Racism at private schools is unfortunately not a foreign issue in today’s society. Private schools have historically been predominantly composed of wealthy, white students, and the after-effects of racism in the system are apparent. Recently, a two year old video resurfaced of two female, white students from Poly Prep Country Day School in blackface acting in a mocking manner. Students across New York and the nation quickly displayed their acrimony with the Poly Prep Administration for their lack of action regarding the students who committed the act. This led to a more substantial conversation about how alive racism really is in the schools we attend.
While many students have experienced this bigotry in their private school experience, for others this current conversation is the first time the issue has been brought to its rightful place of recognition. In the previous weeks, there have been accusations of students in our own High School, specifically lower classmen, engaging in racism both in person and on social media. There have been reports of racist language and physical acts. When these issues became a larger conversation amongst our community, students were quick to seek answers from the administration.
Mr. Mahabir gave a compelling speech on Monday, February 11 regarding the current issue at Grace and its necessity to be addressed immediately. He assured the student body that there will be no tolerance of any racist behavior in our community and the consequences which would follow such actions. The next day students were put into forums where they read the mission statement regarding school’s stance on its anti-racist aspirations, and asked students to write on notecards the changes that they would make to the details of the description. Further anti-racist discussions have occurred in advisory groups and in classes.
We can only hope these efforts will resonate within the community and prevent further acts of racism. I spoke with students and faculty about their reaction to the school’s response to allegations of racist behavior.
“What Mr. Mahabir said was right on the nose. Race relations at Grace Church are awful because of white silence and ignorance that we’ve seen with each coming class. Frankly, I’m sick of it and I’m glad that his had been addressed school wise and recognized as an urgent matter. Will all the stuff at Poly Prep and racism being journalistically exposed throughout private prep schools, it’s only a matter of time before we see Grace in the news and I’m really hoping that we get our act together before things get public.”
Jemima Alibi ‘20
“I feel as though there’s been a serious problem with racism at Grace that took a long time to address. Mr. Mahabir addressed the situation in a very well written speech. Although it took a while, I think the school is making a great effort to move forward and stop any racism at Grace.”
Beatrice Fakahany ‘19
“Because this is not the first time Mr. Mahabir has made this speech, he can continue to notice the issue of racism but the speeches don’t make a difference until he follows through with more proportional punishments.”
Desta Mutisya ‘19
“I think Mr. Mahabir initially did not address the primary issue but in our most recent chapel, students got a more clear message on where the insensitivity and essentially racism originated from. I am hoping students can own up to their actions and avoid any future dilemmas regarding inequality.”
Naaz Valvani ‘22
“We must center education as the foundation upon which we can continue to address issues of racism. However, our students of color, and black students, in particular, have been consistently vocal about the discrimination and racism within our community for quite some time. We cannot expect to move the needle on this issue if we don’t learn to listen to, acknowledge, and respect the experience and voices of marginalized people who are the target of these incidents every day. We must also practice naming whiteness alongside other racial identities so as to make it clear that racism affects every single member of our community. To make any change in the system and institution takes all of us.”
Mr. Andre, Dean of Equity and Inclusion
“I understand that grace church has an obligation to focus on the issue of drugs and penalizing students for use, however, we can’t continue to place more of a priority on the issue of drugs than the issue of racism.”
Evelyn Ward ‘21
“I think one important thing to speak about is what is happening at Grace right now is not the result of one particular incident. I don’t think it’s helpful to focus on what might have happened in the ninth grade. The moment we are living in the school right now is created by a number of conversations over many years. These things all fall under the umbrella of racism in the high school. It is not helpful to look for clarity around particular things that have happened, but shifting the conversation of what is being felt and how we are responding to the student experience, staff experience, and faculty experience at the school. This is harder to do because the impact is less clear but that’s what’s important to focus on right now. Focusing on the impact of words and actions is more important than focusing on what was intended. We must look at our culture as a high school and start to decide how we want to respond moving forward. This is about refocusing how we interact and how we speak about issues of racism, not necessarily finding the one solution to solve racism.”
Ms. Wood, Instructor in English
“Racism has always been a central struggle for Grace Church School. I’m glad to see this conversation progress and am curious to see what steps Grace Church will take to compact this.”
Alec Judelson ‘19
“This issue is definitely relevant and I have noticed this issue in other grades. I think it’s good that the school is finally taking a stand and opening the conversation on an ongoing issue here.”
Lily Hupfel ‘20
“In regards to what is happening at Grace right now, I can say I am disappointed but not surprised. Being that Private Schools were created to perpetuate segregation in the education system, we can expect that racism will still live in every private school environment. The only thing that differentiates one Private School from the next is how they choose to address the racism that lives within their communities. I think Mr. Mahabir saying that racism exists within this school was the first step in making a change within this community. For some kids, this was the first time they are hearing this and for others, this seemingly small comment offered validation to a large part of their Grace Church experience. As a senior, I can only hope that after I leave, the school will stay true to their word, and continue to work towards Anti-racism for the mental health of the whole community.”
Kaitlyn Major-Hale ‘19
*Featured image was taken at Grace Church School’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day March in 2017