Racial Justice Protests Prompt Changes at Private Schools

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A number of L.A. independent schools are changing up their curricula and instituting staff anti-racism trainings as alumni take to Instagram to tell stories of bias.

Following national racial- justice protests, Instagram accounts — like Black at Harvard-Westlake (@blackathw) — began popping up across the country. They provided platforms for alumni and students of private schools to share stories of bias and microaggressions. Now some L.A. private schools are making extra efforts to address diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

“A moment of reckoning happened when @blackatoakwood went live,” says Oakwood’s director of communications Bret Nicely. Along with recommended books (every employee is read-
ing Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist), the North Hollywood school — where 42 percent of secondary students and 32 percent of K-12 faculty identify as BIPOC — is focused on financial support for DEI, curricula changes with an eye to BIPOC perspectives and increased extracurricular programming.

In West Hollywood, the Center for Early Education rolled out a summer speaker series for families that included author Ta-Nehisi Coates and Dr. Shaun Harper, director of the USC Race and Equity Center. (CEE says 52 percent of its students are people of color.)

 

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Karen Nitzkin, Middle School Dean. Anonymous submission. #blackatoakwood

A post shared by BLACK AT OAKWOOD (@blackatoakwood) on

In a July 28 newsletter to the community at Sherman Oaks’ The Buckley School, head of school Alona Scott wrote, “Anti-racist work requires us to commit to lifelong learning, including critical self-reflection, action and accountability.” The school has launched summer DEI events (such as “How to Raise Antiracist Kids in a Racist Society”) and a summer reading list that includes Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming. (A spokesperson says Buckley doesn’t have student diversity numbers for 2020-21; Harvard-Westlake did not respond to a request for comment on changes it may make.)

All-girls Marlborough in Hancock Park, where 46 percent of students identify as people of color, is working on curricula changes in English and history as well as staff trainings on “equitable pedagogy and anti-racism in the classroom,” says the school’s director of communications and external affairs Carly Rodriguez.

Nicely stresses that the commitment has to be sustained: “It’s going to be uncomfortable. It’s going to expose blindspots that people have about privilege and the experience of BIPOC.”

This story first appeared in the Aug. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.