Arrie Soloman '21 and Nia Brown '21
A summer full of mourning, celebration, hard-work, determination, and Black-sisterhood began on May 25th, 2020. At the end of the school year, our nation was struck with tragedy once again, but to Black Americans, this tragedy was one of many more. Watching another unarmed Black man become a martyr of Black Death was emotionally draining enough, and for the Black students of the country, including on the Close, we still had to do our homework, get a “good night’s rest,” and wake up ready to learn the next day. After a Cathedral service did not supply the comfort and support Black students were expecting, our former BSU president, Anaya Rodgers ’20, emailed our head of school, Ms. Bosland, to air the disappointment of the Black students at NCS. The NCS administration responded to our concerns exactly how an administration should; they apologized for causing us sorrow, vowed to do better, and this next step most administrations forget, they asked to meet with us to further discuss ways in which the school can improve. The then co-Presidents of the BSU, Anaya Rodgers and Nia Brown, decided to go a step further and bring our community together on June 5th at a sit-in at the National Cathedral, with the common goal to support and uplift Black students’ voices (and most importantly, their lives). Despite the school’s inability to be involved in the sit-in, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the event went off without a hitch, achieving what it sought to do. Rodgers and Brown even made it to the Washington Post in direct quotes.
However, over the summer the BSU was not finished with its work as they were, and still are, determined to bring change to the school. As promised, the Administration hosted the first “listening session” of many shortly after, with the BSU and its sponsors, Ms. Bosland, DBA, and Rev Cav. The administration provided a safe space for us to talk. Members of BSU raised many points about DEI in our curriculum, in our schedules, in our community and how we protect it. This summer the school hired a new head of diversity and inclusion Ms. McIntyre. She came to NCS at an inopportune time when our institution is reckoning with the concept of change. Both our students and our administration are adjusting to this new world we live in. This amount of uncertainty would intimidate anyone, but not Ms. Mac. She spent a good portion of her summer advocating for NCS’ Black students or supporting us in advocating for ourselves.
One of the many meetings BSU had over the summer included a meeting with the Humanities Departments. In the meeting we discussed the negative implications of which voices were being raised through literature in the English department, and what perception of Black people we were giving white students. Specifically, we discussed the coveted AmLit class that is required for Juniors. The three books most read: The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, and The Great Gatsby, are all books written by white people, which doesn’t seem like a problem until you explore the historical context of the literature. History is in the eyes of the beholder, and history is also more accurate when told by the people that are affected by the storytellers. In the social sciences, the BSU and the department discussed the harmful narrative they were teaching about Africa, and how that affected the way a lot of white people see Black people in general. Specifically, the optional Africa Unit in Geography that only touches on two things: sugar daddies and the HIV/AIDS crisis. Pause reading this for a moment and think of the last time you heard something positive and optimistic about Africa, you had to think for a long time, didn’t you? That’s because most schools don’t teach the beauty of the African continent, and instead teach the western imperialist perspective: that Africa is full of people that don’t know how to run a civilization and therefore desperately need help. Instead, we should be taught more about Black joy, Black love, and Black beauty.
The BSU also met with the PECF police, expressing how being Black students on campus affects their interactions with and feelings towards the campus force. Head Police Andy Solberg listened with open ears and worked with the BSU to create initiatives to better student relationships and agreed to receiving DEI training from Ms. Mac. Towards the end of summer, and before Opening Cathedral, senior BSU members with the chaplains to issue another community space would not go by without the recognition of the hardships and mourning Black students were consistently subjected to throughout the summer.
Transitioning into the academic year, BSU seniors agreed that change must continue to happen, and progress needs to be protected, as well as leaving a legacy for future Black NCS Girls. Black Students Demanding Change (BDSC) will accomplish this goal. BSDC’s main goal is to act as a liaison between Black students and their administrations. These listening sessions and conversations cannot end when 2021 graduates. Black girls at NCS need to feel perpetually empowered and supported by this community.