Our Commitment to GW’s Students of Color

Our Commitment to GW’s Students of Color
June 2, 2020 GWHS

Our Commitment to GW's Students of Color

GW Community –

Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Three more black individuals murdered by white people abusing their positions of power and privilege. To our black community, I grieve with you for the loss of these incredible and cherished lives. In no way can I ever fully understand the anger and grief that you feel and the fatigue you weather navigating an oppressive system that was built to keep you down.

We are hearing a lot right now from brands, organizations, and public figures about their commitment to fighting for justice. But nowhere is this commitment more important than in the schools that our children grow and learn in, and where they build the foundation for the citizens they will become.

We talk often about the treasured diversity in our GW community. But that celebration must include the blunt acknowledgement that our school has not served our students of color equitably over the past 60 years. In education we speak a lot about opportunity gaps, equitable resources, and culturally responsive instruction. We dedicate time and resources to analyzing data on how well our students of color are performing against their white peers. We celebrate gaps being closed. And while this is important work – work that GW is engaged in – it all focuses on the performance of the underserved student. We are placing the onus on the student to improve, grow, and succeed. We are suggesting that absent an inequitable environment, there is no reason a black student shouldn’t have the same outcomes as his white peers. Even if that were true, it is meaningless if tomorrow that black student is murdered while out for a jog.

As we have discussed before, GW has a long history of segregation and inequity. Starting in 2020-2021 we are implementing two important initiatives to address the systemic racism that our school was built upon. However, these initiatives are just the beginning. We need to look at what we are teaching and how we are teaching it. We need to ask ourselves if our students are represented in the books we read, the history we learn, the instructors in our classrooms, and the conversations we have. Right now that answer, more often than not, is “no.” We are committed to pushing and fighting for these changes in our school.

And, if we aren’t simultaneously educating our white community, starting with our staff and including our students and parents, to acknowledge their privilege, identify their biases, recognize injustice, and teach them how to use their power to drive change, closing the opportunity gap won’t do anything to stop our black community members from being killed by those in positions of power. And yes. Simply being white puts us in a position of power.

We are a community of learners. We come together daily to absorb knowledge, challenge ideas, and learn. Today, I am asking our white community members – staff, students, and parents –  to join me in recognizing our privilege, power, and biases, and do the necessary work to create a learning environment where every single one of our students feels a sense of belonging.

This past year our staff studied portions of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility as part of our professional development curriculum. This summer I will be re-reading the book and invite our community to read with me. GW will be facilitating a White Fragility community discussion group when school resumes. I hope that you will join us as we look inward to understand how we, white people, have the power to break down racist systems and rebuild our communities so that each and every one of us not only thrives, but also belongs.

To our black community. I know that your experiences at George have not been what they deserve to be. It is not your responsibility to show us what is broken or tell us how to fix it. That is on us. But as we do this work, we will listen and learn and make space for black voices to be amplified and for your experiences to be shared.

Kristin Waters, Ph.D | Principal
George Washington High School