From Thursday to Saturday of this past week, Ms Henricks and I attended the White Privilege Conference held at Ryerson University while faculty member Ms Singhal and eight of our girls from Grades 10-12 attended the one-day Institute on Wednesday. As was described on a post on our SCS Instagram, our girls all engaged in meaningful and inspiring discussions related to diversity, equity and inclusion. So, too, did I.
The White Privilege Conference (WPC) is nineteen years old and was founded by Dr. Eddie Moore, who has worked to provide cultural competency and diversity training and workshops for students, communities and businesses globally. Dr. Moore’s WPC has become an international conference for participants who “want to move beyond dialogue and into action around issues of diversity, power, privilege, and leadership.”
A response to white privilege and power, privilege and leadership can be complex when considered in the context of our School and its historically homogeneous community.
Over the last almost three years, the School’s staff and many students have been engaging in facilitated discussions and workshops to learn about and to put into practice more inclusive, equitable processes. To do this effectively, we have to understand our School’s identity. Our school- a single-gender school for girls, charges significant tuition, requires an academic assessment as a part of our admissions process, and is affiliated with the Anglican Church.
White privilege- the socio-political system that distributes power, privilege and benefits unequally among groups and countries in our world- has afforded me and our School much. While we all experience different forms of privilege, those born with the access to power and the resources to go with it can find it difficult to recognize their own privilege. This is true for me, and I suspect, for our School, as an institution.
Our closing speaker at the WPC, Dr. John Powell, Director of the Haas Institute and Professor at Berkeley, CA, spoke of the notion of othering: that we can ‘other’ people consciously or unconsciously through behaviours and structures, thereby telling a person whether a place is theirs or not. He continued to explain that the opposite of ‘othering’ is not ‘saming’- that is, it is not appropriate to suggest that fundamentally we are all the same. Rather, Dr. Powell talked about ‘belonging’ and how we must focus on bridging – or enlarging and becoming ‘we,’ rather than breaking- or creating fear of the ‘other.’
While this blog scratches only the surface of theory and learning, Powell’s framing is profound as I think of our School’s commitment to necessary work on diversity, equity and inclusion.
While some might suggest that our very privileged School has a choice of whether we bridge or break, to me there is no choice. As a place of learning, we have a responsibility to ensure, in our girls and our community, an understanding of the power of a diverse and inclusive ‘we’, and as we teach our girls from Grades 1-12, we must remind them of their part in ensuring belonging as opposed to ‘othering.’
At another session, Debby Irving, author of Waking Up White reminded us that, “You can’t have a short end of the stick without the long one.” At St. Clement’s, we very clearly have the long end of the stick, and what we do with it can either bridge or break opportunity.
I choose bridge.