Any school has what I call, “the culture of the hallways.” This is the behavior of students with each other in places and times that an authority figure is not present. All schools have such places: bathrooms, gyms, cafeterias and more. In such “student controlled” areas, a student may present differently than when in the presence of an adult. It is here that rude, mean, ugly, prejudiced, and spiteful behavior happens. All schools have a culture of the hallways.
As an administrator, teacher, and coach in independent and Catholic schools for forty years, I read with interest the articles concerning the recent “Black at (name the school) posts on Instagram. Not having an Instagram account prohibits me from reading various accounts, but I honestly do not want to read any anonymous report of racism or any ism in such schools. One article about a graduate’s experience in an independent school in Annapolis, MD was helpful because in “outing” the head of school, (who I know) the student’s name was published. That student owned his/her story.
I honor a present student or employees’ anonymity in offering a personal experience that is racist, classicist, or unjust in several other ways. That person cannot be assured that retribution will not happen because retribution is a sad reality of all schools. The power structure of schools places the student or employee below a school board member, a principal, a coach, and students are last and at the mercy of any mean-spirited person. For these Instagram posts, I recommend anonymity.
My career in education covered the years 1968-2008. I began teaching during the last efforts to thwart the Brown vs. Board Supreme Court Decision to integrate public schools and ended it working to help make independent schools more reflective of society, to create student bodies and faculties that were not all white and wealthy. With the help of programs such as NCBI and students, teachers, and administrators, I experienced the joy of being a part in creating a more diverse, welcoming, and safe environment in independent schools in and around Washington, DC. Many workshops, discussions, assemblies with speakers such as Peggy McIntosh and Lorene Cary, and “town meetings” were held to help those school communities confront the challenges of race, gender, class, sexuality, and more, but some of the current issues present today did not exist in these years. While the work I shared with others in each school was demanding and difficult and even frightening at times, it was rewarding. We knew that not all persons in our communities would be changed, but we knew we would make some change for the better.
Because of my experience, in which I made mistakes, I am bothered by graduates and past employees not identifying themselves. For me, I want to know the circumstances surrounding any mis-spoken words and to whom I may have said them. For instance, one Instagram post I read reported the name of a teacher I knew and had even hired. The unnamed poster told how his friend had chosen not to dress in a costume for Halloween during the 7th grade, but just wore sweatpants and a hoodie. He says that the named teacher asked his friend, “Are you dressed up as Trevor Martin?” Wow. Hard stuff, but the poster was a long past student who renamed anonymous. The teacher, as far as I know, is retired. However, I think that she, or any teacher “outed” would be appreciative of some more details surrounding their offensive words.
I have some recommendations for any person who chooses to post on Black at (name the school), which is helpful for such schools. Tell your story or get your friend to tell his/hers and name the name(s) of the offending person. Provide as much detail surrounding the event as possible. In this way, you will help the named teacher/coach/administrator recall the event, and this may help them to better understand. That is their duty, but when you name the name, name yours as well. In that way, your story will have more credibility. Being direct with each other in a civil way is the best avenue to changing people and their institutions. Anonymous remarks may cause folks to become defensive, and that attitude was not helpful before or now. Own your story and help change happen.