CA students and families lean into dialog on race, inclusivity, and identity

The issue of race continues to dominate headlines. The recent decision in Louisville has led to more unrest and more calls for justice for the killing of Breonna Taylor. Twice this week, members of the Colorado Academy community came together in scheduled events to discuss race, inclusivity, and identity. I could not be more proud of how our parents, students, and faculty leaned into the discussions and really listened to one another.

On Tuesday, Upper School students and faculty set aside the day to hold the annual PlatFORUM. Director of Inclusivity Sarah Wright and a team of students organized the event that, despite being remote, held true to its intent of creating a space where students could speak up. It was uplifting for me to see and hear our students engage in dialogue about a range of issues.

Activist and Slam Poet Theo Wilson kicked off the day, connecting with kids at their level. He packed a lot into his hour with them. One of the more memorable messages was if you don’t like what you are hearing, dislike the idea, not the person saying it. But then listen, reflect, and discuss.

This year’s theme was “Going Beneath the Surface: the Power of Words.” Students and adults led sessions. I love the agency that students show on this day, as this is largely student led. Topics included:

• The “In-Betweens” of the Mental Health Spectrum
• Allyship in Action
• Athletes as Activists
• Beyond Consent
• Breaking the Poverty Cycle: Barriers to Female Education
• Climate Change and Human Rights
• Consumerism in the Environmental Movement
• Debugging Brotopia: A look at Silicon Valley Culture and Discrimination
• Defining Faith: An Exploration of Faith in Secular Environments
• Diversity in Friend Groups and How That Informs One’s World View
• Fight the Power
• I Am Not Your Negro
• In Whose Honor? Race and Team Names
• Masculinity at CA
• Objectification and its Aftermath
• The Rise of Asian Rappers: Is There Conflict?
• Toxic Masculinity
• Why Hate Exists

During an open mic session with students and a handful of administrators, students spoke openly about a range of issues. It was inspiring for me to hear the sophistication of our students, as they processed conversations about race and identity in this critical moment in American history. I appreciated the voice of a few students who noted the perceived lack of a forum for a more conservative discussion. I have reached out to one of those students, and we will work together to create that space. Much has been made recently about the authentic friendship between conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We need all kinds of diversity, and that includes ideological diversity, as conversations with multiple perspectives can stimulate intellectual development and understanding.

Director of Inclusivity Sarah Wright said that she was impressed by the student leaders’ ability to “go there” with their peers. She acknowledged that students took on challenging content, such as analyzing songs like “fight the power” and “I’m not racist.” They asked hard questions regarding sexual health, athletes’ roles in activism, mental health, masculinity and religion at CA, and so much more. They proved truly ready and capable of having in-depth conversations about the world around them.

Then, on Wednesday night, we held the annual event with our families of multicultural backgrounds coming together for a meet-up. One idea raised this past summer with all the engagement from students, parents, and alumni is the formation of affinity groups. We talked about what CA is doing well to advance our work in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice, and we received great input on what’s holding us back. Families shared that fear, overall lack of diversity, politics, school culture, and not being in school to build relationships were issues holding us back, but they celebrated that opportunities to come together even on Zoom, PlatFORUM, the vision of leadership, creating safe spaces for conversations, and having global perspectives are activities pushing us forward.

Both events generated important action steps. These meaningful discussions captured a commitment from our students and families, as well as recognition that this type of work is making us stronger. Our students will emerge as more informed and confident leaders. Our families will have others to whom they can turn to talk about issues but also celebrate accomplishments.

It’s rewarding to know that our community has clearly made the decision to lean in, to listen, and to do our individual share to come out of this time of unrest stronger. That’s the sign of true resilience. That’s the CA we all want to be a part of.