Building Equity Literacy

Faculty and staff heard from an expert on confronting racism.

“You have students and colleagues who are experiencing racism. … What are you going to do about it?”

That’s the question Paul Gorski asked faculty and staff at Sidwell Friends at a recent workshop on equity literacy. And it’s a question he asks at all the independent schools he visits as the founder and lead equity specialist at the Equity Literacy Institute, because racism is still a national problem.

Sidwell Friends is working with Paul as part of our commitment to expanding faculty diversity and welcoming a wider community as detailed in the strategic plan. “It’s important to understand that the institution cares about this. That’s why I’m here speaking,” said Head of School Bryan Garman, who addressed the gathered faculty and staff before the workshop began.

Paul spent time discussing the gap between the progressive mission of Quaker schools and the actual culture, which is hampered by larger social forces, especially implicit bias, despite the best intentions. Making a real change, he said, involves the discomfort and humility that comes with accepting and acting on criticism not only of the status quo but also of our own actions.

“What are the knowledge and skills I need to become a threat to the existence of inequity?” he asked the group. “That’s your job as a teacher. Do I have the will to be that threat?”

Participants broke up into groups to talk about what the School was doing well in promoting equity and where it was falling short. “I’d like to hear from the table that managed to solve racism in seven-and-a-half minutes,” Paul joked as he called on teams to report out their discussion.

One of the good things, the room agreed, was having discussions like this, and the School will continue to do so. Paul returned to campus last week to work with the Equity, Justice, and Community Committee and will be back throughout the year to guide conversations with faculty, staff, and the administration.

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