Community / Opinion

Diversity at Dana: Part One, the Problems

With 28% of Dana Hall’s students of color being domestic and 15% being international students, students of color make up a minority of the Dana Hall student population. The Dana community, sometimes referred to as a bubble, is often known for being unlike the real world. In every description of it, Dana provides a more nurturing and supportive environment than the real world. Yet even Dana can improve. As different and glorified as our school can be from the real world, Dana girls–specifically students of color– still face some challenges that we all must work on as a community to improve.

Diversity at Dana Hall can be defined by the range of people who identify in certain ways based on race, sexual orientation, country of origin, etc. In that sense, and compared especially to other neighboring and independent schools, Dana surely is diverse, given the thoughtful mix of people that create the community and learn together in the same environment. There are certain aspects of our diverse community, however, that Dana can improve, one being creating proactive policies. To senior all-school-co president Brittney Smith, “in handling diversity at Dana, rules tend to be more of a reaction rather than proactive. Dana responds to what has happened–which is very important–but the question is what are you going to implement to make sure harmful or offensive incident don’t happen again or in the future?”

According to Brittney, students of color can feel out of place at elite private schools which were initially established for white students. Dana was therefore, she explains, was made for gender equality among white people. “So this is an institution that is literally made to keep people like me out. And obviously I was not the first woman of color in an independent school, but I am the product the work that those pioneers put in place to make sure that I go here. So even that in itself is like I’m breaking some invisible rule of getting a private education… so this is still a race problem.” She elaborated that even though “Dana is a school made for gender equality, the work [the founders] did for gender equality had absolutely nothing to do with me or people that look like me. We [women of color] were left with no choice but to push through the barriers and get ourselves a seat at the table.”

Though, in a place like Dana, of course, students may never experience overtly racist experiences. Many of the students–regardless of race–have principles that not only stop them from saying discriminatory remarks, but enable them to defend their peers in such situations. Still, the Dana environment isn’t a perfect place that can avoid offensive experiences all the time. “I can’t say that I haven’t had experiences where I have been made aware that I am in a space that was not made for me–whether that be through conversations I’ve had with peers or through assumptions made about me,” Brittney adds. To Junior and international student from Thailand Bink Vijitkasemjij as well, at Dana there isn’t “much blatant racism, but my own friends experience microaggressions from time to time. It’s just the ignorance of people not realizing what they are saying.” In this sense, our biggest problem seems to be reaching out to educate others in the most effective settings.

One of the hardest struggles for students who belong to a minority group is representation. Typically, students of color constantly feel obligated to represent the group in which identify. This is a common feeling among many minority students at Dana, and it can often leave them feeling pressured to do well, fearing that their mistakes may reflect poorly on everyone they identify with. For Brittney, she feels “there is a double consciousness. I want to be comfortable in my skin, but then I remember that everybody is aware of my skin that I’m trying to be comfortable in.”

Many students of color also often feel under-represented. Dana does a praiseworthy job at bringing in students from various backgrounds and cultures, so almost all groups feel represented among their peers. Yet they could improve through another form of representation: faculty. It is just as important–if not more–to have faculty members that identify in the same ways that students do in order to create an entirely inclusive school community. The demand for teachers and administrators is an important one, as students of color should be represented by the people that are enforcing rules and shaping the community in which all students must adhere to a participate in. “Our faculty and staff are well meaning, but they are mostly allies. So they can’t really spearhead certain movements that sometimes students of color don’t want to have to spearhead. They feel like it’s not their job to do what the teachers should do. But when you don’t have anybody in that  position to speak on certain things, if you don’t have anybody that reflects you in the community, it makes it hard for you to be seen,” says Brittney. This also becomes a challenge when students who are represented through faculty may not understand their peers’ struggles who aren’t.

Ally groups at Dana are in a sense effective at in their mission to lessen the gap between students who identify in different ways, yet they also need work. While they reach out to many students, they are only effective to a certain extent. Ms. Ramirez, the Director of Equity and Inclusion, says “in our community, we have a lot of people who are willing to learn and admit they don’t know enough about a certain perspective or experience. Where we still have an opportunity to improve in our alliance groups is that students who participate are mostly expressing the same viewpoint. So one of the questions that we’ve confronted is how can we expand our impact and bring in people that don’t think this conversation is pertinent to them?” Bink sees the same issue, that these groups are only impacting the people who show up, and they are unable to inform the people who need the educating. The people that don’t show up to club meetings may not care about ally groups, or may not take them seriously, or they may see homework as a priority and the clubs as unimportant in comparison. We, in that sense, are allowing for uninformed students at Dana to continuously remain that way based on their own choice. While attending alliance club meetings should of course be an option and not a requirement, it seems that the people that do not care about the clubs meetings are the ones who need to be educated.

A sense of urgency presents itself in our undertaking of the issues of diversity at Dana. However, with a growing sense of awareness of the improvement we can make as a community, Dana is soon reaching closer to finding the right ways to approach the problems it reasonably faces.  (To read more of the solutions to the problems, stay tuned for part two in the Diversity at Dana series!)

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