By Ben Gott
MS English, Equity & Inclusion Coordinator
I was thinking on my run one morning that independent schools as a whole have historically engaged with equity and inclusion in tokenistic ways at best and explicitly exclusionary ways at worst. We’ve seen this in many forms, from the overt racism toward marginalized students in the last half of the 20th century to assurances over the last decade that LGBTQ students are simply “going through a phase” and will “grow out of it.”
Our commitment to equity and inclusion at GFA is not just about understanding what our students are going through today and what they will go through tomorrow. It must also involve an honest, complete reckoning of the ways in which our institution, and so many institutions like ours, worked against equity and inclusion in the past. One of the many reasons I’m proud to be at GFA — particularly in this historical moment — is because I believe our school is ready and willing to listen to students, faculty, staff, and alums as they reflect on their experiences and to do the difficult work of holding our institution accountable for its history. It is only by engaging in this work that we will truly be able to move forward and become the community that we want, and need, to be.
As an institution, if we approach this work from a place of guilt and shame, we won’t get anything done because every conversation will continue to be about us and about how to alleviate our own guilt and shame. Feeling shame, and only shame, leads to the kind of navel-gazing and empty promises that don’t get us out of the situation in which we find ourselves. Instead, we have to find ways to move forward while acknowledging that shame and listening to those members of our community whom we’ve hurt. We must start from a place of love for the people around us; of willingness to engage with the individuals within our institutions that aren’t quite “there” yet; and of hope that we can make contributions in our own sphere that might bring other institutions along with us. GFA is poised to do groundbreaking work in this area. Yes, it’s hard work — but, if our focus is going to be on partnership and community, it is the most important work all of us will ever do.