A Message for Canterbury Students
June 6, 2020
At the risk of repeating myself, what I would give to talk with you in School Meeting, the dining hall, the dorms, the NAF.... It is so incredibly difficult right now to help you navigate a spring first derailed by COVID-19 and now ablaze with anger, grief, fear, and violence. As I said to the seniors at graduation, I’m pretty sure we would all happily go back to that Thursday night in February when we lost power on campus and had to crowd into Steele Hall. But we can’t go back, of course, and it is our responsibility to move forward.
To that end, Part One of this letter is designed to map out Canterbury’s next step regarding our work with, and for, our student community regarding our critical and ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. To be sure, it is Canterbury’s values and infrastructure that create the opportunities for us to teach and challenge our students to think more broadly, take care of one another more deeply, and work at playing a true role in social justice more proactively, personally, and genuinely. It is these very values and infrastructure that welcomed student voices over the past few years, voices that identified programming and “spaces” our students needed for conversation, affirmation, and action. I am proud of our students for your inaugural participation in the People of Color Conference and for playing an instrumental role in developing AHANA, the Diversity & Inclusion Club, GSA, and the service & justice programming woven throughout the CSSJ.
At the same time, this foundation is only a start. The clear next priority this summer will be a DEI strategic roadmap that a working group of faculty brainstorm, create, and share with our community. This group will seek insight and perspective from students, faculty, staff, and alumni and will partner closely with the CSSJ programming (soon to be The D’Amour Center); moreover, the roadmap/strategic plan will include action items to which we will hold ourselves accountable. Expect an update from me at the start of the school year, and know that your teachers, coaches, and advisors are highly committed to this work as well as their individual professional development focused on DEI.
Part Two: Last Monday, Mr. Dellorco shared part of his personal journey (thank you to all who joined us for that Student Forum), and he has inspired me to do the same today. I offer this simply as one way I can reassure you that the adults on our hilltop are also struggling to process and respond to the killing of George Floyd—as the most recent appalling example of institutional racism—as well as to the breadth and depth of inequity that has led to the explosive unrest we are witnessing today.
A few threads of my story as an educator, things that I have thought a great deal about (again) in recent days:
In my earliest days of teaching, I heard one of my students talking with a friend from home on the dorm’s payphone (yes, payphone...1995); the tone and cadence of her voice sounded completely different. When she realized that I had overheard, she paused but then told me that the voice she used as a Black student in boarding school was her “White” voice and not the voice she used at home with her friends and family. I was stunned, though I know now that I shouldn’t have been. That moment has played a role in my work with students for more than 25 years.
I know that some of the students of color whom I have taught and coached wondered if their value to the community was linked (or limited) to the diversity they offered. I wish I had done even more to let them know how deeply I valued them for ALL they offered.
I have experienced the uncomfortable and important conversations that ensue when we ask students to engage in exercises that explore white privilege. We must be willing to ask (and answer) the endless questions that highlight assumptions our community members who are White can make vs. those who are Black (e.g., I am never asked to speak for all of the people of my racial group. I can walk into a classroom and know I will not be the only member of my race.)
When I have taught about the impact of race on health, the statistics paint a clear picture that stress resulting from the racism experienced by Black Americans places them at much higher risk for heart disease—as one of myriad examples of illness—regardless of socioeconomic status or genetics.
I can admit that I am still learning about my own biases and assumptions. I know that not being a racist is insufficient and ineffective; we must be anti-racists. I know that there is power and affirmation in saying out loud: Black Lives Matter. I know that many of the people whom I trust the most, and who have taught me the most, live with less privilege than I have, simply because of the color of their (or my) skin.
What I know and believe starts with my lens into the world and includes the color of my skin. I am humbled by that reality. I am challenged to work harder to understand the perspective of others. I am committed to the DEI work our students and faculty have already begun. And I am looking to all of you—our students — as well as our full community to help us continue to do this critical and unrelenting work.
We miss you. We are here for you. We hope to see you at Monday evening’s 6pm Student Forum (details to follow on Monday), and please keep an eye on the Student Life Instagram for weekly anti-racist resources.
We would love to know how you are doing; expect to hear from us this week.