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CoExist

CA Curious

The Work Ahead

August 20, 2020

Photo: The leaders of CoExist (l to r): Sarah George ’21, Clay Thornton ’21, Vibhav Nandagiri ’21. Not pictured: Jordan Cuffee ’21.

This summer, we issued a letter to the community reaffirming our values and reiterating CA’s longstanding commitment to the hard—at times uncomfortable—introspective work of diversity, equity, and inclusion that have been core values since we first opened our doors. We pledged to be part of the solution and to work together to engage in anti-racist work to ensure that CA is a safe space for all our students to thrive.   

As you may have noticed in your social media feeds, in recent months, “Dear@” and “Black@” Instagram accounts have popped up all over the country. These accounts are part of a powerful national movement, as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and their allies share their experiences, rightfully calling independent schools and universities across the United States to account for their roles in perpetuating systemic racism.   

We know from stories shared within our community that CA is not exempt from this charge. Despite a longstanding commitment and history of anti-racist work, we have not been perfect. There is much work to be done, and we are committed to taking it up.   

We recently responded to a newly-launched DearCaryAcademy Instagram. I’ll be honest. These posts are difficult to read and reckon with. Introspection is crucial to anti-racist work, even (especially) when it is difficult. The experiences reported in these posts, however, are crucially important to hear, to acknowledge, and to discuss, process, and address as a community. That’s also why we have been soliciting stories from BIPOC members of our community on our anti-racism action page.   

We hope that owners of this account will be open to formally partnering in our anti-racist efforts, much as we partnered with our alums and parents of alums this summer in a series of listening Zoom calls. In those calls, alums and parents of alums were offered a safe space to share their experiences and perspectives. Being able to have those conversations openly and transparently has been instrumental in allowing us to be more effective and responsive and to chart the critical work that lies ahead this year (you can follow our evolving anti-racist work and planning at http://united.cary.academy/anti-racism/.)  

Indeed, some of the most challenging work that lies ahead is in creating a community where we can dialog openly and honestly about these painful matters. Where we can protect and respect BIPOC as they come forward to share what might be painful, scary, even traumatic, experiences, while also discussing, processing, and addressing them as a community. Only then that we will be able to heal, to learn, and to grow.  

To that end, this year, I am particularly excited to work in partnership with CA’s revamped CoExist Committee. Led by Clay Thornton ’21, Jordan Cuffee ’21, Vibhav Nandagiri ’21, Sarah George ’21, and Student Dialogue Leader Meirav Solomon ‘21, this group represents a passionate group of students working on behalf of their peers. They feel it imperative for young people to have a voice; they are dedicated to ensuring that alums ten years from now have a different, more positive experience than those who came before them.  

Central to their efforts is creating a safe space for intersectional dialogues, where we can work together across our differences to discuss and address hard topics in meaningful ways. This is foundational and crucial anti-racist work, and Meirav has been hard at work planning dialogues in partnership with our affinity groups and student clubs, like the Campus Conservatives.   

I could write for hours about the work that lies ahead of us, but instead, I would like you to hear from our Chief Student Diversity Officer, Clay Thornton:  

My name is Clay Thornton and I am a current senior at Cary Academy (Class of 2021). I am honored to serve this year as Cary Academy’s Chief Student Diversity Officer, or CSDO for short, a role committed to fostering a diverse, equitable environment for our community by leading Cary Academy’s CoExist club. This year, however, I am not leading CoExist alone. For the first time, Cary Academy has established a CoExist council to bolster my role as CSDO, comprising of my fellow Class of 2021 members Jordan Cuffee, Sarah George, and Vibhav Nandagiri. CoExist provides a space for members of the Cary Academy community to learn about and engage with diverse perspectives and identities through dialogue, workshops, and affinity groups. We provide an intersectional curriculum that encourages students to create and foster a better, more equitable CA community. By equipping students with the necessary tools to understand and respect different perspectives and identities, we prepare students to effectively collaborate and build relationships in their future beyond CA. While CoExist is a longstanding club within the CA community, the CoExist council is working this year to rebrand CoExist to match the current needs of the community.  

This school year will be unlike any year we have seen before. Not only must we adapt to the necessary protocols regarding the COVID-19 global pandemic, but we must also prepare opportunities for students to productively explore the tension throughout the United States. Disagreements over health protocols are omnipresent. Civil unrest, including protests against police brutality and racial injustice, has emerged in every major American city. Political tensions are boiling over as Biden and Trump begin their gruesome political warfare, marching quickly towards November 3rd. Americans are truly living in a historic moment, one filled with tension and in desperate need of cohesion. In an effort to find this cohesion, CoExist is pivoting to an introspective agenda. This year, more than ever, CoExist should focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion within the Cary Academy community. CoExist believes that this change will allow students to separate the high-tension experience with equity work in our nation from the equity work happening within our school community. For this reason, a new Social Justice club, unaffiliated with CoExist, has been started at Cary Academy, dedicated to educating students on the societal issues of our nation, as well as organizing ways for students to be catalysts for change. CoExist, however, will host dialogues, workshops, and affinity group meetings, not to discuss policy or politics, but rather to determine what we can change about ourselves and our community to make Cary Academy a place of which we can all be proud.   

Striving for a diverse, inclusive Cary Academy community is not a question of liberal or conservative. It is not an issue of democrats versus republicans. It is instead a commitment to embracing our differences, fostering collaboration, and celebrating our many identities. I hope this pivot will encourage more students, faculty, and staff to make this commitment because, if we all work together, we can create long-lasting, meaningful change within the Cary Academy community.  

Written by Danielle Johnson-Webb, Director of Equity and Community Engagement and Clay Thornton ’21, Chief Student Diversity Officer

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