On Tuesday, February 9, psychologist, author, educator Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum informed the school’s parents about addressing racism and stereotypes among independent school communities. English Department Chair Vernon Wilson, Jaden Richards (12), Mikayla Benson (12), Nshera Tutu (12) moderated the event, which was hosted by the Parent Institute.
Tatum wrote the bestselling book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” which the Parent Institute read this year as a part of their book-talk series. The book addresses the discrimination that takes place in racially-mixed high schools, her website states.
During the event, Tatum discussed how people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds comprise the city. Because of the city’s diverse environment, everyone needs to learn how to connect with those who are different from them, she said. A reluctance to do so will result in the continuation of segregation in the city’s education system, Tatum said.
At smaller schools, structured conversations about social justice issues can be one way to expand each other’s thinking, Tatum said. By carefully listening to others’ opinions and stories, students with different experiences can begin to understand additional perspectives and see the world differently. To start these conversations, the school could sponsor training sessions for teachers, so they can be proficient in leading productive dialogues.
Tatum also addressed the importance of teaching parents about how to discuss race with their children, one of the main goals of the Parent Institute’s series, Director of the Parent Institute Wendy Reiter said.
Richards moderated the event because he wants the administration and teachers to be able to discuss identity productively, he said. Moderating this event could help the school achieve this goal by setting the foundation for future conversations about race, Richards said.
Parents, along with students, should be educated about racial inequalities, Benson said. “Cultural competency and education regarding equity and justice are not stagnant, nor should they be isolated to a school environment primarily for students,” she said. Benson was happy to moderate the discussion, since parents do not often receive the opportunity to engage in discussions regarding systematic racism and learn from BIPOC individuals who share their perspectives.
Wilson said he hopes parents and guardians will better be able to understand race and racism and the deeper significance of discussing both topics on a regular basis with their children.
Tatum also introduced other methods of combating racism in a school environment through allyship. People who are willing to stand up and interrupt moments of bias are important for change, but in order to speak up, allies need to learn and be aware of racism in context. Using what one learns to take action and make a difference is what separates ordinary people from allies, she said.
Michael Pruzan ’83 P’24 P’25, who attended the event, said the series allows parents to explore the important topics of systemic racism and social justice into depth.
When Pruzan attended the school, there were no events and opportunities for discussion surrounding race, he said. “We didn’t have classes, open forums, teachers or parents that wanted to talk about the issues which is probably why there hasn’t been as much progress in addressing the issues.” he said. The awareness and dialogue that the event allows can lead to real change, he said.
Pruzan plans to use what he learned from the event while parenting, he said. “Open and frank dialogue with my kids about the past, my experiences and their experiences can help them further process what they are learning in school, in the news and on the internet.” he said. “Hopefully, it will make us all more aware of systemic racism and work towards creating social justice.”