Our 2020-21 Anti-racist Journey

Danny Stock

Background: In his August 28 welcome letter, Head of School Russell Shaw shared a letter to the community he wrote with GDS’s director of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), Marlo Thomas, laying out GDS’s anti-racist commitments for the 2020–21 school year in the areas of community engagement, programming, professional development, and policy. The letter made clear from its opening lines that each member of our community shares in the responsibility to actively combat racism in our culture, policies, and practices. “We must judge ourselves by the actions we take and by the experiences of our students,” they wrote.

In this piece—the first in an ongoing series documenting our 2020–21 anti-racist journey—we look at the professional development underway for faculty and the kick-off of our parent-focused DEI programming. 

Note: This series will be published independently of the quarterly progress communications the school committed to providing, according to Russell and Marlo’s letter.

Professional Development and Parent-Focused Programming

Welcome Back and Dive In
Among the nearly three dozen commitments solely within the eight categories of “immediate actions (0-4 months)” communicated in the above-mentioned letter, Russell and Marlo articulated the need to engage community around our collective work and communicate our accountability measures and expectations for “an anti-racist education and environment.”

On Saturday, September 26, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion hosted their annual DEI Welcome Back Meet & Greet. More than 80 participants from across the parent and faculty/staff constituencies joined the virtual event. It was a meaningful turnout, particularly for a Saturday afternoon, and we hope to engage far more community members in events to follow.

The DEI team—including program associate Guyton Mathews IV, program assistant Campbell Keyser, and led by Marlo—outlined the sometimes racially differentiated work ahead of us with regard to combating anti-Black racism and illustrated the deep connections between DEI work and social-emotional learning.

After a self-reflective storytelling activity to center our diverse stories at the center of the work ahead, participants engaged in small-group discussions about GDS’s statement of inclusion, a list of ten commitments that keep us devoted to an inclusive and reflective community.

Some parents articulated the realization that they had “outsourced” anti-racist education to the school and recommitted to partnering more fully with the school’s anti-racist work by continuing the conversation at home. Others reached out for guidance—whether for their own journeys or as parents—and found support from other participants (faculty and parents alike) as well as from the DEI team. The urgency of this moment was both keenly felt and appreciated by a great number of participants, many of whom expressed a desire to do and learn more. To that end, Marlo, Guyton, and Campbell noted the seven parent affinity groups and presented a list of upcoming events for the parent community in October and November within the “Dinner and Conversations” series.

Civic Engagement with GDS with Jeff Johnson & Russell Shaw
Wednesday, October 14 from 6:30–8:30 PM

Journalist and storyteller Jeff Johnson will join Russell in conversation around forging common ground among families and students, learning from each other, and practicing essential elements of active civic engagement to guide us through this election season. 

Change Begins at Home: Tools for Nurturing Anti-Racism and Anti-Bias Attitudes in Your Child
Monday, November 9, 6:00–8:00 PM, PK–6th grade parents
Monday, November 16, 6:00–8:00 PM, 7th–12th grade parents

Parent educator Michelle Harris will guide our parent community through how to talk about race with our children. This interactive workshop will highlight the importance of and provide specific strategies for building stamina in these crucial conversations. Understanding that these conversations look different developmentally, we will be hosting two sessions. See dates above. 

Additionally, GDS has just announced the kick-off event to the 75th Anniversary Speaker Series entitled “Race, Justice, and the American Judicial System” on Tuesday, October 6 at 7:00 p.m. RSVP NOW »

Collective Care, Self-Reflection, and Action
Among the other immediate actions to which the school committed are those focused on professional development for faculty and staff to confront anti-Black racism. First, the school pledged to establish a theme for the work this year. The selected themes are: Vigilant Self-Reflection & Action; Curriculum Alignment; and Instructional Excellence. 

The faculty and staff began their collective work on September 1 with a presentation by associate director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, Dena Simmons M.Ed. The session, entitled “Self-Care, Healing, and Equity-Responsive Practices When the World Feels Heavy,” centered the anti-racist work ahead on our ability to care for ourselves and each other. Dena honored the importance of the ways we care for and cultivate our best selves to be effective for others. Calling on the wisdom of Audre Lorde, Ms. Simmons framed the session on Lorde’s statement, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

In engaging with each other on the eve of back to school, many faculty and staff members experienced the attention to the power of collective care “affirming” and “validating.” Director of enrollment management and financial aid Barbara Eghan said: “I appreciated Dena's framing of self-care as a critical component of collective care. To any of us looking around at the ailing state of the country today, both in terms of our public health and our necessary racial reckoning, we see lots of need for collective care. Dena reminded us that ‘care is not distributed equally’—and that in order for us to heal our collective wounds, we need to engage in ‘a culture of authenticity’ that requires us each to stay whole within ourselves. That was a powerful message to hear as we educators consider what it means to take care of our GDS culture and community in this challenging moment.”
 
When faculty and staff reconvene during fall in-service day on October 13, they will begin a yearlong discussion of their new shared text/workbook, The Racial Healing Handbook as part of their commitment to “vigilant self-reflection and action.” Additionally, GDS will have the privilege to welcome as keynote speaker Bettina Love, an award-winning author and esteemed scholar on the transformative power of abolitionist teaching to build equitable classrooms, inclusive communities, and affirm Black and Brown children. 

  • DEI
  • High School
  • Lower School
  • Middle School
  • Teachers