Dax-Devlon Ross ’93, Gareth Schweitzer ’95, and Sophia Houdaigui ’17 discuss Ross’s new book and its calls to action in a cross-generational Conversation with Friends.
When author and equity consultant Dax-Devlon Ross ’93 wrote the essay “A Letter to My White Male Friends of a Certain Age” in June 2020, he could not have anticipated how it would shape the next year of his life: that it would spread widely beyond the initial group of friends to whom he had sent it; that he would adapt and publish it as Letters to My White Male Friends—part memoir and part call-to-action; and that it would lead to new friendships, including one with Gareth Schweitzer ’95, who he’d not spoken with in over a quarter-century.
After a year of deepening friendship and conversations about topics of race, equity, and justice, Ross and Schweitzer reunited on June 14, 2021, for a Conversation with Friends to discuss Ross’s new book. And because, as Ross noted, truly intersectional thought should include an intergenerational component, they were joined by Sophia Houdaigui ’17. The thread that connects Ross, Schweitzer, and Houdaigui may be their Sidwell Friends experiences, yet their conversation illustrated that even where there were points of overlap, the three alumni experienced Sidwell Friends differently.
Ross began the conversation explaining why he was moved to write the initial essay that led to Letters to My White Male Friends. The book, which is broken into three sections about harm, healing, and action, allowed him to grapple with his experiences navigating institutional spaces. “I wanted to write something through the memoir side of the book that would help people re-examine their own life journey and think about points in history that they might have lived through alongside me.” Through that process, he hoped to encourage his titular white male friends “to do some checking up on themselves, because race and racism isn't just happening to me and people who look like me. It's happening to all of us in this society.”
Schweitzer notes that Letters “is simply asking you to be introspective and ask questions of yourself about what role you want to play in having a more equitable and just world”—something that the Sidwell Friends alumni, faculty, and current students on the call could appreciate.
However, all three noted that—like many institutions—Sidwell Friends was well-intentioned but did not always meet the needs of Black students and other students of color. That’s where a book like Letters can begin to make a difference, as Ross’s book offers practical steps for institutions hoping to shift from inviting diversity to creating inclusive and just spaces for all.
A recent college graduate, Houdaigui reflected on how educational institutions like Sidwell Friends could be more inclusive by being more accommodating to individuals’ learning styles and needs rather than pushing students to conform to a “white model of success”: “When you’re keeping everyone to the same exact educational model, it’s difficult to assume that students that have not necessarily been represented in those institutions are going to succeed at the same capacity.”
Schweitzer brought his managerial perspective to the conversation. When business owners and senior leaders are open to these conversations, it will shape “how you write job descriptions, what it is that you demand from employees when they are applying, and how you evaluate them,” Schweitzer said.
Yet Ross is the first to admit that these conversations and the actions they could produce are by no means easy—especially for white audiences. “It’s difficult because it means shifting people’s relationship to power, to figure out how to share it. Identity is tied to one’s ability to own a space.”
Still, as Schweitzer and Ross’s friendship proves, having these conversations can bring people closer. And the advice Ross would give to well-intentioned, introspective individuals hoping to enter into these conversations?
“Buckle up, you know? We’re going to be on this journey for a while.”
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