Anti-Racism Work in Independent Schools

A couple months ago I did a search in Google on anti racism white parents schools just to see what kind of resources are out there. One of the first links that came up was the Antiracism Working Group for White Parents at the K-8 independent school The Gordon School. I was in awe of this magical school that explicitly advertises and prioritizes racial diversity. So many independent schools profess “diversity” without actually describing what diversity means to them. 

As I investigated The Gordon School’s web site, I found a robust selection of programs and resources for all school constituents – students, staff, faculty, administrators, parents, and board members. I emailed Dr. Kim Ridley, their Assistant Head of School, who is responsible for a lot of the work the school had done. She graciously accepted my request to have a phone conversation.

Kim has written a number of articles including two articles for the National Association for Independent School’s journal Independent School – Identity, Affinity, Reality and “Examining Privilege: An Essential Strategy for Digging Deep in Diversity Work.” I was particularly interested in their programs geared towards white community members.

In addition to being the librarian at my school, I facilitate a voluntary group for white faculty and staff to examine our white conditioning and understand how racism operates since so much of race and racism is invisible to us. So I’m always interested in how other schools approach talking about race with white people.

Kim shared so much of her experience with me which was such a gift. One of the most practical things she shared was a series of questions that help white people see just how much race influences their lives that she learned from author and educator Robin DiAngelo.

I had the opportunity to use these questions just a couple weeks later. I co-facilitated a workshop for white parents at my school who were interested in learning more about our white anti-racism group. As the parents worked through the questions with each other, the insidiousness and intentionality of white supremacy was uncovered. Many of the parents left the workshop both unsettled and curious — and eager to continue the conversation. 

I came away from that workshop grateful for the model of white affinity groups. There are so few venues for white people to really have the chance to talk frankly about race and to understand that racism does not just negatively impact people of color, but it impacts white people too. 

Doing anti-racism work in an independent school setting is challenging. One of the reasons independent schools even came into existence was to maintain and ensure race and class privilege. Many independent schools, though, truly want to educate and support a diverse constituency and Dr. Ridley’s work is an inspiring model of the possibilities of an inclusive independent school community.

Appreciations: Thank you to Dr. Kim Ridley for her generosity and for giving me permission to write about her.   


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