By Shanelle Henry
Director of Equity and Inclusion
“…I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968)
Our nation, our cities, and our school are hurting. In the aftermath of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and the memory of so many more, students and alumni of color have taken to social media to recount their painful experiences at GFA. On June 19, in honor and recognition of the history of Juneteenth, I extended an invitation to Black alumni to gather in affinity and amplify their voices and concerns as Black alumni of GFA. The conversation was raw, painful, and revealed deep and long-held wounds. Paraphrasing Dr. King’s question (above), I asked the group:
“What is it that GFA has failed to hear?”
In that conversation, and through the “Black@GFA” Instagram page, we have heard a repeated perspective that GFA has not always responded to racism, microaggressions, bias and discrimination in a manner that is consistent with our institutional values. While GFA is certainly not immune to issues of inequality, it has become abundantly clear that our school must work more intently to ensure that our mission is not an empty abstraction.
We often refer to our motto, “Quisque Pro Omnibus, Each For All” — a phrase used to describe how together we draw out the strengths in others to move our community toward a common purpose. Building on the power of the personal narratives and collective experience of our Black students and alumni, how might we, as a school community, galvanize this present energy into meaningful action?
Remaining true to our mission, we plan to engage students, staff, faculty and alumni in partnership to create a more just, equitable, and inclusive school community. We will begin with the establishment of an Alumni of Color group to sustain ongoing dialogue between alumni of color, current students of color, the director of equity and inclusion, and other administrators of the school. While GFA has made significant strides in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion [visit our website for a glimpse of our DEI programs and initiatives], we also know there is much more work ahead for us to do.
Being honest about who we are, what we know, what we’ve ignored, and what we now understand will help move us forward. But we can’t do this until we openly and honestly acknowledge the inequities in our school. We are grateful for the bravery of our Black students and alumni for speaking up, calling us out, and sharing their experiences to initiate a critical dialogue. We hear you and we are listening.