Shifting Our Culture: “We Have to Do More”

By Jasmine Love, Director of Community Engagement

The following remarks were presented at the Catlin Gabel All-Employee Meeting on June 18, 2020

Black people are tired of seeing Black people killed, and this is on a long spectrum of racism that dates back to slavery. It was legal to kill Black people in the United States for hundreds of years, long before cell phone videos, and Black people are tired and outraged. Now all kinds of allies have joined in this outrage. Racism is in the spotlight for everyone and many White people are beginning to understand what it means to be relentlessly racialized.

Racism hurts everyone and in very different ways. This has been clear to a lot of us for a long time. And for some people they’re just beginning to grapple personally with race. Here at Catlin Gabel, I’ve watched so many people work to understand students of color and become more culturally responsive. I’ve watched colleagues of color navigate the White culture of Catlin Gabel with grace. I’ve seen colleagues engage with families of color to understand them better. I’ve seen everyone guided to look at their own implicit bias and hidden stereotypes and read countless resources—all before this moment in time. I’ve been so appreciative of all the sharing of blogs, podcasts, books, and movies, and all of this is good. And we have to do more.

We’ve been hearing from alums of color and current students for many years. Now they are talking to us on social media, they’re sharing their pain in their affinity groups, they’re talking to Tim and me and trusted teachers and staff. They’re writing in CatlinSpeak about their experiences (and if you haven’t seen these last articles in CatlinSpeak please make it a point to read them). None of these stories are new. The details and students change, but they’re saying what they’ve been saying for years: that they have felt alienated, spotlighted, marginalized, and offended. For many, they have not felt known and loved. And of course that breaks our hearts.

We have work to do at a systemic level to change these experiences. We have to have firmer consequences for micro- and macroaggressions. We have to funnel more money into financial aid. We have to hire more faculty and staff of color and figure out how to retain them, and that means taking a hard look at employee culture. We need to look at our curriculum and make sure it reflects the histories and cultures of all of our students. We need to frequent vendors of color more often. We need to engage in the greater Portland community in more reciprocal ways and learn from our Portland community partners. All of this has been said before so these may feel like empty words, but I believe we are ready to make these changes. I know we have a commitment from Tim and the Board, so I’m asking people to stay open to the changes that will come—they will feel uncomfortable because we’ll be shifting our culture at a time when we’re also dealing with a pandemic and an investigation into past abuses. But we’ll move forward together. As we go, do question decisions, push back, listen to colleagues of color, and continue the conversations we’ve already started. In all of this, take care of yourselves and allow yourself to feel the full range of emotions you might have as we change.

All of this is harder because we work at a school that was not designed to accept the change we’re trying to make. It was built as an institution for the elite, so changing this culture is going to be challenging for all us. This is the hard truth.