By Raquel W. ’21
This is the first article of Gryphon Gazette’s new initiative focusing on topics of equity and inclusion, aiming to elevate the voices of community members and shed light on social justice issues within and outside of our Crystal community. On July 12, 2020, I interviewed Ms. Wade, Crystal’s Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer, about her plans for this year in making Crystal a more anti-racist institution. In addition to not only providing information about her plans in this article, Ms. Wade hopes that she can model the necessity of having these conversations. People may respond differently to statements she makes, but she hopes that you take each piece of information in stride and understand that this is a learning process for everyone.
Ms. Wade’s mantra is “This is everyone’s work,” and though she recognizes her administrative title, she emphasized that the community must come together to understand others’ different experiences and to converse in a productive manner. We must take on a shared responsibility and duty. Ms. Wade commented that the word “diversity” is sometimes misunderstood and some people assume that “diversity work” solely includes people of color or members of the community who are being marginalized. However, at Crystal she aims to change this assumption and as reflected in her montra. She said that it is “not a game of blame and shame,” and wants to ensure that all are treated with “dignity, kindness, and respect.” Though guilt and shame may be a step in one’s journey, it is ultimately about moving past these feelings and educating oneself.
Following the statement Ms. Wade, Ms. Sortino, and Gerry Horkan, the Crystal Board President, published in support of Black Lives and promising to be an anti-racist institution over the summer, Ms. Wade said that the importance lies in the steps taken to deliver the promises outlined in the statement. Her first main objective is, in her own words, “apologizing, and owning, and really listening.” She asks herself, how can we “recognize and own” the experiences that members of the community have shared? Next, Ms. Wade is navigating what the school year will look like. One of the many factors is the creation of Courageous Conversations and the DEI task force. Ms. Wade describes the DEI task force as “a group of students, PAC members, alumni, parents, and board members who are creating a long term strategic plan for DEI”. There is also a new initiative where all DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) club leaders meet monthly. In these meetings, students work with Ms. Wade to ensure that they are creating a safe space for their club to address their given DEI focus whether it be discussing gender equality in Women in Sports or creating racial awareness in a safe space that is Keep It Real. Inside the classroom, teachers have been working to incorporate these changes in their curriculum. Ms. Wade wants to ensure that all classes are prepared for these conversations. As part of this, the faculty has established affinity groups as part of mandatory professional development to discuss their role as educators in making their classrooms a welcoming space for all identities. She wants this identity awareness to be central to Crystal’s curriculum and go beyond a single annual event like Diversity Day while promoting student leadership in this process. Ms. Wade stated that tackling these issues can sometimes be “like a game of whack-a-mole,” as we see an issue, solve it, and move on. However, it is important we recognize that systemic change requires us to see the bigger picture: this is a process that takes patience and cooperation from all community members. In Ms. Wade’s words, “we want to be less reactive,” and work to ensure that Crystal has the tools and structure already in place to tackle issues as they arise. Ms. Wade encourages us to think about what it means to “truly belong at Crystal.”
Ms. Wade explained that the most important thing students can do right now is “keep telling their stories.” Sharing our personal experiences and ensuring that all voices are heard, is the best way to teach others and start conversations. She explained that adults often learn from students. Additionally, Ms. Wade told me that a key component of institutional change is creating a peer culture where microaggressions are not tolerated. She argued that most of the time, it is even more effective and helpful when students call each other out, rather than having a faculty member do so. In order to create this peer culture, Ms. Wade said that we must understand the difference between the intention and impact of our actions. In other words, when making a small comment, you may not be thinking that it will hurt someone and simply find it funny. You make the comment to get a laugh out of your friends. As high school students, we all want to fit in. We want to be liked by our classmates and fear standing out or upsetting others. But, we must understand the impact of our words before we speak them. We can think to ourselves: “Could this comment hurt someone in any way?” If our answer is in the realm of “yes”, then we should not say it. And if you hear a peer make an inappropriate or offensive comment, kindly start the conversation and explain to them why their comment was inappropriate.
Though social media stands as a gap between the students’ generation and that of the adults in our community, Ms. Wade suggested that it can be both the students’ most powerful tool and dangerous weapon. Social media can connect people and quickly reach a wide range and large number of people. While this may be true, Ms. Wade warned that media literacy is vital in being a productive user of social media. “Fake news” can easily circulate on social media platforms, so it is important to check your facts and do your own research rather than reading a post and immediately deeming it factual. Most importantly, Ms. Wade brought up the argument that if we lack the skills to converse respectfully in person, it is even more challenging to interact through social media. Conversing about uncomfortable topics is challenging enough in person, and social media adds a layer of disconnect as comments and messages can be misinterpreted online. In short, Ms. Wade encourages us to fact check our information and responsibly engage in conversation on social media platforms. Being weary of our social media use has become especially important in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, as our world becomes increasingly virtual. Though Zoom doesn’t permit in-person discussion, it still allows for face-to-face discussion. Ms. Wade brought up that in some ways, Zoom makes it easier to have discussions because you can access the meeting from the comfort of your own home at the click of a button. She was optimistic and said that we can connect in new ways now and also emphasized social media has taken on a new and exciting role in youth activism.
If you are unsure of where to start your fight for racial equity, the answer is education. Ms. Wade said that “Google can be your friend!” with the appropriate media literacy, as discussed above. She also encouraged those looking for somewhere to start to read the “Crystal Community Anti-Racism resources” Google Doc. If you are interested in doing your own research, a few topics to start with may include the history of systemic racism or the appropriate language to use when discussing social justice issues. In other words, context is key. You have to understand the root of an issue in order to tackle it. The amount of information available can at first seem overwhelming. Ms. Wade recounted that recently, a group of white educators met and compared becoming anti-racist to running. In the beginning, you are out of shape, sore, and feel discouraged from going out on another run. It is impossible to simply flip a switch and get into shape. Yet, if you persist, you can get in shape and as Ms. Wade put it “build the muscles for it [becoming actively anti-racist].” She also commented that it is important to take “baby steps” and recommended starting to have conversations with a group of people you feel comfortable chatting with and then broadening your spectrum. We must all take the time to practice together.
Representation at Crystal
This year, 67% of students in the admissions process identify as POC. If we compare Crystal’s percentages with San Mateo County’s, Crystal meets or even exceeds the percentage of people who identify as Asian, Asian-American or mutiracial. Crystal’s percentages match those of San Mateo as far as students who identify as Black, Pacific Islander, or Native/Indigenous, but Crystal aims to reach higher numbers. On the contrary, Crystal does not even come close to matching the percentage of people who identify as Hispanic/Latinx: 24% in San Mateo County (as of 2019) but only 5% of students at Crystal identify as Latino/a/x. Ms. Wade said that this is not where we want to be right now because in a predominately white institution, students of these underrepresented communities feel that they have to almost represent their race, culture, or identity, when that is both unfair and virtually impossible both because it is unrealistic but also as Ms. Wade put it, people of these communities “are not a monolith,” meaning that though they share some experiences, they all have different stories and possibly different cultures. Last year as well, 25% of the faculty identified as people of color. Ms. Wade is also working to raise this percentage and cited that it is validating and beneficial for students to see their own identity reflected in their educators. Ms. Wade is aware of this issue of underrepresentation, and stated that Crystal is working to reach these proportions and also ensure that Crystal is an inclusive and welcoming community for any new members. Ms. Wade is also involved in the Crystal First Program, comprised of students who belong to a college access program or self-identify as the first in their family to go to college. This is the program’s fifth year. Typically, there are 3-6 students in every freshman class but this year, there are eleven students.
When it comes to people sharing their personal stories, Ms. Wade highlighted that we must prioritize accountability and provide space for people to safely share their experiences. Though Ms. Wade was not excusing this behavior in any way, she stated plainly that “we all mess up”, and when we do mess up, we need to learn from our mistakes. When I asked Ms. Wade to share what microaggressions had been reported to her by students, she said that of course, as part of her job, she has heard students’ stories but instead, she chose to share some microaggressions that she has committed. She told me a story about a time she confused the names of two Asian students, which ignored their individuality and suggested that all asians are a monolith. She described another instance when, as an English teacher, she would read a piece of literature and say the n-word aloud. Looking back, Ms. Wade recognizes that the Black students in her classroom must have been uncomfortable and offended by this and thus, would not do this now nor condone it. Ms. Wade’s vulnerability in sharing these stories shows us the importance in taking responsibility for our actions and the pain we have caused others. We must also take the time to reflect and think about how our actions may impact others. Ms. Wade shared that the school has a responsibility to teach what microaggressions are and how we can prevent them. The point here is we need to recognize our mistakes and grow from them but also establish a community where these acts do not occur in the first place.
Addressing the alumni call-to-action
Ms. Wade said that first and foremost, the alumni call-to-action was a display of love and of devotion to making Crystal a place where all students, present and future, feel included. She stated that the two options were to either respond with shame or instead, with “gratitude, humility, and commitment to doing and being better”. Ms. Wade saw it as an opportunity to move forward. She stressed that the absolute worst attitude to have right now would be viewing this push for racial inequity as a phase and simply going back to “normal” because we are working towards a more equal norm where diversity, or differences, is celebrated.
Ms. Wade stated that the hardest part of her work is reaching people who avoid these conversations. She commented that “when everyone is in the room”, she’ll know we have taken a step in the right direction and are making progress.
As a closing statement, Ms. Wade said that now is NOT the time to be neutral. She concluded with, “This is really all about all of our humanity.” We must be willing to have uncomfortable and open conversations with our fellow community members.