Middle School News Detail

Centering Our Racial Justice Work

Ana Chaney
Middle School Families,

Lately each day is a living lesson in civics, politics, ethics and identity. Whatever our adult feelings about the news are - worry, exhaustion, rage - we have to acknowledge that this is where our progressive pedagogy thrives. We are living through history and every day looking for ways to hitch our classrooms to the world - to study our own environment and to be active participants in it. Centering the fight for racial justice feels more timely and urgent than ever. To that end, I wanted to share some of the Middle School's diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work with you and give a preview of what's to come.

In the next week, every middle schooler will have finished the first five chapters of This Book Is Antiracist by Tiffany Jewell. In advisory, they have discussed and shared answers to the questions: Who am I? What are my social identities? What is personal racism? What is institutional racism?

Some of there comments were:

“It just feels awkward to talk about stuff like this.”
 
“[We should make] sure to not just focus on making the white students in a mainly white identifying community comfortable about talking about race and how they can help but also allowing the POC members of the community to have a voice.”
 
“It would be cool to involve our parents more.”
 
"A lot of being antiracist is about understanding your identity and how it affects yourself and others."
 
“The only thing I would say to improve is making sure everyone has a chance to talk and say what they have to say. At least in my class, the students weren’t participating as much as they should.”
 
"I think that one of my most meaningful takeaways from the book and the video we watched is that a lot of people don't even know racism exists. Or that racism is everywhere. We also said something like you can't know what you can't see or talk about."
 
“I think the teachers have been doing a good job structuring the conversation.”

I encourage you to check in with your child about this reading. You could ask: What is privilege? How is anti-racist different from not racist? How would you describe dominant culture and what does it have to do with privilege? What is the difference between personal and institutional racism?

The reading and conversation established a foundation and common vocabulary for one of our next DEI initiatives: Anti-racist caucus spaces for white students. In the next few months, every student who identifies as white will participate in four caucus sessions with a pair of white teacher-facilitators. They will grapple with such questions as: What is whiteness and why is it important for white people to talk about it together? How does it feel? When did you first notice your own whiteness? How can race be a social construct and a real experience at the same time? 

While we have had many conversations about these issues in multiracial configurations before, this is the first time we have set aside a space for our white students like this. It's important for these students to have the opportunity to build skills and vocabulary in an anti-racist learning space, as it is less common for white families to engage in regular conversations about race at home and our white students are typically less practiced at it. It is our hope that the capacity and confidence white students build in these settings will enrich those conversations they have elsewhere.  

All white-identified students will participate in these groups. We will send the following survey to all students next week asking whether they identify as white, as both white and BIPOC (Black/Indigenous/Person of Color), or as BIPOC. We will use this to create four small groups of white-identified students - first the older middle schoolers and later in the winter, the younger.

The first set of anti-racist caucus sessions for seventh and eighth graders will be on Wednesday January 27th. The sessions for fifth and sixth graders will follow, starting at the end of February. The eight white faculty members who are facilitating these groups in pairs have been hard at work preparing since the summer. We are all excited to begin.
 
Please join us on Tuesday, January 19th at 6:30pm for a more in-depth update about all the Middle School DEI initiatives with me, Phil, and our Middle School DEI facilitator Sara-Momii Roberts. The zoom link is on the community events calendar (on Connect), as always. 

Warmest,
Ana

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