Racial Equity at Lakeside: A Q&A with Profe Bensadon

Racial Equity at Lakeside: A Q&A with Profe Bensadon

Tom Reese

This is the first article in a series about Lakeside’s racial equity work. Future articles may include Q&As with affinity group leaders, teachers, Board of Trustees members, or members of the administration.

 

Over the summer, Lakeside students and alumni collaborated to write a petition advocating for racial equity in the faculty, curriculum, hiring process, and student body composition. Wanting to learn more about Lakeside’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work,  I spoke with the Assistant Director of the DEI team, Profe Bensadon, who works with affinity programs, professional development, and hiring. 

 

Q: I know this summer, students and alumni wrote a petition pushing for racial equity at Lakeside. Has the administration read and responded to their demands?

 

A: That petition has not been submitted to the administration yet; I believe they’re still collaborating on what they want to say. As a result, we don’t know what the demands are. 

 

That being said, students’ requests are always welcome . The things that they observe — about our curriculum, our practices, our institution — have generally been spot on. One of our alums, Melissa Wang, was so vocal about her experience with the curriculum and students’ role in this work. She said: “Why are we putting this pressure for change on the students? Adults should be doing this.” Her comments really resonated with the admin team, and we have  more adults involved in this work than ever. So we deeply value the student voice.

 

Q: Say more about that: how have adults been more involved in this work?

 

A: The Biology teachers have integrated a unit on the history of race and genetics to disrupt preconceived notions about the topic. They have done a great job of addressing the  historical context of “pseudo science” and the impact it had on modern day conceptions of race as a genetic condition. It’s a great unit, and a great way to integrate pressing social issues like race, science and power to a science class that all our students take. 

 

For the past three years, our whole school (grades 5-12) has been learning about culturally responsive teaching to employ those practices in our classrooms. Regardless of the subject matter, approaching education with a culturally responsive lens means we examine and use inclusive content in curriculum, we design our assessments differently and we grade more equitably. More importantly, we foster a classroom culture where students can bring their full selves and lean in to taking risks, being vulnerable and fearless in their learning. 

 

Q: Obviously, adults are also the drivers of faculty hiring. Given the context of hiring bias — if you have an “ethnic name,” even if you are overqualified for a role, recruiters will pass you over for someone with a “white name” — has Lakeside made its hiring process more equitable?

 

A: Research on hiring bias suggests that you do tend to be drawn towards what you know, but as we  actively seek to provide students with different experiences, perspectives and ways of thinking about things, we have to be intentional. So we brought in an expert in equitable hiring practices, Chris Cullanen, who has been doing this for 20+ years. She gave us a 90-page manual on hiring equity: how do we read resumes, where are we posting our jobs? How are we reading the resumes once they get here? And then when we do the interview process, what kinds of questions are we asking? How do we craft our questions, and more importantly, how do we assess the answers we get? 

 

Q: I also heard that the administration asked faculty to read “How to be an Antiracist” this summer… is that true? 

 

A: Yes! Ms. Wilks, before she was a Director of the Upper School, was a diversity practitioner, and she has encouraged the DEI team to read books, like “So You Want to Talk About Race,” “Waking Up White,” “How to be an Antiracist.” I think it’s great to have the directors reading these books and for the school to understand the importance of racial literacy. 

 

As well, Ms. Reed, the history teacher at the middle school, Ms. Lutton and Mr. Hartley have led the faculty/staff learning group called “AWARE,” which stands for Alliance of White Anti-Racist Educators. They gather several times a year to read books and discuss them as a group.

 

Q: I could see these books being taught in a class like African-American Lit or Race Matters. However, neither of those electives are running this year. Why?

 

A: I learned from Dr. Wright that the class Race Matters is not being offered because there weren’t sufficient sign ups for the course to run. Many of the electives we offer rely on student interest, and if we don’t have enough students register for the courses, they cannot be offered.  The same goes for African American Lit, according to Ms. Chu, there weren’t enough sign ups for the class to run. 

 

Q: Earlier, you mentioned that you’ve seen the faculty push for racial equity. Have you seen a similar energy in the student body?

 

A: Over the past three or four years, there’s been momentum around this work; we have more students interested and engaged in the conversation. BSU has been very empowered: they planned the whole MLK assembly this past January. They’ve also been meeting regularly all summer long and held all-city meetings where BSUs from different schools have been connecting.

 

We also send students to the Student Diversity Leadership Conference every single year; for the past three years, they’ve come back and worked with the student body on Student Sponsored Day. As well, the Upper School students facilitate the Middle School affinity programs, and that is a great way to build relationships and set a culture that impacts the upper school in great ways. The momentum around this work in the student body has increased exponentially, and we on the DEI team are thrilled to work with them.

Currently, there are two white students, Anne Elise Bradford ‘22 and Noa Roxborough ‘22, who are trying to establish a space where we can have conversations about antiracism. Over the summer they have worked significantly to make sure that they launch this year with a good mission statement and vision of what kind of learning opportunities they want to offer the student body. They will announce their work in an assembly this fall. 

 

Q: Looking to the future… how is Lakeside planning to promote racial equity in the upcoming school year?

 

A: On an institutional level, there is going to be an announcement soon about what we will do as a community to combat systemic racism. There are things in the works — Directors, the DEI team, and the Board of Trustees met all summer long. There has been a lot of reflection: where are we as an institution, who do we want to be, and how can we get there? 

 

We’re making a lot of effort, and we’re very committed to this work… we have been for a long time. But we still have a long way to go to make sure that every student feels valued, seen, and heard. There’s always more work to do. 

 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

 

link to photo:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1aPzMszbtVCNZ0pe55fcNZgWBNauAOgpl/view?usp=sharing