In the wake of nationwide and schoolwide discussions about race relations, the school’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Global Education (DEIG) office plans to initiate two mentorship programs for students of color.
The first program will host mentor-mentee meetings between Upper School (US) and Middle School (MS) students. MS DEIG Practitioner Simone Miles Esteves said the idea is an attempt to better support students of color in the community, a need highlighted by the Masks at BB&N Instagram account (see page 14).
“We found that the affinity group programming was not as impactful as it needed to be for students of color, and we took steps to reimagine what that programming could look like,” Ms. Esteves said. “The experiences documented [in the] Masks at BB&N instagram account and the work of the Masks leadership highlight, confirm, and are in alignment with the need for this kind of mentorship group at the MS level.”
The DEIG office decided to pilot the program after receiving positive feedback about the idea in the spring from students and faculty affiliated with SHADES (Students Honoring and Accepting Differences and Embracing Similarities club), BSAE (Brothers Seeking Academic Excellence), and AASA (Asian American Student Association). The office will coordinate the logistics of the program, working with these student groups as “thought partners” and connecting with US students who might be interested.
The second program—conceived by Gerry Nvule ’15, who is proposing a similar idea to other Independent School League institutions and the high school in his hometown of Winchester, MA—will pair alumni/ae with one or two US students for meetings. The hope, he said, is that the mentorship program will provide US students who identify as Black, African American, and Latinx with an additional outlet of support from others who have undergone the same educational experience.
“The premise of this is just to alleviate the stress and the problems that students of color face on a day-to-day basis,” he said, adding that he envisions a self-sustaining program in which mentees eventually become mentors, giving back to the next generation.
Mr. Nvule, who will serve as a mentor this year, said the catalyst for the idea was an awful experience when a stranger repeatedly hurled racist epithets at him as he walked down the street in New York. He decided he needed to help others process such experiences, he said, which eventually led him to see the potential of virtual mentorship opportunities.
“Whether it’s a predominantly white setting in school, in the corporate world, or if a racial event happens and [they] don’t necessarily know how to respond to it, I wanted [students of color] to have a resource they could tap into to talk about particular incidents,” he said. “A lot of times these students of color go through things that they can’t openly communicate with a guidance counselor, peer, or teacher.”
To get the initiative rolling, Mr. Nvule first approached US Varsity Football Coach Mike Willey and US English Teacher Alda Farlow, his former coach and advisor, respectively. Ms. Farlow said she loved the idea and thought it would complement the school’s existing affinity groups well.
“I wholeheartedly believe in the power of good mentoring and role modeling,” she said. “It’s critically important that our students of color have the opportunity to receive guidance from a mentor of color who has walked the halls of BB&N and beyond.”
Ms. Farlow added that her own experience with a mentor program decades earlier was formative.
“Having time with my mentor to answer my questions about race, to help me figure out my hair, to take me to performances and cultural events that helped me develop a positive sense of self, to explore my dreams for the future, and to simply chat with was invaluable in shaping who I am today,” she said.
Mr. Willey also said he sees promise in the initiative as a way to help current students feel more comfortable and develop meaningful connections with young adults who were in their shoes just a few short years ago.
“I know a lot of the mentors that are getting involved, and it is a great group of people,” Mr. Willey said.
Both Mr. Willey and Ms. Farlow discussed tips for getting the program started with Mr. Nvule before directing him to Community Outreach and Engagement Specialist Candie Sanderson at the DEIG office. Ms. Sanderson said that although this year the plan is to open the program mainly to Black and Latinx students, her office will expand the program to other underrepresented groups if the pilot is successful.
Ruthie Osagie ’21 said she believes both initiatives will help foster community among students of color and is looking forward to taking part.
“The programs are a really good way for students of color to stay in touch at BB&N and come together in a setting where they can all communicate with each other about their experiences and what it’s like to be at a predominantly white private school,” Ruthie said.
Ms. Sanderson said many community members have been involved in these programs to help make the school a safer place.
“With all of the social progression and work toward overall betterment that has come to a head this year, the hope is that these two programs will open up the conversation of racism at BB&N and hold the school accountable, not just with words but with actions,” she said.