The Community Life Council (CLC) at St. Mark's is committed to finding ways to ensure that antiracism is a common goal among various School communities. CLC initiatives complement the work of the Student Life Group of the Antiracist Task Force and the work of the Office of Community and Equity (C&E) Affairs. On April 21, CLC launched a series of professional development programs with a positive racial identity development (RID) workshop for academic advisors.
"Our programming continues the antiracist work of the C&E office in a way that dovetails RID understanding with the process of building awareness and creating space for reflection," says Stacey Lee, associate dean of students and director of residential life (pictured). "To make this a community-wide effort, we worked really hard to think about leveraging different communities, one of those being faculty advisors who work closely with our students regarding their social, academic, and physical well being at St. Mark's. They are very connected."
The self-awareness advisory experience, Exploring Your Personal RID at SM, included writing reflections (using the "I" perspective) tied to an individual's racial identity framework: American Indian, Asian American, Black American, Latino, white, or biracial. The approach is based on the idea that perspectives on racism develop at different stages depending on a person's racial identity and the experiences that surround it.
"These models are not sequential; they are cyclical and can involve a step back before taking a step forward," Lee says.
Facilitated discussions focused on creating safe spaces where participants could normalize and validate feelings of discomfort that may arise. Among the RID discussion questions: Are there experiences you've had at St. Mark's that have influenced your racial identity development in positive ways? In challenging ways? What can you do to take the next step on your journey?
"Beyond program content highlights, some of the things that stand out as important are the ways in which people are responding to the work," Lee says. "Race is so salient to the point that it is invisible. We often don't consider the ways we come to understand ourselves as people who carry race or who have race placed upon them."
Understanding whiteness and antiracism
On April 28, a second RID session, Exploring White Racial Identity Development Toward Antiracist Goals, was geared toward house communities through the lens of living and learning with students in the School's residential setting. House heads led discussions on shifting the perspective of race away from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.
"To support positive racial identity development for all people, it is essential to explore the dominant culture in our country and at our School: whiteness," Lee says. "Whiteness has a profound impact on all people. Better understanding of whiteness increases opportunities for creating an equitable, inclusive, and antiracist community."
Lee shared these tips for how to create a brave space for building awareness and reflection for students:
- Respect the personal experiences of others
- What is shared here stays here
- Speak from the "I" perspective
- One voice at a time
- Be open-minded
- Be mindful that strong opinion is not the same as informed knowledge (DiAngelo, 2018)
- Work to understand even when you don't agree (DiAngelo, 2018)
Though unplanned, the timing of the second session coincided with the trial and verdict of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer found guilty of the murder of George Floyd. "This prominent current event is directly connected to our School's intentional work toward antiracism," Lee says. "Together C&E, the advisory program, and CLC have structured a program flow that continues RID work and builds toward reflection on the Derek Chauvin trial."
A future town hall meeting (date to be determined) will focus on understanding the events connected to the Chauvin trial through the lens of white identity.
"The work of becoming an antiracist institution is not reserved for any one St. Mark's community; it is across the board," Lee says. "The goal of racial identity development is to help normalize the process of understanding how you perceive your race and how that plays out in the world, particularly validating those experiences and giving us all the capacity to operate with empathy toward others."