@blackatdanahall posts anonymous comments from students and alumnae of color

On June 11, 2020, two weeks after the police killing of George Floyd, @blackatdanahall uploaded their first post to Instagram. “This page is for Dana Students and Alumns of Color,” the post read. “We are here to amplify Black and Brown voices. No story is too small.” 

@blackatdanahall published a total of 98 Instagram posts between June 11 and July 10, almost all of which were anonymous accounts from students or alumnae of color about incidents they experienced as racist at Dana Hall. According to @blackatdanahall’s bio on Instagram, the account is “not a gossip page,” and their mission is to “create an equitable world and redefin[e] what it means to be Black at Dana Hall.” Hallmanac reporters reached out to the creators of @blackatdanahall three times this winter for an interview and did not receive a response. 

Twelve of @blackatdanahall’s posts during that first month referred to White Dana Hall students or faculty calling students by the wrong name or switching names with other students of color; seven referred to Black students being turned down for AP courses, Varsity team slots, or other positions; five directly named teachers and administrators; sixteen posts were about White students touching Black students’ hair without permission; thirty-three posts were incidents that did not fit into these categories. However, all of the posts were comments addressing specific events that occurred at Dana Hall. 

Five posts related to an incident in 2017 in which a student posted a picture of herself on social media wearing dark makeup that appeared to be blackface. The student quickly removed the post and then apologized. Many students and alumnae still feel hurt and upset over the incident and the school’s response to it.

Ms. Katherine Bradley, Dana Hall’s Head of School, released the first official response to the @blackatdanahall Instagram account two weeks after @blackatdanahall’s initial post. The Dana Hall administration then released the Dana Hall Anti-Racist Action Plan in response to the creation of the account. On June 26, the plan was sent out to students, parents, and faculty.

In June and July 2020, following the administration’s response, @blackatdanahall announced its future plans for the account. “Now that we have completed Phase 1, we will shift to the next plan, which is most important: Action” the post read. According to the post, they aimed to elevate BIPOC students through their new and growing network with the Board of Trustees and Dana Hall School alumnae. 

According to Ms. Bradley, communication with the @blackatdanahall account, while high in June and July, dropped somewhat prior to the start of school because the coronavirus took precedence. “As the nation looks inward to reckon with its past and present, we too as an institution are taking responsibility for not seeing, hearing, and being responsive to all of our students,” the school’s official Instagram account stated in a post on June 26.

“The @blackatdanahall account gave so much more urgency to the entire community,” Ms. Bradley said. “All of a sudden, people were really committed to this work.” 

Ms. Bradley appreciates the work that @blackatdanahall did over the summer to represent the students of color at the school. “I am so grateful that our students and our alumnae love the school so much that they want to make this change, and they want to help us make these changes,” Ms. Bradley said. “And we now understand the value of getting the word out about what we are doing.” 

The director of Community, Equity, and Inclusion, Ms. Erica Ramirez, noted that the creation of the Instagram account did not come as a shock to her. “If you think back to May,” she said, “I think some of us were sleeping on [racism] and not really internalizing or thinking about it.” Up until the murder of George Floyd, she said, “people didn’t feel personally charged to take action.”

“One thing that I think became really clear to me after @blackatdanahall was the need to better address micro/macro aggressions,” Ms. Ramirez said. “Like mixing up two students’ names… in isolation, and on their own, they might be seen as insignificant, [but] a coupled and a cumulative impact is exactly what we saw with @blackatdanahall.”

Mikayla Darville ’21 is a student of color who has been at Dana Hall for four years and who follows the @blackatdanahall account. “@blackatdana definitely made me feel heard, and I firmly believe they reached their goal,” she said. “I wish the page was still as active as it was in the summer, though, because I think it benefited everyone.”

Mikayla said that, while she loves Dana Hall, she thinks that it was “good to see some of the big issues that people were experiencing come to light.”

She also explained that she was frustrated because “Dana presents itself to be a diverse and inclusive place, but behind the scenes, there are traumatic events that are happening to students of color.” She felt as if the administration did not address these issues until “people demanded action.”

Mikayla also felt as if some white students were simply “performative activists” over the summer months in reaction to the Instagram account, explaining that “many students have reached out to me just once…and haven’t continued to reach out to other BIPOC students.”

According to Ms. Ramirez, while the administration is working to implement systemic changes for the future, there has to be an effort to balance how the topic of racial identity is being handled in the present. “These are student lives that are impacted right now,” she said. She believes that some students might feel like saying, “[Systemic change] is going to take time, but what are you doing in the meantime? Because in the meantime, I’m experiencing trauma. I’m not connecting with my peers because of [some] reason.”

“It felt like Dana took one step forward and two steps backward,” Mikayla added. “Dana could have done a better job with being more inclusive to POC peers because it felt like they created this great plan, but excluded many POC when school started [due to the temporary closure of the boarding program]. I hope to see more action from Dana in the future,” she concluded.

Dawnya Green ’21, one of the All-School Co-Presidents and a student of color, said that “The account had quite a few emotional effects for me.” She explained “not that it was all bad, but seeing the extent of my peers and friends’ experiences laid out in a very visible format was astonishing.”

She added, “Reading further into the details of these experiences — it’s a bit earth shattering to realize that this is something that bonds people across so many different grades, ages, places, and hometowns.”

Dawnya emphasized that people “needed to listen” by truly taking in the details of @blackatdanahall’s posts and then doing better in the future. “People have ‘heard’ us detail the same experiences, but we’ve shared these stories before — these are not unique to us who are currently in the atmosphere during the creation of this account,” she said.

Several teachers were either named or anonymously mentioned in some of the posts and were accused of allowing incidents of racism to occur or perpetuating racism. 

Ms. Mary Cameron is a Dana Hall faculty member who was not directly named in any of the @blackatdanahall posts but was anonymously accused of “calling on [a BIPOC student] sort of as a first line of response whenever there was an issue that came up about racism.” She was also accused of not being confident in the name of the POC artist in a video she was showing to her AP European Studies class.

Ms. Cameron says that she apologizes to the anonymous student and feels that she “failed the student who made the comment in not understanding the experience she was having in the classroom.” In response to these posts, Ms. Cameron has expanded the curriculum of her Western Civilization and AP European Studies courses to include the experiences of people of color; for example, her Western Civilization class connects events in Greek and Roman history to current events involving BIPOC Americans. 

“I have thought often that trust between me and my students is probably the most important thing for me as a teacher,” Ms. Cameron said. She said that she is working to establish as much trust in the classroom between herself and her students as possible. 

Ms. Julie Sheldon, a faculty member that was not named in any posts but followed the account, commented, “I think that what’s been going on [at Dana] in terms of @blackatdanahall has been going on for a really long time, and I think that we are all equally responsible. Any of us could have been called out for not being more proactive and stopping it… and I felt awful that I didn’t do more,” she said. “Any one of the teachers, students, or administrators at Dana Hall just as easily could have been named.”

Ms. Sheldon also expressed gratitude for the students behind the account and for the students who spoke up about their experiences. “I felt sad for the students that were involved, but I was also proud of them for standing up and saying what they needed to say and taking action because things need to change,” she said. “We need to keep talking about this, and we need to keep bringing attention to it. We’ve barely hit the tip of the iceberg on this.”

Today, @blackatdanahall has 123 posts and 1,754 followers. Recent posts have included information on the SHADES alumni chapter, promoting a flash sale, and promoting youth voters to go to the polls. “We’ve heard you, and now, it’s time to take action,” one caption read on a post announcing @blackatdanahall’s partnership with the SHADES alumni chapter. “Together, we will be social change agents for the school.”

Comments are closed.