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Westtown School’s Inaugural Ninth Grade BIPOC Summer Camp

Just months before the pandemic, Diversity and Inclusion Specialist Marissa Colston and I had been pondering the need for a more robust and inclusive orientation for our students from underrepresented and underserved communities. We had written and submitted a proposal for funding for such a program from a national diversity and inclusion organization. Unfortunately, along with the closing of schools throughout the United States and world, COVID-19 also abruptly shut down our envisioned orientation program and its funding effort.

With the 2020-2021 school year underway and with more and more students able to attend in-person learning on the Westtown campus, Celeste Payne, Upper School Equity & Inclusion Coordinator, joined Marissa and me in rekindling the aforementioned new orientation initiative.  In light of the difficult experiences of our own current students in distance learning, the three of us felt an even greater sense of urgency to offer an extensive pilot orientation program for at least a small segment of our new Upper School student population prior to the official beginning of the 2021-2022 school year. Marissa, Celeste, and I chose to offer a camp experience to all ninth grade BIPOC students as this target group would give us an ideal number of students new to the Upper School, around 25, for our experimental program. Also, we wanted to have about 5 additional older BIPOC students to serve as mentors at camp.



As the Dean of Access and Equity and administrator of the Full Access Program, I have the awesome privilege of providing resources or financial assistance to under-resourced students in all divisions of our school —regardless of race or ethnicity— to enable them to fully participate in school programs. When I think about equity and equality, my primary goal in leading the Full Access Program is to ensure that everyone in the program gets what they specifically need to be successful. In doing so, that doesn’t mean that every student in the program will be provided with exactly the same resources or level of financial assistance. Part of my joy in supporting the over 90 Full Access students in the program this school year comes from knowing that by addressing individual rather than group needs, I am connecting with students where they are, and directing funding to where it can do the greatest good.   


Motherhood Reimagined.

I am what you call a Single Mother by Choice. I chose to intentionally have a baby without a partner using an anonymous donor. I had always been career-driven and at 29 years old, I knew that if I did not have a baby soon, I would forgo the idea altogether. For me, this was both the easiest and most difficult decision I had made in my life. It was easy because I knew I wanted to be a mom and did not need to wait for a partner to make this happen. It was a difficult decision because it would be life-changing and could not be taken lightly. 


Learning and Growing in A White Affinity Space

In her blog post of June 2, 2020, Marissa Colston, Westtown’s Dean of Diversity of Inclusion, listed “Tools to Help us Heal” after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Colston reached out specifically to White people to do the following: “Continue to educate yourself.  If these recent events are shocking to you and you don’t understand that they are part of an ongoing, predictable pattern of violence against people of color, take the time to continue to educate yourself on the history of systemic racism in this country.”


“If You Build It, They Will Come” Creating Spaces Especially For You

“If you build it, they will come,” a popular Field of Dreams movie reference, was a central theme in my upbringing and has remained so in my adulthood. Although this famous quote arose out of a desire for the film’s main character to take a leap of faith in order to revive a bygone era, its essence can certainly apply in a multitude of situations. Never have I understood the importance of “building” something “so they will come” more than I did when I moved to Delaware County, PA. Here, where belonging is insurmountable, a swift realization of my pungent new reality hung above me like a dark cloud. As a Black woman and native New Yorker who was always taught to be bold, bright, and outspoken, I noticed that I was not quite welcome. It was an unspoken “you are not welcome,” but nonetheless an unrelenting truth. Not having a place that is especially for you might be manageable for some. However, my core thrives on connecting with others and community building and is, therefore, a central part of my make-up. 


DOING THE WORK: Anti-Racist Teaching and Community Building in the Era of Black Lives Matter

I come from an intellectual tradition that sees scholarship as akin to combat. I was trained to see scholarly jousting as the means by which we refine and sharpen ideas. Consequently, as the brutal summer of 2020 unfolded, I channeled my anger, fear, and the viscous existential dread of being an Afro-Latino into a pugilistic fervor. I loaded chapters and articles onto my syllabi like ammunition into a magazine and answered calls to arms all over our new-found digital battlegrounds. Out of this work came both the class and podcast, We Can’t Breathe! [hereafter WCB!], a project designed to speak to and elucidate the landscape of contemporary anti-Blackness. This was a project subtended and made possible by Westtown’s own, always emerging anti-racist commitments. Put simply, WCB! wouldn’t have been possible at any other institution where I’ve worked—and at no other point in time in Westtown’s history. 


Talking About Race with Your Children

When I was younger, as a child of color in a household with parents who were also of color, talking about race was so common I don’t remember a time when we didn’t talk about it. I remember feeling proud and empowered about my racial identity. When I was faced with discrimination or hurtful stereotypes, even though it was painful, the foundation my parents helped create allowed me to talk about the experience knowing that I was more than a stereotype.

I knew that I could find support at home, but it was hard to talk with my white friends about these incidents. They rarely, if ever, had similar conversations at home. Their lack of ability to talk about race made it almost impossible to have a productive or restorative conversation.


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