There is no doubt that being 15 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, one might assume from the title that this blog is about the ongoing global health crisis. However, in addition to COVID-19, many have reminded us of a second pandemic that has existed for hundreds of years, but has only recently been more widely acknowledged: the pandemic of systemic racism.
Despite this pandemic enduring for centuries, too few of us have taken the time to either acknowledge or learn about how and why it exists, or to contribute to its elimination. Last year on May 25, the evidence was just too clear for people to look away or negate. Caught on film, George Floyd’s murder at the hands of law enforcement highlighted the imperative for everyone – not just those who live out racial discrimination on a daily basis – to contribute to a better and more equitable society.
I do not believe that this work will ever be done or that it is easy work; however, I do believe that I have a responsibility to do it. Growing up, I wasn’t brought up to question or even be aware of white privilege and how that contributes to systemic racism and it’s important for me to acknowledge this. Years ago, I read an excellent book by psychologist Dolly Chugh entitled The Person You Mean To Be: How Good People Fight Bias. Chugh suggests that people must move from “good”, a fixed position, to “good-ish”: suggesting that one is always learning. Chugh also assists the reader in understanding their positions of privilege. In my case, I am white, in a position of power, and have been brought up in an upper middle-class and exclusive educational setting. This does not make me a bad person, but it does mean that I have always had the wind at my back. In order to ensure our School’s community is one that is safe and inclusive, my privilege should be used to ensure it by learning, unlearning, urging others to do the same, and contributing to change.
Before last year, St. Clement’s had been working strategically to ensure that equity and inclusion are embedded in the work we do and while I am proud of that work, there is much still to be done. I have been enormously grateful to our students, staff, and alumnae who have continued to hold the School accountable with challenging conversations, questions, and suggestions.
Having now gathered data from students, staff, and parents about feelings of exclusion and whether they know where to turn with these feelings, as well as additional and powerful qualitative data from alumnae who participated in facilitated focus groups about their experiences with equity, diversity, and inclusion during their time at SCS, we will be working to ensure that this informs actionable and measurable next steps at the School. Within our Strategic Plan 2025 we have a mandate. We are committing to fostering a safe and inclusive environment in which students are empowered to engage in, and contribute to, a community in which everyone is and feels known and valued.
A year later, thoughts and prayers are not enough for those who have lost lives as a result of systemic racism and inequitable treatment. Work by everyone – and particularly by those of us who are privileged and have the wind at our backs – to foster equity and inclusivity is our mandate for the future.