"What Can I Do Where I Am?"

James Greenwood
Former Dean of Equity and Inclusion James Greenwood addresses the School's response to racial violence
Throughout the final week of the 2019-20 school year, students and faculty, together, addressed the racial violence and subsequent protests during recent weeks. James Greenwood, dean of equity and inclusion, writes about the intentional focus on helping our students process these events, and what that response has looked like. Fourteenth Rector Kathy Giles and The Rev. Michael Spencer also spoke on these issues during The Last Night Service, which can be seen below.

It’s hard to have the right words in times like these.  Sadly, we’ve been here before with yet another instance of violence directed at a black body, resulting in death, recorded on film, and the subsequent demonstrations and unrest. In considering what her activism would look like in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, author Toni Morrison asked herself: “What can I do where I am?” From her position, with her individual skills, talents, and energy, how would she choose to take action? For her, the answer was: “I’m an editor, and I’m opening people’s eyes with words….It would be my job to publish the voices, the books, the ideas of African Americans, and that would last.”  This week, we all reflect on that question for ourselves and as an institution, while posing it to our students as well: “What can I do where I am?”

At St. Paul’s, our collective work and ministry is the education of students, and so we have approached our work in this current moment as educators; directing our energies towards our students both in helping them process a range of emotions while bringing their talents to think deeply and critically about the state of the world.

As teachers approached the final week of classes, they prepared to engage students in conversations about what’s unfolding nationally by examining resources for guidance on how to best take up these conversations with students in thoughtful, deliberate, and culturally competent ways. In doing this, we recognize that the responsibility for these conversations rests with all of us, not just with any one position or just with our faculty and students of color. That said, we simultaneously and unequivocally recognize the ways that current events might be resonating differently with those groups, and as such, have taken deliberate actions to create and hold space for them.

Appropriately, our initial focus was on creating affinity space for our students of color – and more particularly our Black students – to be together in community with one another and with faculty mentors of color. We then turned our collective attention to our larger student body as well via meetings and conversations in their advising groups.  The purpose of these gatherings served to hold space for processing and reflection for all students in smaller groups where they are seen and known.
 
Each of us will have to determine for ourselves what our activism looks like.  For some, it will be heading out into protests and demonstrations.  For others, it will be fundraising.  For some, it may be creating art and poetry.  And for others still, it might be listening and learning more about systems of oppression. 

These moments offer an opportunity for us to consider the ways we advance notions of equity and justice every day. We are committed to both the opportunity and our obligation in the duty of care for our students right now. We cannot – and will not – let this moment pass us by.

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