St. Paul’s School discusses racial justice after BLM sign found defaced

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    A Black Lives Matter sign at St. Paul’s School had the word "All" written in red pen in one of the letters. —Courtesy

  • This is a screenshot from an online presentation by St. Paul's School Rector Kathy Giles and other school leaders after a Black Lives Matter was defaced on the school campus. —Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 2/10/2021 3:54:01 PM

St. Paul’s School is having discussions about racial justice this week, after a Black Lives Matter sign was defaced, elevating concern among students about racism on campus.

Rector Kathy Giles held a virtual town hall webinar Monday to discuss the incident, in which someone wrote the word “all” in red pen on a Black Lives Matter sign that was hanging in a classroom in the school’s Lindsay Center.

Giles said she learned about the incident on Feb. 1, after a science teacher spotted the writing on a sign she had hung in her classroom. Giles told students about the incident later that week, during a chapel meeting on Feb. 4.

“This vandalism is disrespectful to the Black community and the act, injurious to many in the SPS community,” Gilles wrote in an email to the community Feb. 5. “Whether the incidents were done in ignorance or with intention, or by a member of our community or not, the injury is real, and we offer our support to those who feel attacked, disrespected, or diminished.”

Students had been on the private school’s campus for a little more than a week after winter break when the vandalism was discovered.

It’s not the first time the school has seen this type of graffiti. Last summer, another teacher said someone taped a piece of paper over a different Black Lives Matter sign hanging in the Lindsay Center lab area, to cover the words “Black lives.” 

“No students had been around for months, but there had been traffic in and out of the building by a number of people over those months,” Gilles said in reference to that sign in a letter this week to the school community.

Similar vandalism has occurred elsewhere in Concord too – over the summer, a Black Lives Matter sign outside the Unitarian Universalist church in Concord, just half a mile down the road from SPS, was vandalized twice in two weeks, with the words “all” and “blue” spray painted on it.

“For some  people, substituting the word ‘all’ for Black might seem unremarkable, or somehow more inclusive or more expansive. That perspective, either through naivete or ignorance, entirely misses the point,” Giles said during the webinar. “Our history in the country is that Black and brown people in our country have been disparately scrutinized, attacked killed at a disproportionately higher rate. The entire point is that lives have not mattered, that the lives of Black and brown people have been treated as less in ways that have led to the grossest disparities and injustices imaginable.”

In a follow-up email Tuesday, Giles said there has been “significant dissatisfaction” among students with the administration’s response to the incident, including that administrators have not reported the matter to the police. Giles said the school does not believe Concord Police needs to be contacted at this time.

Audrey Davidow, an SPS alumn from 1991, said Wednesday that the newly-formed alumni group The 2020 Society of SPS has had students reach out for support, saying they are “tired of not being listened to” by the school.

“We heard about this issue because some students, so frustrated with the lack of real, non-performative action from the school community, felt no option but to come to alumni. That is a clear failure of the community if students feel so unheard, so unseen, so unsupported they need to reach out to alumni they don't even know for support,” Davidow said. 

Last summer, the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and subsequent protests in June 2020 sparked an increase in discussions around the country and among St. Paul’s students about the issue of systematic racism. St. Paul’s student body is made up of 44% students of color; 9% are Black students, according to the school website. About one-quarter of the SPS faculty is made up of people of color.

A student-run Instagram account called “BlackatSPS” was started in June as a platform for Black students to share their experiences anonymously. Over the summer, students and alumni submitted stories about hearing racist jokes and slurs from fellow students on campus, and feeling unwelcome in the city of Concord.

“Having people tell me I’m ‘part of a quota’ has only made me feel out of place where I already stick out,” says one post, from a student in the class of 2020. “Even in Concord, people have avoided me when I’m out alone, and I doubt it’ll change anytime soon because we’ll just keep teaching it to our children.” 

The school has begun some initiatives in response to student activism. In September, the school hired diversity, equity and inclusion director Bethany Dickerson Wynder and established a student diversity, equity and inclusion council. The school also created a formal reporting system for issues including discrimination and microagressions.

At Monday’s webinar, Giles said St. Paul’s School will continue to hold conversations about racial equity on campus.

“There is no comparison between ‘All’ Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter, in terms of what these phrases stand for in our community, and we again embrace Black Lives Matter as an emphatic, positive statement about basic human rights that affirms the full embrace of people of color in this community and supports them in the on-going struggle to be fully included and equal in a just and democratic society,” Giles wrote. “This act of vandalism has no place at our school or in the country”

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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