We Are Westridge
A community blog featuring Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor, the Westridge Leadership Team, our esteemed faculty members and occasional special guests
The Ferguson Response: Ideas and Resources for Age-Appropriate Conversations about Social Justice
As a school that promotes deep understanding and active engagement in local, national, and global issues, and one that values and respects diversity and individual differences, we believe it is important to support our students in conversations about current social justice issues. The recent national conversation and events sparked by the grand jury outcomes in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, have been part of many conversations on our campus.
Guided by knowledgeable faculty, administrators and student leaders who have just returned from the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), students and adults on campus are participating in age-appropriate conversations related to social justice issues regarding race, police, and criminal justice.
Lower School conversations are focusing on the broad theme of how people work together to feel safe and included within a community. Middle School students joined with the Upper School to listen to a panel of students and adults discuss and reflect on current issues surrounding social justice in America. English teacher Ed Raines and History teacher Sandy de Grijs led interested Upper School students in a lunchtime conversation. Upper School affinity groups will discuss these issues during upcoming lunch meetings and prior to Winter Break, students in grades 8-12 will attend a Town Meeting to debrief on the recent panel discussion and engage in further conversation.
Our goals for these current discussions are as follows:
• To educate girls about what is happening in their world and provide current and historical context for the events and conversations.
• Address the needs of our students, a significant number of whom have told us they are confused and troubled by recent events. We hope to provide safe, moderated forums for them to process their feelings and thoughts and to suggest solutions.
Westridge has a long history of speaking with students about complex societal issues in a balanced and thoughtful manner. I commend our faculty, staff and student leaders for stepping into these conversations with our community. I also applaud our parents, who are engaging in conversations with us about how best to continue these discussions at home.
In looking for resources to support conversations at school and at home I like the approach suggested in an article written by Dr. Marcia Chatelain, an Assistant Professor of History at Georgetown University (see excerpts that I have taken from her article below, or to access further details, go the following link:
Dr. Chatelaine also responded to the Ferguson unrest by reaching out to educators on Twitter and launching a crowdsourced syllabus with the hashtag #FergusonSyllabus.
Elizabeth McGregor, Head of School
“How to Talk To Students About Ferguson” by Dr. Marcia Chatelain
For Pre-K-Grade 4
Younger children may or may not be aware of the scope of Ferguson. Chatelain recommends engaging them in identifying and being comfortable with emotions like anxiety, fear, anger and disappointment. Although parents may shield their small children from media, they still may sense that adults are uneasy or preoccupied around them. At this age, it is important to reinforce the value of maintaining relationships across racial, ethnic and cultural differences.
For junior high students who may be more aware of the details involving Ferguson more honest conversations about race are appropriate. These conversations can be framed in terms of America’s racial history and can emphasize what has changed and what remains a challenge. The Ferguson crisis is also an excellent way of introducing students to the principles of governance, public servants and leadership challenges.
High school students undoubtedly will have very strong feelings about Ferguson, and they are equipped to address broader philosophical questions about the nature of protest, the social contract and ethical leadership. Students may become distracted by debating right versus wrong or emphasizing sides in talking about Ferguson; in this instance, teachers (and parents) could provide open forum spaces for students to share their own experiences of racism, discrimination and injustice. Using that conversation, teachers (parents) can then ask students to imagine how to be good citizens and leaders in their own community.
College and Beyond
At this level, Chatelaine recommends that educators focus on the structural problems Ferguson brings to the forefront. Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work can help students understand many dimensions and facets of Ferguson. Additionally, colleagues working across academic disciplines to incorporate Ferguson into their teaching can demonstrate how scholars can work together to address social issues.
Choose groups to clone to: