Scott Allenby wrote a terrific blog this week about the importance of listening, of widening perspective, of hearing the other, and the emotions that students who are the minority feel when they navigate a community like Proctor. I want to pick up that theme and share some thoughts on affinity spaces, those places where those who share a common cultural or ethnic background can gather, rejuvenate, and simply be without being the “other.” These are important spaces.
Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, implores students to get proximate to their own learning; to come face to face with the issues they are studying in order to understand the complexity of the world around us. The foundation of any community rests in an appreciation and understanding of each other. Conversely, we undermine the communities in which we live the moment we allow our own limited experiences to inform our understanding of others. We must actively listen to each other's stories as we work to shape our own narrative.
On a trip to Georgia and Alabama this week, Director of Development Keith Barrett '80 and I took a dogleg route from Atlanta to Birmingham, though the city of Montgomery, Alabama. We stopped to visit Danny Loehr ‘09, who currently works for the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) founded by Bryan Stevenson. EJI seeks to “end mass incarceration and excessive punishment, challenge inhumane and violent prison conditions, and confront the history of racial inequality and injustice in America.”
I was met by pigtail braids bouncing up and down as my daughter sprinted to the door asking me through her gap toothed, kindergarten smile to guess what she learned at school today. Before I could formulate a witty response, she blurted out, “Fair is not the same as equal!” I’ve always known this to be true, but how often do we fully appreciate our privilege relative to those around us? How often do we really wrestle with the difference between fairness and equality as it applies to our own lives? Living and working at a private boarding school in a quintessential New England town, I would submit it is not often enough.
Much of the country enjoys a federal holiday on the second Monday of October each fall. Operating independently of a regular federal holiday schedule, Proctor does not observe Columbus Day. Instead, we have chosen to acknowledge the ‘discovery’ of America by European explorers by recognizing and bringing awareness to the culture and beliefs of the indigenous peoples of this great land. Sunday’s indigenous peoples celebration at the Proctor tipi reminds us of the importance of continuously bringing different perspectives into the Proctor community.
As an introduction to Proctor’s Summer Reading program in the spring, English Department Chair Shauna Turnbull P’19, ‘22 shared the following, “Why do we read? There are as many answers to this question as there are readers. But one thing is certain: when we read, we connect ourselves invisibly, and for a brief time, to a world beyond our own doorstep.” It is on this philosophy Proctor has continued to evolve its Summer Reading program by integrating conversations and assessment into English classes each fall.
What does MLK Day mean to you? This was the question posed at the start of our community assembly today. Equality. Work yet to be done. Celebrating diversity. Love for our brothers and sisters. Perseverance. A fight worth fighting. Civil rights. As each person stood and shared a word or phrase, you could see a cracked door into their life as light shone on each individual’s story. For some of us, our story has long been openly read by those around us. For others of us, we've allowed our story to collect dust for years as we have clung tightly to our thoughts and emotions for fear of judgement. This year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration at Proctor provided connection through self-reflection; an invaluable exercise we must never limit to a singular day in mid-January stamped as a federal holiday.
Today’s blue skies, warm sunshine, and clear pathways will soon give way to more than an inch of rain and unseasonably warm temperatures tomorrow and Friday. The weather patterns this winter have been changing at the same breakneck speed with which we navigate the Winter Term at Proctor. Sunrises, classes, assembly, afternoon programs, races, games, rehearsals, extra help sessions, study hall, college counseling meetings, sunsets blur into a life that is equal parts invigorating and exhausting. In order to set our eyes on the invigorating, and not solely on the exhausting, we must intentionally carve out time to press pause and connect with each other.