Author Kendra James discusses racial issues in boarding schools

Kendra James, author of the memoir Admissions, spoke at Dana Hall on Sunday, September 11, about her time attending a prestigious boarding school as one of the only Black Americans within the student body. Dana Hall’s boarding students, faculty, and a few day students attended the event. 

Published in January 2022, Ms. James’s book Admissions looks back at the three years she was a student at The Taft School, a prestigious and predominantly white boarding school. She chronicles the disputes she had with her “lily-white” roommate, the way she had to unlearn the respectability politics she’d been raised with, and the fall-out from an article in the student newspaper that accused Black and Latinx students of being responsible for segregation on campus. It is a memoir that has been relatable to some, as well as surprising and eye-opening to others.

Rachel Nagler, the Director of Community, Equity, and Inclusion, worked with Lydia Stoye, the Dean of Students, to bring Ms. James to Dana Hall after reading her memoir. Ms. Nagler found Ms. James’s voice “authentic to a teenager’s experience,” as well as honest since Ms. James “doesn’t say only positive things about her experience.” Both Ms. Stoye and Ms. Nagler agreed that it was important to have such conversations in order to prevent such experiences from occurring at Dana Hall as much as possible.

Attending Ms. James’s event was required for all on-campus students, which some students grumbled about after a weekend full of mandatory activities. Yet many students were drawn to the conversation, and some felt a sense of connection to Ms. James. Alyssa Brunache ’24 commented, “I found myself relating to the discomfort of being a student of color in a majority white space that Kendra talked about.” Ariel Williams ’25 said, “I thought that it would be interesting because it was my first year as a boarding student, and I wanted to see how someone else’s experience was.” Ariel added, “ I think it tells everyone to be inclusive and be open minded about getting to know new people and try to be fair and equal and give everyone equal opportunities.”

Katherine Kim, Stacy Lee, Masha Margulis, and Carolyn Simmons contributed to writing this article.

Photo credit: New York Times, Katherine Kim, Stacy Lee.

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