On Wednesday, Brentwood community members received an invitation to participate in a wide variety of Dialogue and Community-Building Sessions as part of our work with Dr. Damon A. Williams and his team. Following the communication, a number of critical posts appeared on Twitter, Instagram, and other social media addressing our most recent efforts to become an inclusive, equitable, and anti-racist school. I am writing today to clarify misunderstandings and provide further information on the project and the process in which we are currently engaged. Even more, I want to re-emphasize the “why” behind this work.
There is a misperception that these sessions align with racial segregation. This is not the case—moreover we are in full agreement with those who posted that segregation is not welcome at Brentwood. While many sessions are intentionally identity-focused, they are not at all exclusive. Anyone can join any group that they choose as indicated in the sign-up instructions on our website. Moreover, participation is 100% voluntary.
In speaking about this with Dr. Williams yesterday, he reminded me that, “The rationale behind offering identity-affirming groups is based on current research that finds affinity groupings provide psychological safety, which fosters candor around one’s experience. For this initiative to succeed, we need safe places for this level of vulnerability, so we can understand and formulate an effective and transformative plan moving forward.”
It is understandable and even expected that discussing topics like anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion can be difficult or even triggering. Dr. Williams assures me that it is their experience that these conversations are, more often than not, enlightening for all who choose to participate. He said, “This step is a moment for reflection and discussion. Any discomfort or anxiety felt right now is okay. It signifies personal growth on a journey towards establishing your community as a place that promotes and fosters a culture of everyday inclusion, of Inclusive Excellence.”
It is important to note that this is the first step of the project with Dr. Williams’ group. These Dialogue and Community-Building Sessions form a foundation of authentic engagement. We will build upon this foundation in later sessions when, through genuine interaction, we will focus on inclusion and our Core Value of Community.
Again, Dr. Williams offered, “After gathering individual experiences and perspectives, the project will move into opportunities for all to come together to build a shared perspective that is defined, and hopefully understood, by many.”
This work is paramount for the school. This summer, several administrators, board members and I spent a great deal of time listening to our alumni of color, as well as some of our current students of color, who courageously shared their stories about their time at Brentwood. Tragically, many felt more excluded than included as students. It was clear that they experienced bias while at school—some mild and others extreme. This bias, both conscious and unconscious, profoundly impacted them and undermined our efforts toward full inclusion and equity. Furthermore, we heard from many white alum who did not feel prepared for college and beyond because the experience and curriculum were too narrow and not inclusive enough of different voices and perspectives in a constructive way.
We know that the path to success in this initiative is not without obstacles along the way. Yet we must remain fully committed to these efforts because everyone has the right to feel included, valued, and respected. When everyone is treated fairly and equitably, our already strong community will be that much stronger. And we want all of our students to feel fully welcomed here at Brentwood School as well as better prepared for the increasingly diverse world beyond Brentwood School.