Dr. Howard Stevenson is the Constance E. Clayton Professor of Urban Education and Director of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative at the University of Pennsylvania. On Nov. 12, he visited The Haverford School to educate faculty and staff on racial literacy during the School's in-service day, and for a group session with the School's Faculty Inclusion Committee. That evening, Haverford hosted a racial literacy parent education event in collaboration with The Agnes Irwin School.
"The Lion's Story Will Never Be Known as Long as the Hunter is the One to Tell It." - African Proverb
Dr. Stevenson opened by acknowledging that we all have different stories, and stories matter. "Belonging begins with embracing," he said. "What is my narrative, what is my story, that I created? Fitting in is about shape-shifting: how do I shape-shift myself so other people aren't uncomfortable and do not get upset by my different or my identity?"
He led faculty through several partner exercises to practice talking about race and to move from "fitting in" to "belonging," taking care to note the way participants presented themselves, the way they felt, and the way they conducted the exchange. He also challenged faculty and staff to think about how they would diffuse a racially tense situation in-the-moment, within two minutes. When we're stressed out about our differences, he said, when we're at an "8," "9," or "10," we're not our best; our judgement is impaired.
"In the primitive way we react in these moments, we’re interested in our own safety more than anyone else’s," said Dr. Stevenson. "'8', '9,' or '10' is not a healthy place to be. The question is in our work, racial literacy, how do you get to a '5,' '6, or '7?' Is there something you can do in less than two minutes to make a choice, a decision?
"Racial encounters matter. The ideas that we have are important, the values that we have are important, but I’m not sure we’ve gotten lessons about how we translate those ideas and values to decisions that need to be made in less than two minutes. Believing in justice is not the same as doing justice."
Faculty and staff left the session enlightened about their own stories, the stories of their colleagues, and the most effective ways to facilitate and inform discussions about racial literacy in the classroom.