"We All Have Work to Do": Training Teaches Staff, Faculty to Combat Racism

As part of their professional development before classes began, Episcopal’s faculty and staff worked with two national leaders in antiracism education to explore the history of racism in America and examine how to build a classroom culture where every student’s voice is welcome and respected.

The training was led by Debby Irving and Dr. Eddie Moore, prominent racial-justice educators. The pair, who call themselves partners in justice, have worked extensively with colleges and universities to promote antiracism on campuses nationwide.

“We all have work to do, and that work starts early,” Moore told the group.

Faculty and staff dug into difficult and emotional conversations in Zoom small group discussions that utilized the chat feature to ensure every voice was heard — something that’s critical in any classroom, according to Moore and Irving. Irving spoke of how she learned over her years of antiracism work that “there needs to be enough room in the room for everybody’s thoughts and feelings.”

Moore and Irving encouraged faculty and staff to make their classrooms “brave spaces” in which students could discuss difficult topics yet remain true to themselves and retain a sense of belonging.

Looking at the history of racism in the country, faculty and staff discussed historical instances of systematic oppression and the devastating economic effects of racism. Irving presented maps that showed redlining in American cities, including Washington, D.C. The group also studied how the media’s portrayal of “normal’ in American life can focus exclusively on the lives and outlooks of whites. Irving, a white woman who grew up in the predominately white town of Winchester, Mass., noted how she grew up at a time when the American norm was reflected in culture by television shows like “Father Knows Best” and Norman Rockwell’s paintings. Such depictions send a message, she noted, especially when coupled with the prevalence of other normative depictions (like the faces on our currency, the people overwhelmingly in positions of civic and corporate power, and those identified as meaningful contributors to history): that the people who cannot possibly fit within those depictions because of their identity are therefore not part of the norm.

Staff and faculty will work with Irving and Moore again later this fall, part of the School’s efforts launched this summer by the Task Force on Racism, Understanding, and Belonging. “Our students have real power to change the world for the better, and it's up to us to use every tool at our disposal to unlock that potential," said Louis Smith, who organized the training as the director of the School’s Office of Community and Equity.