Diversity. A confusing word to most Woodberry boys, “it’s not that big a deal,” “it’s not my problem,” “why are you even bringing this up?” After returning from the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in Nashville, Tennessee, I wanted my experience to materialize into some benefit for Woodberry. SDLC is a national conference organized by the National Association of Independent Schools, “a multiracial, multicultural gathering of upper school leaders from across the country and abroad.” I met scores of interesting students who candidly shared with me the difficulties associated with being a student of color at a largely white independent school, giving me new perspective on Woodberry and the world. Upon returning to Woodberry, many of my classmates and hallmates shared experiences that mirrored the ones I heard about in Nashville. One common thread was the unfavorable impact of the lack of racial diversity in the faculty, something Woodberry isn’t foreign to.
As Woodberry celebrates its 50th anniversary of integration, we still have plenty of work to do. Currently, we have no African American or Asian teachers on the faculty. While the student body has a significant Asian and African American population. In addition, when Mr. Coleman leaves, Woodberry will only have one African American person in the entire faculty and administration. In conversations with black students and white students, it has become clear to me that Woodberry boys see this as a problem and want it to be solved. People of color on the faculty gives our students perspectives that they would otherwise be left without. When black students experience the inevitable difficult moment linked to race, it helps to have a teacher of color they know will be able to relate to them. Unfortunately, students in Nashville and students at Woodberry both shared that teachers were often the ones making an insensitive comment or failing to recognize that one was made. Certainly, neither of these examples represent any disdain for students of color, but they do show a lack of perspective. More teachers of color at Woodberry would allow for our existing teachers to learn about what types of moment make our students of color feel unwelcome in our community and how to avoid them. This change will not only help students by having someone to share their experiences with, but will also help the faculty create a better environment for all students to learn.
Something important to understand is that Woodberry’s faculty is already fairly diverse; in terms of socioeconomic background, religion, and gender. A recent push to hire more women on the faculty has exposed many Woodberry boys to valuable relationships working with female teachers in the classroom. Why can’t Woodberry just do the same with black teachers? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. In a conversation with Dr. Hulsey, he assured me that Woodberry is doing everything it can to attract faculty members of color for next year. He expressed a desire to make sure potential faculty members of color are truly a good fit, making sure that Woodberry does not just “check a box.” Woodberry isn’t the easiest school to attract teachers to, especially ones that meet our standards and buy into our culture.
As the school moves forward next year after several faculty departures, we hope that the the administration’s efforts will prove successful and Woodberry will become a stronger community and a better learning environment for all. 50 years ago Woodberry students demanded racial integration; it is only proper that on the anniversary of that event we remember that meeting the challenge then issued is a constant task.