Eight St. Mark's faculty members attended the 2021 White Privilege Conference (WPC), held virtually this year from April 7-10. The conference, facilitated by The Privilege Institute (TPI), included workshops as well as keynote speeches by diversity, equity, and inclusion leaders including Robin DiAngelo, Fatima Cody Stanford, Linda Sarsour, and Joy Degruy.
The Privilege Institute focuses on "the societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people in some societies, particularly if they are otherwise under the same social, political, or economic circumstances." Founded in 2014 by Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr., the organization offers multiple opportunities for advocates of peace, equity, and justice to enhance their work and research by providing challenging workshops, engaging speakers, and a range of educational opportunities and resources on issues of privilege, power, and leadership.
"I attended some great sessions at the WPC and would love to go again 'in person' so as to make some actual connections with people and benefit from the shared space and intensity of the topics," said Amy Vachris of the Admission Office. One takeaway Amy noted was "the power of connection with actual PEOPLE, not just ideas, when it comes to all things racist and/or inequitable. This was a theme in many of the conversations and presentations. For example, we can 'welcome' a new student to St. Mark's from anywhere, but that student is not nearly as likely to thrive without a conscious effort by others to understand/appreciate/celebrate him/her. This is not a new topic, of course, but the examples given were especially profound, reinforcing the power and the responsibility of the advisor, dorm parents, teachers, coaches in a place like St. Mark's to be deeply engaged in their work with students, not just superficially."
David Palmer, a faculty member in the Science Department, said, "I am amazed by so many incredible educators who could speak so eloquently and easily on a subject that is not easy to talk about. The most memorable workshops I attended were ones on the resurgence of attempts to use science to defend racial differences, the characterisation of Asian-Americans as 'the model minority,' and the importance of better education around sexuality and relationships in the internet age."
David adds that takeaways included "a reminder that good teaching is about finding ways to make every student feel welcome, identify with the work we are doing and have a voice. One of the privileges of privilege is not seeing racism or bias because these things have never negatively impacted you. A challenge of this kind of work, as the conference title implies, is finding ways to help those with privilege see that the inequities of our society don't just hurt others, they also limit what we can be as a community and the opportunities to learn from each other for everyone. While boarding schools are often described as existing in a bubble, I believe a strong community like St. Mark's provides us with the space to have challenging conversations about race, gender and identity in a supportive way."
"I was reminded by the WPC that I present my white woman identity in all spaces regardless of my awareness of this fact," said Jeanna Cook, a faculty member in the Classics Department. "From this identity, I have a responsibility to listen, ask questions, and learn before assuming that I understand the experience of others. This holds true for allyship where at times my voice can hurt as much as it helps. At the same time, I cannot pass up opportunities to engage in conversation, reflection, and processing of identity with all students."
"One of the sessions that I attended was 'The Time Is Now: An Educator's Beginning To Re-Shaping Their Curriculum' with Heather 'Byrd' Roberts," said Casey Bates, assistant athletic director, English teacher, and assistant director of experiential learning. "This session provided me with four questions to ask myself as I work on refining my Survey of Literary Genres curriculum this summer: 1) How can my teaching be more student-centered, 2) What are the ways in which I can dismantle my curriculum to fit the current climate, 3) Is there a space for questioning, and 4) Whose voice is missing?"
To learn more about the White Privilege Conference, visit https://www.whiteprivilegeconference.com/.