Marlborough’s first-ever anti-racist work group is being established during the 2020-21 school year, continuing the dialogue of racial justice and systemic change that has been extremely prevalent over the course of these past few months.
The most important aspect of the new group that the leaders strive to make clear is its role and position on campus. Marlborough’s new Director of Equity and Inclusion Jenn Wells had the idea of categorizing it as a work group. It would fall under the larger umbrella term of identity-based groups, but from there it would branch off into a category distinct from the school’s affinity groups, which serve to create safe and necessary spaces for students and faculty of color. In other words, Marlborough’s affinity groups discuss their identities so as to lift each other’s voices and support one another, while the anti-racist group will be discussing identity as it pertains to dismantling privilege and promoting social justice.
The concept of an anti-racist group has been in the making for years among a variety of faculty members, namely in the social justice and counseling departments. At the beginning of summer, the two departments hosted an online healing circle in order to support students and their emotions surrounding the recent death of George Floyd and the revival of the Black Lives Matter movement. A substantial number of white students attended who were interested in learning more about the racial injustices that had become increasingly apparent in our country and smaller Marlborough community. After the healing circle, Community Partnerships Program Head Javier Espinoza hosted weekly meetings where white students would learn about white supremacy, white privilege, and lessons on how to dismantle the disproportionate advantages they held.
“Part of healing is addressing and dismantling the problem,” Espinoza said. “I think white students [who joined the meetings] realized that racism isn’t something that should be left for people of color to figure out.”
Eventually, it was realized that Espinoza’s weekly meetings could be established as an official anti-racist group on campus, and the group’s leadership began to transition. Three faculty members took on advisor roles: Dean of Social and Emotional Learning Morgan Duggan, World Languages Department Head Elizabeth Vitanza and Mathematics Instructor Ariana Wall.
Each faculty member began to discover different aspects of their professional work that compelled them to participate in this project as the group continued to make progress. With her role in the counseling department, Duggan recognized that she consistently aided students in exploring their biases and navigating their identities, whether they were of privileged or marginalized backgrounds. Thus, she strove to encourage students to inform and educate themselves, and this anti-racist group fit that mold.
Wall had a slightly different motivation for joining the group. During her experience teaching a social justice-centered class with Espinoza last year, she was inspired by the interest and willingness students had to participate in conversations about privilege and change. She hopes to continue teaching students in the anti-racist group the importance of intentions versus impact and give them an opportunity to recognize the consequences of their actions.
Similarly, some of the group’s most involved students were inspired to join as a result of their experiences in online meetings and classes about race over the summer. Emma ‘’22 mentioned how her time in Espinoza’s social justice summer seminar for students from both Marlborough and Loyola High School compelled her to join the new group and continue the conversations in which she was already participating.
“From there, an idea came up for a group to help create more allies for the Black Lives Matter movement, because we were focused on creating equity in predominantly white institutions like Marlborough,” Emma said.
Espinoza also spoke on the relevance of the summer seminar to his position as the head of community partnerships.
“The class was about learning and addressing these systems of oppression, but it did so in a way that built community,” Espinoza said. “The students were able to support each other.”
As the anti-racist group began to form, the question arose of how it would interact with the previously established identity-based groups on campus. When asked about any potential collaborations with affinity groups, Vitanza emphasized that the anti-racist group’s role was to listen and accomodate rather than guide any discussions surrounding race.
“It’s up to the affinity groups; it’s not for us to say,” Vitanza said. “We’re here, they know where to find us, and we will not shy away from doing the work with them if they invite us to.”
Wall also mentioned that the key goal of the group is to gain feedback and adapt as needed to support and contribute respectfully to preexisting race conversations.
“We want to be as transparent as we possibly can be. That’s really important to us,” Wall said.
The faculty advisors and student leaders of the anti-racist group have many hopes for how they will help impact the culture at Marlborough. Whether it’s in the classroom or on a personal level, those leading this group aim to create a more reflective and thoughtful student body.
“The reason for a white space is to learn and know how to show up without causing harm or centering yourself, but we don’t want these conversations only to exist in a white space,” Duggan said. “We want cross-cultural communications, and we want to make sure that these students understand how to show up to these communications.”
Quincy ’21 also discussed how some goals for the group have already been successful in implementing effective learning and understanding among students across all grades.
“This group has been really helpful in deciphering what is offensive and why it’s offensive,” Quincy said. “We’re not just being told not to do something; we are having discussions about tricky subjects with adults that we trust.”
The group’s objectives don’t always come easily, though. The advisors and involved students have discovered a few difficulties in the process of getting this group established, namely the misconceptions that may come with the idea of a group on campus for white or white-passing people.
“The main difficulty is making sure we are constantly distinguishing this as a work group,” Emma said. “It’s not a place to celebrate culture; it’s for us to be aware of our privilege and address it.”
Additionally, Sofia ’22, another student largely involved in the making of the project, emphasized how those who may benefit the most from this group’s resources may not be as compelled to join. Due to this misconception, she wanted to clarify the true meaning of becoming a member.
“Joining does not mean you’re a racist person,” Sofia said. “It means you are getting the education to be actively anti-racist; it’s in the name.”
-Besides making sure their purpose is clear, the group also strives to be developmentally appropriate for the wide range of grades that the participating students comprise. Despite any of these difficulties, the group is motivated to bring necessary change to the Marlborough community.