Over the past few weeks, some of our most eloquent, insightful seniors have shared their experiences as students of color at Jesuit High. And hearing their stories has broken my heart.
In May, our Diversity and Inclusion office hosted our annual listening sessions with seniors who are members of religious, racial, or cultural minority groups at Jesuit. Seniors are invited to share with us the good, the bad, and the ugly of their JHS journey. There is laughter and gratitude, but often the seniors' stories are raw and hard to hear. We learn of insults and subtle digs, of overt acts of racism, religious ignorance, sexism or homophobic microaggressions that occur in our hallways, locker rooms, and classes.
Each time we hear such stories, coming from students we know and love, our hearts are pierced. We learn where we as administrators missed the mark, or too many instances when Jesuit students have been thoughtless or downright bigoted. If you read my blog of March 25, you know that such stories are unfortunately not new to Jesuit. I observed that "some Jesuit students endure pain simply because of their ethnicity, heritage, or religion..." and included a link to my comments to the student body at the start of Multicultural Week in early March, right before we went into quarantine.
Despite our best intentions, we clearly have still not done enough to create cultural literacy in our entire staff and student body. Recently, some graduating seniors of color shared their stories on Instagram, which serve as a clarion wake-up call to all of us. As the principal of Jesuit, I read their posts, under the hashtag #Demandwhatyoudeserve, with anguish, and only later came to what St. Ignatius calls consolation.
The anguish: each student recounts stories of microaggressions they have experienced due to their skin color, last names, cultural traditions, or destructive stereotyping. They report times when classmates, teachers, and administrators enable bigotry or ignorance in a school that should be a bastion of mutual respect. They are calling us on it, and demanding that we do better.
My consolation came more slowly. After reading their posts, I wrote to each author to affirm that we are grateful to and proud of them for finding their voices. Using the most accessible platform they have, the students empowered themselves in a broader culture that too often diminishes them. They have clearly absorbed the Jesuit message that every human person is worthy and dignified, as children of God.
Even while sharing their painful experiences in our school, each author stated their love for Jesuit on Instagram. That they retain and express this deep affection despite their suffering speaks volumes about their maturity. We are proud to claim these students as our own, just as they are proud to claim Jesuit, even with all of our brokenness, all the times we have fallen short of our ideals of being committed to doing justice, loving, and open to growth.
An excerpt from one senior's post illustrates her frustration, and her hope: "It's ridiculous that time and time again it falls on the shoulders of students of color to stand up for each other while simultaneously trying to protect themselves. It's exhausting. It's demeaning. It needs to stop. This isn't something Jesuit alone struggles with. It's something schools everywhere struggle with. But at Jesuit, I know compassion permeates our school. I know our administrators and teachers want to care about us. I know we can do better..."
In preparation for today's faculty and staff meeting, we shared the students' posts. Our faculty and administration are again being challenged to serve as allies and mentors by students who have experienced racism, religious intolerance, homophobia or other forms of bigotry, not only in the wider culture, but in our beloved school.
We can and will do better. No, we cannot purge Jesuit completely of America's original sin of racism. But yes, we can offer our faculty better professional development regarding racial literacy and microaggressions, we can expand our curriculum to include more voices, and we can and must educate all of our students, starting with our incoming freshmen, about the ways in which their words and actions can either build up or tear down their brothers and sisters.
The students posting on Instagram, as well as all the seniors participating in our listening sessions, remind us that this work is not simply an intellectual endeavor. It is about real, wide-awake, brilliant young people in our care demanding more of us. This work will at times be difficult and uncomfortable. But we know our school and community will be better for it.
Regardless of our religious affiliation, all of us at Jesuit are on the great mission of Jesus, for whom our school is named: to set free the oppressed, to help the blind to see, and to build the Kingdom of God here on earth. Time to get after it.
Paul J. Hogan