Discussing Charlottesville

Photo purchased from Bigstock.com.

One month after I began working at Brimmer in the summer of 2014, Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri. The enormity of the necessary work for this job swarmed my head in that moment, and it become clear that strong leadership was needed for the School’s efforts in working through the reactions of an extremely tumultuous, racially-charged event. And I had to do it without allowing my own feelings to affect my work; a daunting, if not impossible task. It was some time within those first few months that I said to a colleague something that I’ve repeated several times since then: diversity work is inherently personal.

With each newsworthy story since Michael Brown’s death that has contributed to our nation’s conversation about race, I have worked hard to engage with our community in an unbiased, non-partisan way. This is a difficult thing to do as an African-American female. However, it is my job to not only listen to all sides of a story but to encourage our community, especially our students, to listen too, and to learn. This effort was especially acute during the 2016 election season, when many students found their friendships tested by newly discovered political differences. Despite the challenge of helping students navigate through the election, I believe we did a good job.

The events in Charlottesville last month—where groups of Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and members of the Alt-Right gathered, ending in the murder of a young counter protester—were tragic in every sense of the word and have made my job the most difficult it has ever been. Before even thinking about my job, I was home, night after night, talking to my friends and family trying to make sense of all of it. The most difficult thing I’ve had to sit with is knowing that the rally organizers in Charlottesville have true hatred for the makeup of the people who live in my multiracial, multi-religious home, which includes my two small children. This has all but broken me. As I stated above, this work is inherently personal.

However, I have returned to work in a place that I love but in a country that has certainly changed. What happened in Charlottesville, and the events that have followed, have not divided the Brimmer community along party lines. This time, as I do my job, I do not have to worry about who among the student body is aligned with one politician or another. Instead, I can work from a place of security knowing that my personal and professional values match perfectly: Brimmer is a community that has never tolerated and will never tolerate acts of racism or hatred toward anyone for any reason. We have an extremely diverse population that we embrace in all of its forms. This will not change, and any action or rhetoric that challenges our mission in that regard is not welcome.

With that hard line in mind, we will welcome back our students this fall and help them live in a country that now has some very difficult and hurtful words and pictures in its headlines. Our students are asking questions about things that they see on television and read online that many of us never thought we would have to answer in 2017. However, our parents and guardians should know that Mrs. Guild has shared with our faculty the quick responses from classroom resources such as Teaching Tolerance and other media sources. Our conversations and lessons about tolerance and injustice can happen in a thoughtful and meaningful way as soon as school begins. Students who understand the facts but are having emotional responses will be assisted by their advisors, teachers, and our guidance staff. We will take care of every member of the Brimmer community, will allow for honest and open dialogue, and will continue with our mission and our commitment to diversity work.

I continue to struggle with what took place in Charlottesville and the aftermath. I worry about the conflicts that my kids may have as they grow up, given their racial and religious identities. However, I take solace in being certain that communities like Brimmer abound around the country and are thriving. As hard as it can be to do this work, I know I am part of a wonderful group of people at this school who are committed to making the world a better place. We strengthen one another every day through our support and good work. It is because of that peace of mind that I am able to do my job each day and know that we are doing the very best for our students.

Jessica Christian is the School’s Director of Diversity. 

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