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BIPOC@FVS Instagram Q&A

After a series of shocking deaths of Black people while in police custody during the summer of 2020, Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) groups sprang to action. Along with marches and demonstrations as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, hundreds of BIPOC activist accounts began appearing on social media. BIPOC students, alumni and parents at private, independent schools started their own @blackat movement on social media to share their stories and advocate for change. This includes the Instagram group BIPOC@FVS, which gives voice to the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ experience at FVS.

The Bulletin reached out to the founder of BIPOC@FVS (who wishes to remain anonymous) to learn more about the group. The following Q&A discusses BIPOC@FVS’s goals and hopes for diversity, equity and inclusion at FVS.

FVS: Why was this page started?

BIPOC@FVS: This page was started to make space for and amplify the voices of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ members of our FVS community. During the summer, when all eyes were on the Black Lives Matter movement, accounts like BIPOC@FVS began popping up on Instagram. They were started by students and alumni from all types of educational institutions, speaking out about their experiences as marginalized members of their school. Social media is a powerful tool, and young people are using it to organize and to educate one another on issues and histories that we did not learn about in the classroom, as well as about personal experiences that we have historically been discouraged from sharing.

Following (and prior to) a statement put out by the school in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, many alumni reached out to FVS expressing their disappointment in the school’s response to this civil rights movement being pioneered by BLM. I was among them, and while I can’t speak for others, I hoped that this would be the perfect time to open up a dialogue with the administration about what felt like a history of inaction with regards to race and discrimination at our school.

Many of us received responses that felt stiff and, in some cases, defensive. I felt frustrated that this was not an avenue that would yield the discussion I was looking to have. And then I learned about the @blackat movement and decided to create a platform where BIPOC and LGBTQ+ Danes could raise their voices.

FVS: What was the goal behind the creation of BIPOC@FVS? Has that initial goal shifted, and if so, why?

BIPOC@FVS: The goal has always been the same, though it has evolved. I didn’t have any expectations going in. I had no idea whether people would submit their thoughts or not, or what their stories would be, but I felt it was important for people to have the choice to share if they wanted to. There are not many opportunities for marginalized students and alumni to share their stories authentically, without the sheen of marketing.

In general, Danes are pretty thoughtful, so I shouldn’t have been surprised at the level of engagement. People were fairly quick to message the account with their thoughts, especially to the “stories” section (which only lasts 24 hours). I used the main feed for submissions and “announcements” only, and used the stories as a more interactive place for the entire community to have a discussion. Once people started engaging, the goal expanded. I wanted to show people that they were not alone and that their experiences (positive and negative) are valid. We are all individuals and we all have our own unique experiences.

One of the most significant takeaways from this account and my personal experience at FVS is that the proximity we have to the faculty and staff can be both a blessing and a curse. As students, we have the opportunity to form deep connections and mentorships that can last a lifetime. We can also be trapped in a difficult situation with no escape, where mediation can feel like it hinges on which school employees are “on your side.”

We were children who lived (or for day students, basically lived) on campus with our teachers and our peers during some of our most vulnerable years. Many of the most challenging conversations on the BIPOC@FVS account (public and private) were about this—the immense influence of the faculty and the staff on our lives, and the way that their perceptions of us shaped not only our experiences, but also our perceptions of ourselves.

FVS: What’s most challenging about moderating comments on the page?

BIPOC@FVS: On the whole, the comments haven’t been too difficult to moderate. I don’t want to tell people what they can or can’t say, so I only step in if comments get invalidating or disrespectful. Messaging with people individually has been the most challenging and rewarding aspect of the page. It’s made me feel more connected to the FVS community than I ever have, and I’m truly, deeply grateful for everyone who’s engaged. I’ve learned a lot from you!

Part of the challenges have come from the conversations themselves. Some people just want to discuss something they’ve seen on the page or related to a post. Others want to talk about the school itself, the opportunities for growth that they saw and their frustrations. The final challenge is that I knew some of the people who were messaging me personally, and talking to them through the account was an extremely weird experience!

While most people have been great, not everyone has been supportive. I expected that and I’m fine with it. I’m still grateful for their engagement and for their passion. As I said before, what matters to me is ensuring that the opportunity for these discussions exists at all.

FVS: What do you think should be the top two priorities for the school moving forward?

BIPOC@FVS: I think that revising the curriculum and focusing on hiring and retaining teachers of color are the two top priorities. These concerns have been brought up frequently on the page. Many people feel that the curriculum had not taught them enough about the inequalities that our society is built upon. Many also feel that they did not have an adult to turn to with 100 percent confidence they would be supported and believed.

Anti-racist work and curricula align perfectly with FVS’s core values of courage, open-mindedness, self-reliance, curiosity and compassion. At its core, anti-racism is actively opposing and working to dismantle racism wherever it is—within ourselves, our communities, our institutions. I’m not an education expert, but I have come across a wealth of resources on teaching inclusive curricula for any subject, especially by Black and Indigenous educators. We need to understand our greatest failures and transgressions as a society so that we can learn from and atone for them.

As for the other issue, FVS is very proud of its diverse student body, while the faculty and staff (particularly the administration) are overwhelmingly white. This has huge implications for every aspect of the school and of student life. I discussed this issue in a post on the account, here is some of what I learned while researching:
Teachers of color are positive role models and have a real influence on breaking down negative stereotypes and preparing students to live in a diverse society. Having teachers of color has also been shown to boost the performance of students of color (Source: U.S. Department of Education). Diverse groups of people can (and do) outperform less diverse, high-ability groups of people. Companies with diverse executive boards enjoy higher earnings and returns on equity (Sources: “Groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Nov 2004, 101 (46) 16385-16389. “Is There a Payoff From Top-Team Diversity,” McKinsley Quarterly).

Teaching is still an overwhelmingly white profession. In 2017-18, 85 percent of private school teachers and 86 percent of private school principals were white (Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18 National Teacher and Principal Survey).

Compared with their peers, teachers of color are more likely to have higher expectations of their students of color. These expectations include  confronting racism, serving as advocates and cultural brokers, and developing more trusting relationships with students (Source: U.S. Department of Education).

On the same post, I also asked the following questions:
  • Who decides what to prioritize? What blind spots might they have? (Consider: curriculum, residential/day student life, interim, athletics, etc.)
  • Who decides how student performance and behavior is evaluated?
  • What is praiseworthy/acceptable/inappropriate?
  • What cultural norms and assumptions are those decisions based off of, and who do they leave out—or punish?
  • Who can a BIPOC or  LGBTQ+ student turn to when they need someone who will understand, believe and validate their experiences and concerns?
  • How can students from marginalized backgrounds trust that they will be heard and taken seriously? That they are valuable members of the community by virtue of who they are, not how they can benefit and teach their white peers?
  • How are minority students acknowledged or compensated for the (free) labor and education they provide the school and their peers? Especially when this labor distracts from their own academics?
  • Do we truly have a “diverse, global community of students and faculty” when more than 90% of the school’s faculty and staff are white?
  • What does a “global education” mean and who is doing the global educating?

In order for teachers of color at FVS or any institution to succeed, they need to have the full support of the school and the Board of Trustees. We also can’t expect them to take on the additional, inevitable emotional labor on top of their regular duties without proper compensation and support. So, a big part of this is putting structures in place that will specifically support faculty, staff and students of color.

This isn’t just limited to teachers of color. Having LGBTQ+ faculty and staff will yield similar effects. We need to ensure that all LGBTQ+ Danes are safe, respected and loved. Again, I’m not an education expert by any means, but in my mind, working on these initiatives will be some of the most difficult but impactful agents of change.

FVS: What challenges do you see for FVS in particular?

BIPOC@FVS: Transparency. It’s difficult, it makes us feel vulnerable, and it’s also a powerful tool for growth. Being transparent about the work in progress, the difficult and joyous parts of it, is necessary not only for others to hold the school accountable, but also for the school to hold itself accountable. Secrecy breeds distrust and suspicion, so to do any of this effectively is to be open about it.

FVS: What does it mean to be an ally as an institution and as an individual, and what are the most important qualities to be found in a BIPOC ally?

BIPOC@FVS: Speaking only for myself here, I think one answer to both of these questions is to know when your support is needed, but not necessarily your voice. You can be helpful without being heard. Also, not everything is an intellectual exercise. We’re taught to think critically at FVS and that’s a great thing, but often times that gets applied to the lived experiences of people and communities. Please don’t tell anyone that “they probably didn’t mean it that way.” Even if they didn’t, it doesn’t make what they did less hurtful or more okay. Do your research and don’t expect your BIPOC or LGBTQ+ friends and acquaintances to educate you—they’re tired! We are often forced to do extra work both in and outside the classroom that benefits our white peers, but drains us. We are all authorities on our own experiences, so listen to people of color and queer folks when they choose to share their expertise with you.

FVS: Any closing thoughts?

BIPOC@FVS: On a more personal note, I do want to make something clear: I loved my time at FVS. By no means were they my golden years, but while I was there, the school was my home. I was also fortunate to get paired with an advisor who loved me, fought for me, and for whom I am eternally grateful. FVS set me up for a future that I doubt I would have found my way into otherwise. Nevertheless, I still had experiences there that hurt me deeply, and now that I’ve had more time and more education, I see troubling things about my own experience as a person of color and my peers’ experiences. Ultimately, that’s another part of why I started this account—we can love something and recognize the hurt it has caused us without diminishing either. In fact, reconciling and understanding both experiences is the only way to work through them and heal.
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