Readying to Fight Racism

"Wherever you are in the school, your race matters," Raising Race Questions author Ali Michael, Ph.D., told Brooks employees who gathered virtually. "Your students' racial backgrounds matter. Whatever it is that you do, there is a way that racism impacts it."

Discovering how that is — and how everyone in the Brooks community can work against that — was Michael's goal for the full day of professional development she hosted on August 20. During the sessions and workshops, she gave each Brooks employee tools to do their part in building an anti-racist community.

"I knew she [would] help educate and move our community forward in this work," said Dean of Community Life Ashley Johnston, who invited Michael to Brooks after hearing her speak at the 2019 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion AISNE conference.

"Dr. Michael's presentation and workshops helped Brooks develop a shared understanding of baseline language for our anti-racism institutional work," said Johnston. "And she helped to launch us into white racial identity development, which led us to start engaging in much-needed white affinity work at opening faculty meetings."

The anti-racist framework that Michael, co-founder and director of The Race Institute for K-12 Educators, provided is just a start. Johnston said, "It helped us to realize we have a lot more work to do to become a truly anti-racist school."

Building a Toolbox

During Michael's session at Brooks she reminded participating teachers, administrators and staff members that talking about racism is "a lifelong practice" and detailed how everyone at Brooks can, and should, build the "muscle" to do it. "Race conversations," she insisted, "are the route to healing our fractured communities."

Moving beyond racial competence, Michael encouraged attendees to recognize and understand stereotype threat and all of the ways that racism is manifested, and experienced, in schools.

When Cecilia Ramirez '01, made an appearance in one of the videos Michael showed the group, the world of Brooks became even more relevant. Ramirez, who worked in The Race Institute and co-taught with Michael and is now at Equal Justice USA, shared her wisdom and experience with prejudice.

Brooks needs "to recognize that racism effects all of us," Michael urged, "so anti-racist action is relevant to all of us."

Engaging All

One such action that the school has recently taken is formalizing two faculty members in roles at Brooks focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. Assistant Director of Admission Kenya Jones has taken on the position of Multicultural Affairs and Outreach, while history teacher Michael Veit has also become Director of DEI Curriculum and Programming.

Jones will "provide leadership and student support services as they relate to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at Brooks," Johnston noted in an email to the community this summer. "This includes utilizing institutional resources across all departments to attract, enroll and enhance the experience and development of students, especially those from historically underrepresented and marginalized communities."

Veit, meanwhile, will evaluate and provide ways to "implement diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the academic program." His goals include identifying possibilities in the school calendar to suggest and organize days of school-wide programming on issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

During the opening Chapel on August 31, Head of School John Packard spoke of the anti-racism work that adults and students in Brooks' community have done since the end of the last school year and will continue to do into 2021 and beyond.

"What should Brooks School look and feel like at its best?" he asked students and employees. "In my view, this has always been about fostering belonging. . . . What are we doing, and not doing, as a school and as individuals to ensure all who are a part of our community feel and experience full belonging?" As Michael taught, it's a question we must never stop asking.

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