I am sitting in a room surrounded by fellow teachers and administrators, mindful of our physical distance. A grin on my face, not because we just successfully concluded our fifth week of classes. Rather, I am tickled by the irony.
Distanced, we discuss “togetherness.”
More specifically, intercultural competencies was to be the focus of our dialogue. I felt privileged to have the time and space to converse openly because so critical is the work that needs to be done. As part of an international school, one that clearly is not American-centric, we must first consider our context. With students and faculty cultures representing more than sixty nations, there is credence in remaining cognizant of the influences of the host country culture. Possibly the country power structures may even be more hierarchically structured than egalitarian. Furthermore, it would be remiss to not acknowledge the large degree of diversity representative in the range of people’s experiences and quite possibly, readiness to reflect on privilege, equality, and oppression.
Over the summer I wrote an article titled, “An Authentic Response to Take Action.” In it I ask, “Might 2020 be the nascence of more leadership from the heart. Passion hangs heavy in the air, as people imagine a tomorrow they long to live in. Changes bent on solutions, not blame, as millions get down on bended knee in silent protest.” The protests have not abated, if anything they have grown more intense. All this amidst an uncontrolled pandemic and under apocalyptic skies of the Wetern United States. In this same post I introduced Safaa Abdelmagid and her open letter to SEARCH Associates published on June 8. In it she concludes, “Do better, Search Associates, much much better. Start by being honest…Own your privilege and use it to serve those who truly deserve it.” For context, this was but three days after the tragic death of George Floyd.
Then, August 26 The Search Associates Team and CEO Jessica Magagna, responded with their own letter. Addressed, “Dear Search Associates Community,” Magagna cites “tangible actions and evidence of change.” A move beyond awareness and to greater responsibility. Clear points outlined by a 3-section plan, where actions are determined immediate, by the end of December 2020, and by the end of March 2021.
The school where I am employed endeavors to determine measurable action points as well. Thankfully, we too were challenged, most notably by alumni, as they shared their experiences and offered suggestions. The conversations with this invaluable group will continue.
There is much work to be done. The issues do not begin, nor end with race. The move is to reflect, take ownership, and become far more inclusive. So our school, the people but also the systems, are more fully equitable to all cultures; be they defined racially, linguistically, by gender, sexual-preference, or ability. Schools must take a stand. Furthermore, akin to SEARCH associates, a degree of poise but also power must be established. A power which links us as human beings. Our minds simply will not think the way out of this. Our hearts are to play a key role as we feel our way into a reality so many have felt, for so long.
The good news is, the iGen or Generation Z, consistently proves itself to be more accepting of differences than previous generations. It is us educators but moreover the institutions and broader cultures that need to “catch up.” A sensible starting point is to begin by having these long overdue conversations, determining our priorities.
Mahatma Gandhi advised us well when he said. “Action expresses priorities. Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization” The time for action is yesterday.