This week, Berkeley Carroll Upper School students participated in their second year of BC Talks (formerly called Diversity Day). This year’s theme was privilege. Students participated in discussion groups, learned and shared their personal experiences with privilege. Below is Upper School Director Jane Moore’s opening statement for the day.
Good Morning and thanks for being here for the second annual BC Talks. For those of you who haven’t been here very long, a bit of history: Before there was BC Talks, for a number of years there was “Diversity Day.” Last year we decided that that title was problematic title for a few reasons, one that it was vague, and one that it implied that a day of “celebrating” diversity was somehow sufficient. We hope that “BC Talks” comes across differently — as a day to focus our thinking and talking around a particular subject.
I do realize that the JUST ONE DAY? criticism can also be, has also been, levied at BC Talks. While more days can certainly be considered, the school’s goal more generally is to move beyond the need for many special “days” and to move increasingly towards a curriculum and culture that allows faculty and students to speak of matters of social justice, and political and cultural importance, regularly, if not daily. Indeed, both last year and this year we have tried to make BC Talks a culminating day of discussion rather than the only day of discussion.
This year, I hope that a number of days, speakers and events, conversations in and reading for classes, conversations in affinity groups and at JADA, have encouraged you to think and talk about the topic of privilege, even if you have not used that word to describe the phenomenon. Perhaps Jennifer Finney Boylan’s remarks in February awakened you to the societal privilege of being cis-gender.
Perhaps listening to the activist poetry of Sonia Sanchez and Mahogany Browne in January made you feel in a new way the realities of white privilege or gender privilege, and perhaps even awakened some activist spirit; perhaps hearing Jeff Hobbs talk about The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace made you puzzle about how elements of lack of privilege and of privilege often intersect in a single life; perhaps watching our own students stand up against white institutional privilege through the Black Out in Support of Mizzou inspired you to attend the follow up community conversation; perhaps attending Hamilton with the junior class (or on your own) not only made you excited and inspired, but made you recognize the privilege inherent in being a white American who has mostly gotten to hear American history from a white perspective; perhaps you applied and went to SDLC this year, have led an affinity group, have attended JADA, or pledge to participate in this day with openness of spirit. These are all ways that BC has talked privilege this year.
You also talked privilege by participating, often so thoughtfully and honestly, in the write-ins, excerpts of which now appear on the walls around school. Because of the general success of this activity in past years, the faculty organizers of this day and I did not speak to you about this posting of your words around the school as we have in the past. We let you down there because, from what I have seen and heard, some of those words have caused anger, cynicism, frustration, even the tearing down of some signs. It’s actually not bad to have strong feelings and responses, but it is our responsibility to talk to you about the potential impact of the words covering the walls of our school. I’m sorry we didn’t do that. The words are meant to represent the diversity of our opinions, to remind one another that there ARE a diversity of opinions, and to remind one another that only if we SEE the diversity of opinions can we also see what we need to talk about.
I hope that devoting a day — today — to talking about privilege provides us a way to reflect on, and a way to push harder on, some of the conversations we may have started but not finished this year. I hope it allows you to ask questions that perhaps you have not been ready to ask before. I hope it allows you to see where there is significant common ground, to feel where there are wide gaps, and to close some of those gaps, even as we remember that the process of changing people’s minds or perspectives is often very slow, incremental. Keeping that truth in mind, however, can be hard to do when we are contending with strong feelings, whether we feel hurt, angry, or gloriously justified.