Community / Letters to the Editor / Opinion

Administrators reply: “We must be more culturally aware, culturally sensitive and culturally competent”

We are writing in response to two recent student editorials, written by Gloria Revanche and Jackie Hayre-Pérez. In addition to validating the concerns raised in these editorials, we want to explain the steps we have taken, and will continue to take, to promote inclusive dialogue with all students in our community.

First, we would like to commend both students for articulating their concerns regarding the climate at Dana Hall, how we address issues of race and diversity in our community, and the diversity of our faculty. We respect the courage that these two students demonstrated by sharing their experiences as students of color at Dana Hall. As difficult and disheartening as it is to hear that not all students feel valued at Dana Hall, we validate their feelings, and we know that they are not the only ones who feel this way. We want to hear their frustrations and concerns and we will continue to work diligently to help make the experience and the culture better here for all of our students but, in this case, particularly our students of color.

As experienced educators, we understand the need to balance the immediacy of current events with a thoughtful approach to promoting open and honest conversations. Both Jackie and Gloria voiced frustrations with the School for not discussing Freddie Gray’s death and the turmoil in Baltimore in a school-wide forum and in a more timely manner. We want to be clear: even before these editorials were published in the Hallmanac, many faculty and administrators were already planning for upcoming announcements, discussions, and programs. We deeply regret that some students interpreted our approach as ignoring the news or not acknowledging the painful realities of racism in our community and our society.

Over the course of the past year, we have worked on developing and promoting a more inclusive community for all of our students, faculty, and staff. From bringing Defamation to the Upper School in the fall, to our annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation, to lunchtime discussions of racial tension in America, to a February X Block devoted to small-group discussion about race, identity, microaggressions, and privilege, we have tried to foster honest and open dialogue around important issues. In response to the feedback from February that there wasn’t enough time allocated for these conversations, we devoted the May 11 X Block to a school-wide discussion of systemic racism in America today. There is always more work to do to make our community inclusive, but we want to point out the work that has been done to date as well. As Mellody Hobson suggested in her TED Talk, we must remember to “not be color-blind, but be color brave” and talk about race head-on. We want to thank Gloria and Jackie for doing just this in their Hallmanac articles. In many ways, we are trying to do the same.

In order to help us better understand the student climate regarding race, gender, sexual orientation, and class, we administered a climate survey this winter, and recently followed up with the Identity Support Survey. We will use this data to help create programs that support all of our students with regard to specific aspects of their identities, such as race, religion, sexual orientation, political views, or if a student is on financial aid or an international student. Ultimately, our goal is to make Dana Hall a place where everyone feels heard, supported, acknowledged, validated and valued.

What students may not know is that the faculty and staff are also working together to better educate ourselves on matters of race, class, and privilege. Over the summer, all faculty read Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, and engaged in guided discussions on how this applies in our community. Additionally, the full faculty used two professional days (one following Winter Break, the second following Spring Break) to engage with outside facilitators whose work focuses exclusively on multiculturalism and inclusion in independent schools. Every year we send between four and six faculty members to the national People of Color Conference. In addition, this summer, six teachers and administrators will spend a week at a summer diversity conference. The Administrative Team also plans to work with a consultant in the fall to help further diversify our faculty and staff. We are engaging in this important work on all fronts.

We must be more culturally aware, culturally sensitive and culturally competent as a community. We need to keep the conversation going. We have much work to do, and we are committed to being better. Changing a climate is a process, not an event. This important work involves all members of the community, regardless of your age, race, financial status, country of origin, religion, or political views. We are excited to continue these efforts with all of you.

Caroline Erisman, Head of School, and Lindsay White, Director of Multicultural Affairs