“Voice can take a long time to come all the way out, brother.” Bobby said. “Be patient.” These words jumped off the page of Tommy Orange’s There There as John Around Him discussed the book with Proctor’s American Literature students. This notion of voice, of who has the courage (and privilege) to share their voice, and who will listen when they finally do, cuts through an American Literature curriculum to the core of how we empower students to live lives that matter.
Since the early 1980s, Proctor has worked to be as diverse and inclusive a community as possible. The once rigid definition of "diversity" has evolved over time to better articulate a mission of equity and inclusion where we seek to welcome students, faculty, and staff into this community who enrich each others experiences.
I’m not going to get this right. The stories of intolerance are plentiful. An incident occurring at the Lincoln Memorial a couple of weeks ago - a teenager wearing a MAGA hat appearing to confront or taunt a Native American elder - still reverberates. How can we not honor our Native American elders? It revealed insensitivities. (It also revealed the dangers of an oversimplified narrative begat by a single photograph.) And here at Proctor, Assistant Head of School Karin Clough spoke to the school community yesterday about a troubling incident that occurred on our campus recently: the tearing down of an all-gender bathroom sign in the newly renovated field house. We are saddened and angered by events like these. Confused. How can a community like Proctor, committed to the work of inclusion, be a place where such anger and ignorance takes place? But I don’t write about just that.
While most public schools have the day off to observe Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Proctor chooses to suspend regular classes in order to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King as a community through special programming. The production of Sweat by our drama department added a depth to the conversations on campus we have not experienced before. Enjoy this recap of the day.
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.