I hope that you’ve all had a blessed and restful summer break! It won’t be long before we are together again. When school was last in session, all of us were deeply affected by the testimony of one of our MASC graduates who spoke about her painful experiences as a black woman at Starr King. We worked to make amends, yet we knew more needed to be done. I promised to let you know about our plans once we could reflect with student leaders, staff, faculty, and our board. Here’s what we learned, and what we will do in the coming months.
First, we learned how important it is for staff and faculty to practice their skills in counter-oppressive work and response before they are needed. Second, we learned the importance of creating a culture in which people not only know the right response to a microaggression, but have the courage to act. Third, we learned that the required class we offer, Educating to Counter Oppression, is an excellent beginning—but isn’t enough for all our students to develop the qualities they’ll need to live into a counter-oppressive future, and help others to do the same.
So, we began with staff conversations about how to emphasize our values from the very start; the result has been a revised orientation for new students that will take effect later this month. In addition, several members of the staff volunteered to work with our external consultants to help us strengthen and elevate our counter-oppressive commitments: Blyth Barnow (Registrar); Carolyn Ash (former VP for Academic Recruitment); Hugo Cordova Quero (Director of Online Education) and Chris Schelin (Dean of Students).
It was important to all of us that we consult with people external to Starr King, with experience in intersectional anti-racist work. We wanted individuals who could bring a fresh perspective and current thinking to this important task. I’m glad to say that we have identified two skilled people who will walk with us throughout the year as we evaluate and strengthen our counter-oppressive practices.
For work with our staff and Board of Trustees, I’ve asked Sherryl Weston to consult with us. Sherryl is a long-time Unitarian Universalist who has worked throughout the US as an inclusiveness consultant, social worker and therapist. For work with our faculty, we have partnered with Dr. Takiyah Amin, an experienced academic, consultant and a member of the Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) Organizing Collective. These two African-American women will observe our practices and make recommendations and changes to the work we currently do, as well as suggest additions when they make sense.
We hope that you will be part of the work, as you are able. If you have ideas, responses or recommendations, please be in touch with the staff team at teamECO@sksm.edu, beginning August 15.
The start of every school year is filled with promise; as we begin another year of growth and learning, know that our commitment to counter white supremacy is unwavering. I look forward to keeping you up to date on this urgent work here at Starr King.