Rooted in Mission, Faculty Continue Antiracist Work

As part of St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s continuing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, teachers and staff participated in a webinar in January hosted by the New York State Association of Independent Schools called “How to Be an Antiracist School.” Led by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, the author of How to Be an Antiracist and founding director of Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research, the webinar answered questions from independent school educators across the state about how school communities can combat racism through everyday actions and conversations. 

“It is critically important for schools to recognize that educators are either educating our young people to be racist or antiracist simply by whether they choose to talk about racism,” said Dr. Kendi. He emphasized that children begin to understand race as early as 9 months, and they begin internalizing racist ideas between 2-3 years old. Therefore, it is important to address these topics with children at an early age, and for educators to be honest about their own prejudices.

“As individuals,” Dr. Kendi said, “we have to look within ourselves and really admit the ways in which we’re being racist, because how else are we going to be antiracist?” 

Lower Division Director Nicole Johnson said that while the school’s founder may not have used the word “antiracist” in 1950, the principle is very much at home with her vision.

Our school's history is rooted in a dedication to inclusion; we must recommit to that vision every day and continue to extend this work,” she says. “Being an antiracist institution requires daily practice, self-reflection, and analysis of our curriculum, traditions, and teaching practices.”

The faculty’s commitment to these ideals is motivating, Ms. Johnson says. “As a founding member of the DEIL (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leadership) team, it is fitting to me that faculty were not only able to take advantage of this professional development, but that it was expected,” she said. “When DEIL first began working with the faculty, workshops like those of Professor Kendi were often only attended by those who were most interested in issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion at their schools. Now, attending a workshop about antiracist practices is seen as necessary and is becoming as common as attending a workshop on reading or math.” 

Many of the notions Professor Kendi presented were not novel to St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s faculty, Ms. Johnson continued. “But the workshop was a reminder of the need to push forward and continuously re-examine our teaching and systems. I believe that Professor Kendi's talk will give faculty ideas of new ways they can reflect upon their curriculum and teaching as well as strive for new goals, such as the creation of common language.” 

This webinar with Dr. Kendi builds on and contributes to conversations facilitated by the DEIL team through affinity groups and learning spaces, as well as the fall “Living History” series presented by Dr. Anne C. Bailey ‘82 earlier this year.