Students demand change around DEI, administration point to new plan

Members+of+the+U-High+community+attended+a+meeting+to+discuss+a+racist+incident+March+11.+Three+months+later%2C+students+are+still+calling+for+substantial+change+to+Lab%27s+culture+around+race.

Maria Shaughnessy

Members of the U-High community attended a meeting to discuss a racist incident March 11. Three months later, students are still calling for substantial change to Lab's culture around race.

Nicky Edwards-Levin, Editor-In-Chief

After more than 35 high school students sent letters to 10 of Lab’s top administrators to express dismay about Lab’s racial environment and to advocate for change centered around diversity, equity and inclusion, administrators have pointed to Lab’s newly published Diversity Action Plan as a first step to combating racism. 

A group of juniors drafted an email template, which they publicized to other students via social media. The email had demands including, but not limited to, inclusion of DEI statements in all course syllabi, holding mandatory discussions and workshops regarding race for teachers and staff, and revising all curricula to fit the demands of the Black Students’ Association open letter, which was published in January.

Lea Robollo Baum, a junior, said the letter was intended to clarify the extent to which students were dissatisfied with administrative response to issues surrounding race.

“I think we just wanted to send a really clear message how we were feeling as a group and how we thought the community was feeling and ways in which we could move forward and work on it a little bit more productively and get results in the end,” Lea said.

Lea also mentioned that Lab’s response to racist incidents is often reactive, rather than proactive. According to Lea, while assemblies and forums help educate students about the issues, they don’t always reach their necessary audience.

“I think oftentimes people who go to those forums already care about the issue and know about the topic,” Lea said, “so it doesn’t really reach people who end up saying racist comments or making people uncomfortable in the school.”

According to junior Destiney Williamson, after sending letters, the group of peer leaders will reach out to identity clubs, in order to create a more comprehensive dialogue. Destiney also said that the group is likely to protest further.

The administrators finalized a response to the emails the morning of June 12, writing in a standardized reply to each message that they “are deeply grateful for your willingness to hold us accountable to ensure that Lab is a more equitable and inclusive school.”

According to various administrators, the next steps for Lab are centered in Lab’s newly approved Diversity Action Plan developed by Lab’s Diversity Advisory Committee of students, faculty, administrators and board members.

The Diversity Action Plan will guide Lab’s diversity initiative over the next three years. Interim Director David Magill shared the plan in an email sent to Lab families, faculty, staff, and middle and high school students June 12.

“As an organization, we need to continue examining the structural changes needed to ensure equity and inclusion. Not to be overlooked, we must keep our focus on learning—and learning from each other,” Mr. Magill wrote in the letter.

According to Priyanka Rupani, director of diversity, equity and inclusion, the best way students can help effect change is through the activism displayed in these letters.

“I believe that the way change really takes hold is in partnership,” Ms. Rupani said. “Power in numbers is huge.”

Mr. Magill agrees that the letters are a good way of illustrating a strong belief in a cause. However, according to Mr. Magill, copying-and-pasting a form is not the most effective way to show a personal agenda.

“The content of the letter we have received that so many people sent — the same letter — was strong and good,” Mr. Magill said. “But one of the main criteria in our mission statement is creativity. It would be great if people could put things into their own words, which I think would amplify and emphasize the message in that letter.”

Mr. Magill also said that administrators do not have the power to write an individual class’s curriculum, as demanded in the email students sent, but administrators are able to set the stage for larger-scale communal shifts.

“If it becomes a priority of the school, that, infused within the curriculum there are ways of making us better and helping young children understand why diversity is important,” Mr. Magill said. “I have far greater hope that that will be more effective than a periodic assembly.”