“BlackatLawrenceville” Started the Dialogue: What’s Next?
Like the rest of my generation, I’ve spent my fair share of time glued to my phone, scrolling through social media.
Like the rest of my generation, I’ve spent my fair share of time glued to my phone, scrolling through social media. All kinds of ideas pop up on my timeline, feed, or “for you pages,” each with the potential to inspire a movement incredibly quickly: social media platforms are one of the fastest ways to incite change in local and global communities. Over the past few months, as the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement became more prominent, many began using social media as a way to speak out and mobilize people to generate change. The “blackatlawrenceville” Instagram account is one of many black@ accounts active on social media today. The anonymously published stories of racism in predominantly white institutions have gained national recognition and have pushed many to call for reform in their respective institutions. Nevertheless, although “blackatlawrenceville” has been instrumental in promoting awareness of racial injustice within the Lawrenceville community, the change that we are calling for cannot happen unless the administration is bolder with its anti-racist approach, and students are truly willing to hold themselves accountable and to listen to uncomfortable and critical narratives of black students.
“Blackatlawrenceville” was created in mid-June of this year, and since then has published over 170 posts sharing incidents of racism and microaggression at Lawrenceville caused by students, alumni, and faculty alike. A few of the posts addressed multiple students being told that they “speak well for a Black kid” quite recently, and a racist graphic published here in The Lawrence in 2007. “Blackatlawrenceville” has forced awareness upon our community, but we still have a long way to go before we reach a completely equitable environment.
So far, Lawrenceville’s response to “blackatlawrenceville” and current events has been completely surface-level. Though Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Rick Holifield’s webinars on micro-inequities communicated important information and were meant to create change, his explanation of micro-inequities glossed over the fact that these micro-inequities are often deeply tied to race. Holifield failed to create a resource for the community to use in the journey towards equity. We simply cannot instill change by watering down powerful messages to make them palatable to students and faculty who may feel uncomfortable with the idea that they may have engaged in this behavior at some point. Holifield gave examples that weren’t effective in conveying the message of what a real micro-inequity is. These examples included looking at one’s phone while talking and rolling one’s eyes, but a real micro-inequity is assuming that a Black person is good at a sport or expecting someone to be a spokesperson for their entire race, religion, gender, etc. We cannot create change if we cannot bring ourselves to directly discuss race and how it plays a role in and beyond Lawrenceville culture. If the message is comfortable, people simply won’t change. Lawrenceville is currently sitting on top of generations of intolerance, and is now at a crossroads: we either take the necessary actions to address racism within our community, or we shy away from the conversation and continue to let it fester.
The administration has also failed to truly engage students in discussions surrounding racism on campus and past events. Having most of our interaction over a screen has made School events somewhat impersonal. I know that many people (myself included) find the webinars unengaging. Students often find themselves doing other things during meetings, failing to pay attention to the lessons being taught because they’re not actively involved. In order to keep students invested, a sense of urgency needs to be pushed by the administration. More discussion-based learning would be more effective. Webinars are important, but following them up with discussions and feedback in groups is even more important than the webinar itself. What did we like and dislike about the webinar? Have we personally experienced what was talked about? How can we prevent these in our community? After all, listening to students’ thoughts and feedback is the best way to understand the consequences of our situation and fix it. It’s not enough to be racially aware for only 30 minutes to an hour twice a week.
However, the student body doesn’t just need to be educated, it also needs to take action—and that action is our responsibility as students. Change is dependent on the efforts of both the administration and the students. It’s impossible to become good at something without practice, and that same logic needs to be applied to changing the culture of our school. We can’t just talk without walking. We can’t define micro-inequities without calling them out in real-life situations. We can’t learn about racism without actively addressing incidents in classrooms, houses, and social settings and how they affect students. In reality, the students hold the power to change our school culture. If we aren’t willing to transform the way we carry ourselves and interact with others, the Lawrenceville community will remain as it is. It’s not just a matter of attending the webinars and listening, we need to apply what we learn to our daily lives and be open-minded. Every day is a test we need to figure out how to pass. We, the students, are Lawrenceville. Thus, we must each assume the responsibility of bettering our community by pushing ourselves to hold both peers and teachers accountable for their actions.
It’s imperative to understand that the measures being taken right now are not preventative but reactive. We are working to reverse the effects of systemic racism in our community and create a safer space for people of all backgrounds. Lawrenceville as a whole needs to act quickly to have the most effective response. The administration must improve and intensify its efforts. In order for the renewed efforts to have any effect, students need to come with open minds. Ultimately, only the combined efforts of the students and administration can cause our community to move forward into equity and tolerance.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw’s words couldn’t be any more relevant to our situation: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”