We keep referring to it: Summer of 2020. The mass protests and heightened awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement as a result of the tragic murder of George Floyd, characteristics of Summer 2020, have left a long-lasting footprint in the way we live. Conversations about social justice became crucial in households, workplaces, and more relevantly, education institutions.
Thanks to social media, students in private education institutions, particularly those considered predominantly white institutions (PWI), were able to share their concerning experiences of bias with not only other students, but society as a whole. As a result, it’s become the responsibility of these institutions to take action to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) on their campuses.
Blair is an example of an institution that experienced this during Summer 2020, and since then has created DEI initiatives that have had great success on campus. One of the newest initiatives Blair has adopted is the Belonging and Equity Committee, a student leadership position that began at the end of the 2020-2021 school year. Belonging and Equity is a group of 13 selected juniors and seniors who develop programming, facilitate discussion, and conduct outreach in order to promote DEI at Blair.
I got the chance to interview 3 committee members, Ola Udensi ‘22, a Rules and Discipline Liaison and yearbook editor, Fiona Han ‘23 a Director of External Outreach and oracle writer, and Carnegie Johnson ‘23, another Rules and Discipline Liaison and varsity basketball player, to share some thoughts about the year ahead on B&E.
They all expressed their excitement about being on the committee, especially highlighting the potential impact they could make being among the first members. This could be a challenge for them, as Fiona notes, since they won’t have experiences and advice from a preceding year to learn from. However, both Carnegie and Ola agreed that this is an opportunity for them to fill that gap for future committee members by “setting a precedent.”
We discussed other potential challenges for B&E such as reaching the students that often tune DEI discussions out (Carnegie), educating without pressure (Ola), and executing fully on the initiatives and ideas they put forth (Fiona). As a member myself, I can agree that during this school year, these may be some of B&E’s biggest challenges. However, as we host more events, we remind ourselves of best practices in small ways, whether that is taking time out of our schedules to meet with colleagues or reminding individuals that pronouns don’t need to be forced out of someone.
B&E did get the opportunity to put these best practices to work during Blair’s student orientation. The committee hosted identity seminars where students first convened with their class in the auditorium to complete an identity inventory, and then were broken up into smaller groups led by each member to discuss the different terms in depth and what value they hold to different people.
I asked Ola, Carnegie, and Fiona how they felt this project played out, and, although pleased to have such important conversations, they concurred that the results from their discussions were not very conclusive. It was difficult to tell whether students learned from, enjoyed, or disliked the seminars. So, in order to fill this void for them (and myself), I interviewed three other Blair students, Zoe Lament ‘22, an Annie Prefect and Senior Class Council member, Sage Christensen ‘23, a new junior and oracle writer from Maryland, and Jackie Neary ‘24, Oracle writer and basketball player.
It was heartwarming to hear that all three students found the identity discussions a fulfilling experience. There was little to no conflict across the three of their groups, and from their responses, it seemed that the smaller group discussions opened up a safe space to be vulnerable, whether that was to share an experience or ask a clarifying question. Additionally, although they cited different levels of knowledge, with Zoe feeling familiar with the information, and Sage and Jackie feeling new to the information, each of them was able to pinpoint something that they learned from the conversation. Sage highlighted her new understanding of the privilege that an education at Blair provides each student. Jackie’s highlight was being able to empathize with her classmates through shared facets of their identity. Zoe’s highlight was a short tangential discussion of homophobia in the Black community brought up by her classmate Olivia Thompson ‘22. Overall, these students concurred that B&E’s efforts were successful.
Even in these successes, however, both Sage and Zoe noted that they were hungry for deeper conversation. This will be one of the biggest areas for improvement for B&E to explore. Personally, I agree with Ola’s take on tackling this. She says, “As peer educators, we need to commit to educating ourselves and keeping up with issues outside of Blair.” This will be crucial for us to avoid the phenomenon that Fiona describes: a committee that is “all talk and no action”; since we will be able to take more effective action if we are equipped with the proper information. The fact that the committee members already understand this makes me confident that as B&E evolves, we can create a community that is comfortable with more in-depth conversations, creating a more inclusive environment for everyone.
To conclude, be on the lookout for more events and information that B&E announces! Feel free to email a member with any questions, suggestions, or feedback from an event. These interviewees have expressed their dedication to this work, so don’t be shy about helping us help Blair become more inclusive!
(Copyright Laila Davson 2021)