Crossroads News

RISE Committee Hosts Workshop on White Fragility with Educator Jessica Stovall

The Crossroads community engages in a meaningful conversation about race.
Guest speaker Jessica Stovall had an admission to make. “It’s really hard to talk about race,” Stovall acknowledged. “In fact, almost all of the time, we don’t talk about race. We think we’re talking about race, but we’re actually talking around race.”
The Radical Inclusion for Social Equity (RISE) committee invited Stovall to their Jan. 30 meeting in anticipation of the Equity & Justice Institute’s March 4 event with Robin DiAngelo. DiAngelo is the author of “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” and the fourth speaker in this year’s Younes and Soraya Nazarian Equity & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series.
About 50 teachers, staff members, students and parents filled Roth Hall. Akieva Jacobs, parent to sophomore and fellow RISE committee member Chloe Jacobs, noted, “The room was packed. It warmed my heart to think that so many people in our community were there to learn and begin the real work involved in actually making our community reflect the Crossroads vision. Not just diverse, but actually inclusive.”
Stovall appeared in Steve James’ 10-part documentary series “America to Me.” At the time of filming, she taught at a public school just outside Chicago, where she worked to interrupt systemic racial achievement disparities. Now a Ph.D. student at Stanford University, Stovall uses the documentary series to stimulate discussions about equity and justice.
At the Crossroads workshop, Stovall shared two clips from “America to Me” illustrating how white students and teachers at her school routinely diminished and dismissed the achievements and ideas of black students. Stovall then set up a “fishbowl” discussion: a small group conversed while the rest of the attendees observed. Everyone was then invited to consider the effectiveness of the small group’s conversation.
“Often, the burden is put on people of color to share their experiences,” said Chloe. “But with the docuseries ‘America to Me,’ we had examples to discuss and no one had to be singled out. It made the conversation much easier to have.”
The RISE committee’s next meeting is on Thursday, Feb. 20. “We offer a respectful space for constructive and important conversations around race, ethnicity, class and religion on an ongoing basis,” RISE committee co-chair and Upper School history teacher Piya Narayen explained. “Our meetings are open to everyone in the community.”