“What are you doing here?” Unclear, I responded “Waiting for math class like everyone else.” “But what are you doing HERE?” he asked once again. Confused, I repeated the same answer. Now visibly upset and frustrated at my lack of understanding, he speaks much slower and in an exaggerated tone and asks, “No, but what did you do to get in HERE?” All I could answer with was a bewildered look. Later that semester in middle school it was made clear to me that what my fellow classmate really meant to ask was, “how did an immigrant get into an advanced math class?”
This was one of countless experiences that remind me I am often seen as an “other.” Whether the cause is the color of my skin, my home language, or my immigration status, these microaggressions can be exhausting and at times, debilitating. Microaggressions are “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to people of color because they belong to a racial minority group.” (Sue et al., 2007)
In studying the psychological experience of students of color, Michael Thompson and Kathy Schultz write, “The psychological price for being a minority student in a majority-white school is often heavy.” (Thompson & Shultz, n.d.)
They further write “six particularly difficult psychological experiences which most-not all” students of color face in independent schools (Thompson & Shultz, n.d.):
- Social loneliness
- Racial visibility and social invisibility
- Class and cultural discomfort among white parents and administrators
- The burden of explaining oneself to white people
- The challenge of completing studies at demanding schools with minimal parent participation
- The burden of having to feel grateful all the time.
I am intimately familiar with these psychological pressures and while it may sound counterintuitive, I am grateful for having experienced them. These psychological pressures, while difficult and dehumanizing, have provided me with a framework for supporting BIPOC students today.
Throughout my career in education, my lived experiences have informed my efforts to be the person students need. When I was a science teacher focusing on states of matter, I brought maseca so that my newcomers and emerging English language learners could connect to the lesson in a culturally relevant way. When my students of color were receiving harsher consequences than their white peers for the same behaviors, I was able to advocate for them and help them understand they were not alone.
It seems only natural that my journey would bring me to Boulder Country Day School to be a part of the diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. I take pride in our school’s mission to help support students in becoming responsible, globally aware citizens. To aid in this process, we lean on The Social Justice Standards from Learning For Justice. The standards are broken down into four domains, Identity, Diversity, Justice, and Action. Within each domain, there are five outcomes which I like to refer to as goals or objectives. These standards provide an age appropriate road map for teachers to use in the classroom. As an example of how these standards play out in the classroom, one of our teachers is currently in a unit on human reproduction. This teacher adopted the various domains from the standards and incorporated the reality that mothers of color face in the healthcare industry. After discussions on equity and social justice, students are completing presentations on initiatives they would implement in hospitals to ensure a person’s cultural background is taken into account.
Beyond the classroom, we are busy organizing an event that will bring 5th-8th grade BIPOC students from the Boulder and Denver areas together for a day of affinity. The goal is for our students to feel loved, celebrated, and empowered through facilitated affinity spaces and breakout sessions. This effort was driven by one of our 8th grade students whose community service project is to bring BIPOC students together. When I asked this student what the purpose is, he responded, “I want them to know they are not alone.” I couldn’t help but recognize myself in this student and acknowledge the psychological experiences they are going through.
I am humbled by the work our teachers do day in and day out, one social justice conversation or lesson at a time. When we open up the space for these conversations and lessons, we continue to undo the impact of inequity and enable all of our students to feel empowered.
Author, Gabriel Lopez, BCD’s Coordinator of Equity and Community Engagement
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