On the evening of August 27th, our Head of School, Steve Loy, kicked off a special webinar with welcoming remarks that reaffirmed Rutgers Prep’s commitment to listening to alumni perspectives as we seek to strengthen our ongoing commitments to diversity and inclusion. “We’re here to listen. We’re here to hear. We’re here to be curious. And then, what we’ll do, is take this to help inform and guide what we do next. I’m not going to stay on the Zoom because together, AID (Advocates for Inclusion and Diversity) and I have decided that for me to stay on invites the temptation for Rutgers Prep to explain and defend, to justify and describe. But I trust you know that my intent: my goal and my promise is to be an advocate for inclusion and diversity."
Dr. Loy then turned the program over to AID member Jodian Davis, who in turn introduced our facilitator, Dr. Joy Barnes-Johnson, and two alumni discussants, Samantha Scott '11 and Nick Bowden '06. Below are the facilitator and discussant bios that were shared with our forum participants:
Joy Barnes-Johnson received a Ph.D. in Urban Education with a focus on science education for equity--teaching, learning, and policy. She currently works in secondary education and consults for several racial literacies, STEM Education and training projects she calls EqSTrEAM educational responses exploring equitable science teaching and learning. She has published several articles that address teacher preparation, policy, and curriculum design. In 2018, she co-edited a research volume entitled STEM-21: Equity in Teaching and Learning to Meet Global Challenges of Standards, Engagement, and Transformation. She was recently honored by the NJ Education Association with the 2019 MLK Jr. Human & Civil Rights Award.
Samantha Scott graduated from RPS in 2011 and went on to receive her Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies from Emory University in 2015. Since then, she's become a writer, editor, and strategist interested in obscure pop culture references and dedicated to Black liberation. Currently, she is the social media manager at Teen Vogue.
Nick Bowden graduated from Rutgers Prep in 2006, at which point he attended Seton Hall University, graduating with an education degree. He is currently an elementary Art School Teacher. He is also on the lead Team for A.LIFE, a college ministry on Rutgers and Kean University and is the Director of The LIFT Project, a platform created specifically for young adults from all walks of life to safely discuss issues of faith, life, theology, history, ethics, culture and more. He currently resides with his wife Emily in Neptune, NJ, and they just welcomed their first child Mya in July of 2020.
Over the course of an hour-long program, our discussants and facilitator discussed the Rutgers Prep experience through the lens of the Black student perspective, and alumni/ae attendees participated by adding their questions via the webinar’s Q&A feature.
Sammie Scott began her remarks by saying that her overall experience at RPS had been a good one, and went on to address the relative lack of Black adult presence within our campus community: “Thinking about what was going on structurally while I was there, there was maybe one black teacher when I was at Prep… during the day, on campus, I would see Mr. Lake, who taught math, and Mrs. Forte, who worked in the admissions office, and other than that, it was kind of like, ‘Where is everybody?’” Sammie spoke about teaching choices and programming that had been harmful, and also about an institutional tendency towards over-reliance on student leadership, for example around events supporting Black History Month. Sammie’s experience of casual racism on the part of her classmates while she was a student was another element of her time at RPS which went largely unaddressed; these kinds of challenges are exactly what AID hopes to focus on going forward.
Nick also began by saying that his Rutgers Prep experience was not a bad one, and that he credits Rutgers Prep with opening his eyes to a more diverse range of perspectives and experiences than he had experienced growing up in a predominantly white community, but it was also Nick’s experience that there wasn’t an intentional focus at Rutgers Prep on addressing the harsh realities that awaited students of color both within and beyond Rutgers Prep’s walls.
Both Sammie and Nick spoke appreciatively of their experiences with the American Conference on Diversity’s leadership development program, which at that time was called “Anytown,” and is now called “Lead for Diversity.” Intentional opportunities like this to engage with questions of race and inequity were particularly resonant because they were rare.
Dr. Barnes-Johnson spent some time sharing a framework for transformational change, acknowledging the possibility of building from an increased sense of urgency to real action. She lifted up some framing questions for the RPS community to consider, namely:
- What opportunities and/or resources are available to parents regarding institutionalized racism and its impacts?
- What opportunities for professional development grounded in a problem of practice (or any other reflective mode) are available to staff?
- What student-facing structures are in place or are being developed for students to learn and have conversations about race, racism, and privilege? Are courses reflective of this discourse and do they elevate counternarratives?
- What safe spaces (formal and informal) exist for Black, Indigenous, and students of color in the RPS community to become advocates, and for white students to explore their privilege if they choose? (Who formed and supported RPS’ M.E.C.A. club?)
- Many Black and Brown scholars write about theory as a pathway to healing and joy, as a way of understanding. Do you agree? What theories serve as your guideposts?
- What is Black Joy in this moment?
Dr. Barnes-Johnson also offered this Angela Davis quote: “As our struggles mature, they produce new ideas, new issues, and new terrains on which we engage in the quest for freedom.” Alumni participants shared questions about Rutgers Prep’s curriculum, hiring priorities, professional development commitments, and accountability structures. As the AID (Advocates for Inclusion and Diversity) group shifts its focus from an inwardly facing responsibility to provide professional development opportunities to staff and faculty, to a charge which encompasses more relationships with community stakeholders, we anticipate that AID will be communicating more with Rutgers Prep’s alumni and parent bodies. AID’s new website, located at https://www.rutgersprep.org/our-community/diversity-inclusion, will be one of the ways in which updates are communicated beyond the current RPS community.
This alumni forum was one of AID’s first efforts at pivoting into embracing its broader mission. Throughout the hour-long program, amidst the sharing of frustrations and acknowledgment of the challenging work ahead, numerous participants articulated their continuing commitment to the Rutgers Prep community, and expressed their desire to remain engaged and to help in any way possible. We remain both grateful and hopeful, and we encourage all members of the broader Rutgers Prep community to help us continue to grow in the direction of our ideals.