The following article contains discussion of police brutality and the murder of Black individuals.
I feel lied to by this school. Don’t get me wrong – I am immensely grateful for the education I have been granted. I’ve learned a lot about myself: I discovered an interest in genetics and gender theory, I’ve challenged my own notions about religion, and I’ve come to understand that my brain likes calculus more than geometry and biology more than physics. But what I feel cheated by is our school mission. My heart and mind have not been shaped in a way that can change the world. And why not?
After a year-long creation process, “shaping the minds and hearts of the people who will change the world” was introduced as St. Paul Academy and Summit School’s mission statement in 2013. However, the world and our understanding of how to change it was vastly different in 2013 than it is in 2021. While I don’t think this mission statement is a bad one, we fail to uphold it because we are stuck in the past.
It goes without saying that racism, police brutality, disregard of indigenous land, and countless other crimes against human rights have existed long before the implementation of SPA’s mission statement. But at the same time, the fabric of this world has torn beyond repair since 2013. And the hatred, oppression, and violence that was once woven in have fallen directly into our laps. With an increased ability to document events in real-time, a history of “out of sight, out of mind” has withered beyond resurrection. There is no more hiding the anger, frustration, and sadness of BIPOC communities. There is no more pushing our homeless neighbors aside. So then why does it feel like SPA has created a bubble of safety, where we can discuss and discuss without ever creating tangible change in our school or world?
At a book launch on May 2, 2018, the artist Lorraine O’Grady “noted that unless we completely revolutionize [our current structures], we are dangerously close to a point where white supremacy will no longer need white people in order to reproduce itself.” I would not be the first to argue that we have well passed that point and that the same is true for sexism, homophobia, and ableism. Our world, the world that needs changing, is a world of undeniable hate.
Hate is like a virus. We all know a lot about viruses: how even the smallest oral droplet can pass an illness from one individual to the next. This small nature is key. SPA, and on a larger scale, Minnesota, are not necessarily KKK racist or “burn in Hell” homophobic. You must look closer, at the policies, the microaggressions, the history of hostility and exclusion. It’s all in the details. One cough from the chief of police and officers are getting off scot-free for murdering Black people. One unmasked breath from the larger institution and suddenly the entire building is filled with viral particles of hate.
Hate is also like cancer because right now, your body is harboring cancerous cells. For most of us, our system is able to keep these cells in check. But we are perpetually running the risk of these cells rapidly duplicating, forming a nasty conglomerate of death. Sometimes this replication is due to external factors, sometimes it’s a genetic predisposition, and sometimes it’s impossible to tell. Hatred, like cancer, lives in all of us. This is how O’Grady’s prediction for the future has come to fruition – hate is so ingrained in us that we express our -isms without even thinking.
This is the world we are living in, and this is the world we have been living in. Which is why I am demanding a fundamental change in SPA. Stop devaluing students’ personal opinions and experiences, and treat them like the primary sources they are. Openly and actively support students when they are protesting or engaging in other forms of civic action. Encourage more, more, more community service. Organize community clean-up days after protests. Teach students how to call their senators, how to email their representatives, how to be active participants in our current state of government. This is how the world can be changed in 2021.
At the beginning of the 2013 school year, Head of School Bryn Roberts stated that “we need to use the mission statement as something that serves as a filter or guide against which we measure programs and aspirations and conversations within the school. Whenever I’m thinking of a program or significant change, the question I ask is whether the choices we make are consistent with our aspirations and the definition of who we are.” Maybe this is why students find it so difficult to create sufficient change here at SPA – we still define ourselves as we did eight years ago. And this is most certainly not the fault of the mission statement. With 2013 as a point of reference, we are fighting an unwinnable battle. As the world morphs and shifts, so must SPA’s ability to uphold our commitment to shaping the minds and hearts of the people who will change this already changing world.