In-Service Time Devoted to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Upper School instructors Jamy Haughey, Elizabeth Capone, and Anna Littlefield are members of Sanford’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) task force. On October 18th, they led the Upper School faculty in a one-hour workshop and discussion on the topic of White Privilege. Later in the day, Haughey joined fellow task force member and Middle School World Language Instructor Ellen Grise to share a similar presentation with the Middle School faculty.
Prior to the meeting, members of both divisions were asked to read an essay by Peggy McIntosh entitled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” As the senior research scientist for the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College, McIntosh initially focused her work on the power imbalance between men and women. She was then led to reflect on how a similar imbalance exists with regards to race. She noted: “I had been taught that racism puts others at a disadvantage, but I had not been taught that white privilege creates an advantage. White privilege is an invisible package of unearned assets.” Because whites may not even recognize the advantages that they have, white privilege is seen as being different from bias and prejudice.
Included in her paper is a list of 50 things McIntosh could expect or not expect as a result of being white, most of them considerations she said she had always taken for granted. Her list included such things as: being able to expect fair treatment from law enforcement; being shown pictures of people who look like her when discussing national heritage; being able to do well in a challenging situation without being told she is a credit to her race; and being sure that her neighbors will be neutral or pleasant to her.
Faculty members were shown a short video presentation that defined White Privilege, then broke up into small groups and used discussion prompts that included:
The cost of white privilege for white people
What people of privilege of any kind—race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status—can do that people without privilege cannot
How issues like housing, healthcare, economic status, and education can relate to white privilege
How to open the dialogue about white privilege with white people.
“I knew about the McIntosh article,” stated Upper School History Instructor Alexander Levine, “but, I was still surprised by the examples of white privilege I had never thought about. I found sharing our thoughts about aspects of white privilege and the black experience to be very valuable. While I enjoyed thinking about the questions myself, the best part of the program was learning about my colleagues’ thinking and experiences. This is such critical work. Anti-racism is a lifelong process of re-education and self-evaluation, and it can cause some uncomfortable moments. I am glad the DEI task force was willing to tackle helping us with this.”
Also examined were the ideas of INTENT vs. IMPACT. The task force provided concrete suggestions for what can be done if mistakes are made, even innocently or without intent to hurt. First, acknowledge the situation and sincerely apologize. Secondly, listen to the feedback and let the impacted person/group determine what is racist. Finally, avoid debating and discrediting, but rather listen to and validate the lived experiences of others.
Faculty received a copy of, “Guidelines for Being Strong White Allies,” which was adapted from Paul Kivel’s book Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Social Justice. This resource outlines the type of active support that a white person can provide a person of color. It notes that it is important to remember that every situation is different and calls for critical thinking about how to make a difference. By talking with children and other young people, issues regarding racism can be addressed early and new approaches modeled that will ultimately lead to a more inclusive world.
By opening the dialogue with faculty and supporting educators to examine their own beliefs and actions, the adults who interact with Sanford students are in a stronger position to feel more empowered when having conversations surrounding DEI and intervene when they occur.
Grise elaborated: “This work is essential to the growth of our faculty, our mission, and most importantly, our students. It is often hard to admit you do not have all the answers. It is hard to be uncomfortable, but it is so important. The topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion are a continual path of learning and evolving. As a community, we are moving forward, and that, in my opinion, is a great stride for Sanford and its community.”