For the first Community and Equity assembly of the 2019–20 school year on September 19, Concord Academy welcomed Erica Pernell, the director of inclusion and multicultural practice at Shady Hill School in Cambridge, Mass. She was invited to address CA students, faculty, and staff to discuss concerns central to the school’s recently renewed mission statement: what it means to strive for equity — the systematic, fair treatment of all people — and how they can take action to foster equity.

Pernell described herself as both an educator and a freedom fighter. “I believe we can build a better world and that young people are the solution, not the problem,” she said. “Students actually dictate so much of the culture at a school.”

Alternating personal stories with clear definitions of terminology, she gave an overview of the difference between internalized, interpersonal, institutional, and structural levels of oppression. And she presented a structured primer for engaging in the diversity, equity, and inclusion work necessary to allow everyone to bring all of themselves into the school community and to contribute their best.

That work, as she detailed it, is not easy or comfortable. “Standing up for equity means disrupting and fighting inequality everywhere you see it, including in yourself,” she said. “Being a disrupter often means giving up power.” 

She hopes for, and encouraged students to work toward, incremental changes that expand awareness and combat indifference. And an understanding that although we may be at different points in this journey to build a better world, we are all on it together.

“Mistakes, not knowing, and the conflicts that arise are the learning process, not the end of the learning process,” Pernell said.

Listening, learning, reflecting, and then acting are the skills she advocated for developing in order to build the kind of community that everyone wants to be part of.

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