On Oct. 17, the Wesleyan Alumni of Color Council presented the 28th Annual Dwight L. Greene Symposium titled “Educating for Equity – Building Racial Competencies.” Several alumni of color who work at independent schools served as panelists to share their strategies on addressing race, diversity, and equity at institutions with longstanding histories of privileging sameness. The panelists included: Aléwa Cooper ’98, head of the Foote School in New Haven, Conn.; José De Jesús ’97, head of the Lake Forest Academy in Lake Forest, Ill.; Javaid Khan ’96, head of the middle division at the Horace Mann School in Riverdale, N.Y.; Semeka Smith-Williams ’97, director of diversity and equity at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Steven Tejada ’97, head of the upper school at Maret School in Washington, D.C.; and Gillian Todd ’98, first program director at the Dalton School in New York, N.Y. Francisco Tezén ’97, CEO/president of A Better Chance in New York, N.Y., served as the event’s moderator.
“The pandemic is impacting kids in different ways,
especially kids of color and Black kids,” Tejada said. “And how do we think about our grading and our assessment during this
time? And that shouldn’t be just during a pandemic, right?
That should be happening all the time.
And my hope is that we’re going to be holding onto some of those
changes that we’re making right now and thinking about how those are
making our schools better places regardless.”
“This summer, I got emails and texts and had exchanges that I never thought I would have, with white people. It was certainly white folks.
And then things started to turn again a little bit when the fog came
in and the politics came in and then the narrative—it shifted,” De Jesús said. “So, I don’t know whether or not we’re going to revert back to a certain amount of
‘normalcy.’ We’ll continue having that conversation.”
“There’s a way in which I think for at least my school community,
we’re thinking about anti-Blackness versus the experience of people of
color, right? I think oftentimes there’s frustration, a pain, a desire to engage Blackness in a different way. And I don’t think it is so dissimilar to those of other racial identities,
but there’s something about anti-Black some of our institutions can be,” Smith-Williams said. “I think that’s something being challenged right now.
And that’s something that I think needs to continue to be challenged on lots of different levels.”
“It sounds like a lot of folks have been talking about this notion of leadership and in the moment,” Todd said. “I’m sort of curious about what does it
mean to be a person of color leading at predominantly white
So, I’m curious just as we sort of navigate the moment.
If we bring the lens down to the ground,
to the personal level, what has that experience been like?
“For me there, there’s no question that when I show up [to work],
I feel the space. I am the Black woman who is head of school. I am the only person of color on my leadership team.
So that stands out,” Cooper said. “So there are times as a person of color, I’m thinking long and hard about what this means. I say,
‘You are the leader. You are always going to be a Black Latina woman.
But also, you are a leader—the person in charge here,
and it’s okay for you to see and have a perspective. Be your authentic self.'”
“I’ve spoken to many board panels about how you can diversify your
boards. A number of us sit on school boards and talk about diversity subcommittees, and if your board is not talking about diversity, your school will not be talking about diversity,” Khan said. “And so I think it is important that those conversations happen.”
Alison Williams ’81, Wesleyan’s vice president for equity and inclusion/Title IX officer, introduced the panelists and discussed the history of the annual symposium. The Dwight L. Greene Symposium honors the late Dwight L. Greene ’70 as a memorial and a tribute to his life and work as a professor
of law, mentor, and powerful advocate for social and racial equity and equality. Over the past quarter-century,
this symposium has brought to the Wesleyan community thought-provoking presentations on issues such as media innovation and democracy, equality, justice and sports, and women of color at Wesleyan.