Top Five Takeaways From the Summer Race Institute

This summer five Westtown teachers, Amy Liermann,  Megan Rose, Maria Alonso, Whitney Suttell, and  Abby Lausch attended the Race Institute at Abington Friends School. That brings Westtown’s total to fifteen teachers who have attended this transformative experience. This winter Westtown will host the Race Institute January 28-30, 2016.

The five teachers who attended this summer wrote about their top takeaways from the Institute.

  1. “So, what are you?” “Where are you really from?” “You speak English so well.” “You don’t act like you’re…” “You people…” Microaggressions are brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities towards people of color.  Often, microaggressions do not come from bad intentions; nevertheless, the impact and underlying messages are detrimental.  Research states that people of color are on the receiving end of seven to eight microaggression per day which accumulate and lead to a marginalized experience.  As educators, we need to be extremely reflective of the weight of our words as we gain proficiency in speaking about racial issues and fostering a safe, anti-racist school environment, continuing to chip away at hundreds of years of racism imbedded in our history and society.
  2. “A multicultural curriculum is not the same thing as an anti-racist classroom.”  You can have a curriculum that address different cultures and viewpoints but that is not the same thing as being anti-racist.  To create an anti-racist classroom, it is important to understand your own racial identity and that of your students.  As teachers, we need to educate ourselves about the way racism operates as a system of oppression and privilege that is independent of our own individual beliefs.  We can then work to identify and mitigate unconscious bias, stereotype threat, and microaggressions that occur in our classroom and school.
  3. It is important to hear from OUR students about their experiences. We were able to hear from a student panel of Abinginton Friends high schoolers, and it was so powerful to hear their specific experiences relating to race or equality vs. inequality in general. They shared a wide variety of positive and negative experiences about overt and subliminal messages that they were taking away from their teachers. Westtown is good about alumni surveys and panels, and it feels so essential for us to be asking questions about experience with race and equality so we can continue to learn and grow as faculty.
  4. In order to create an anti-racist classroom, it is important to have developed your own positive racial identity.  As a White person, I found that I had consciously developed very little racial identity. The Race Institute presented stages of different racial identity development. It was eye-opening, challenging and sometimes painful to examine them but ultimately extremely helpful to have the conceptual framework and vocabulary to think about our own racial identities, especially as we ask students to consider theirs.
  5. After attending the Race Institute Workshop, I walked away with not only a deeper understanding about race but a higher level of awareness.  The facilitators were skillfully able to take over twenty educators who were mostly strangers to one another at the beginning, and created a space where people of different races and cultures could share their often painful experiences around race.  The shared experiences were expressed with pure authenticity and received with profound empathy.   What I learned at the Race Institute has equipped me to better work with my colleagues and the students we serve at Westtown School.
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