Image courtesy of CA parent and community activist Charman Driver. Driver, alongside a group of community volunteers, partnered to paint this #EndRacismNow message on W. Martin St. in front of the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh.
Affinity groups have been a vital feature of the Cary Academy experience for well over a decade. Typically, these groups help students find their place at Cary Academy by giving them access to a group of people with whom they share a core identifier or those who are supportive allies of the group. The groups can be educational and fun. Employees at CA have participated in affinity groups as well, including a LBGTQ and Allies group, a women’s group, and an African American Affinity Group.
Several employees, over a number of years, also participated in a year-long program called SEED: Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity. The National SEED Project works to help attendees understand and recognize systems of power, oppression, and privilege. In light of recent events and a desire to push ourselves, a group of employees have formed the White Ally Anti-Racist Affinity Group to continue this crucial work.
The impetus to create this employee affinity group really came out of two places. One, the murder of George Floyd in the summer, and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, sparked interest among Middle School teachers to form an anti-racist faculty group. Secondly, many folks who participated in the diversity and inclusion reading groups in the fall felt it was important to continue the work after the groups ended. We want to continue to not only push ourselves individually to become actively anti-racist in our work and in our lives beyond CA, but also to consider systemic changes that can be made at CA to make the school actively anti-racist. Because of feedback received from some BIPOC and white alums, as well as their parents, we felt we had to act.
While the teachers on this campus explicitly deliver content in our classrooms day in and day out, we must realize that all adults are constantly imparting lessons to students who attend CA. These lessons transcend the classroom; they are delivered in day-to-day interactions in our hallways, in the dining hall, on the sports field, and on field trips. Students observe how we engage with their classmates, our fellow employees and community members, with people who look different than us, act differently than us, and may have very different beliefs than us.
Cary Academy’s core values of respect, integrity, and compassion demand that we do better. So do our students. A number of our students spoke at an Upper School faculty meeting last school year about how they were impacted by teachers not being actively anti-racist. And CA alums of color have shared experiences of feeling marginalized and even traumatized by adults on our campus. It has been eye-opening for many.
Beyond personal interactions, students look at the history we teach, the books we assign, the music we perform, and the artists we highlight. It is imperative that we interrupt overt racist behaviors in our hallways, but also the quieter systemic racism that may have infiltrated our course planning and institutional systems.
CA’s administration is already taking steps to increase the number of faculty and staff of color on campus. There is ample research demonstrating the importance of this for both students of color and white students. Care should be taken to also examine our grading practices and discipline procedures, both in our classrooms and for the school as a whole. We need to make sure that the impact we have on our students and colleagues match our intentions.
Cary Academy’s mission is a wonderful guide for our work. First of all, we are a learning community. We want to come together to learn from one another, to hold each other accountable, to grow on the journey together—even though we are not all starting the work from the same spot.
During this work, we will be discovering new things about ourselves, some of which we might not be excited to find; it may be uncomfortable, even difficult. But we also want to discover new and better anti-racist ways of moving forward. Some of those ways might be innovative—new and different ways to teach a unit or course or a different model for one of the other parts of the school. Obviously, we will be collaborating on this work, even as we do our own personal heavy lifting.
Working together, we hope that we will find excellence – for ourselves and for the Cary Academy community.