identify the same doesn’t come as a surprise. The minority, on the other hand, stood at a slight disadvantage in satisfactory votes as they only took up a small population of the total polled. Taylor noted that members of racial and gender minorities on campus were more likely to rank the community low as a safe and inclusive environment.
Things move slowly in institutions, and SPA is no exception. Notable efforts to create moments that focus on the issue — from the Indigenous People’s Day, Student Diversity Leadership Conference attendee activity and MLK Day speakers for racial awareness and celebration — the follow-up that weaves practice into the day-to-day life of the school is still lacking. Not much of the discussed topics are carried out effectively outside of classrooms and in common spaces. Students most often divide themselves up by race, especially in ethnic minority groups, because those peers are whom they feel most comfortable with and relate to.
Affinity groups help the community recognize and identify themselves through race and gender. The supports gained from the shared identity can help strengthen one’s cultural image and help open up and introduce minority identity in ways that feel healthy to the rest of the grade or school.
But safety and inclusion will only improve when students start to realize and understand white-privilege. Increased self-reflection and meaningful discussion will create the path for the community to improve their understanding of race and equality. The book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum reflected the idea that the beginning of noticing racism is what will trigger “what it means to be White.” And it is through recognition will people to start actively participating in an anti-racist society.
As multiple teachers retire or are not returning next year, the opportunity for more diverse staff presents itself. The expansion of the Office of Intercultural Life should be a key aid in meeting this goal. Alexis Irish was named the new Intercultural Life Program Specialist earlier this year, and the school just hired Maya Zeigler as BIPOC Recruitment and Hiring Specialist, a job she will begin May 31. As part of the seach process, students should volunteer to serve on faculty hiring panels, express their opinions about candidates and further carry out the school’s mission of improving diversity.
The school is slowly approaching the ultimate goal of diversity improvement through small step-by-step actions. However, it is essential for each student to incorporate what they learn from each assembly, workshop, or class discussion and embed it into the community’s culture on a daily basis. Set personal goals and become more open-minded and inclusive as a member of the community. Bring concerns to elected student leadership and administration to examine places that may not feel safe for everyone and identify ways to make them more welcoming. By increasing observation and deepening the understanding of White Privilege the community can develop a more inclusive and safe environment for everyone. Understand that the DEI goals are set up to practice at school a mindset we can take into the larger community. Everyone has the responsibility to change something for positive change to take place.