Adopt an anti-racist curriculum at Iona Prep
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To the administration, faculty, and staff of Iona Preparatory School:
In light of recent acts of police brutality against Black individuals, including the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and local and national protests highlighting the urgency of racial justice, we are writing to recommend actions that Iona Prep can undertake to support its students of color and Black lives everywhere. As alumni who greatly benefited from the holistic and challenging education we received, we believe that Iona Prep has the responsibility to facilitate conversation about the most important topics facing our society today, including racial injustice, white privilege, and police brutality.
It is not enough to just decry racism; we must be actively anti-racist. This requires hard work, discussion, and education - all of which we believe Iona Prep has the obligation and responsibility to do. We call upon the landmark letter written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Brothers and Sisters To Us,” which promoted Catholic action and discussion on the evils of racism. This letter is just as relevant now as it was when it was written in 1979:
"Racism is not merely one sin among many; it is a radical evil that divides the human family and denies the new creation of a redeemed world. To struggle against it demands an equally radical transformation, in our own minds and hearts as well as in the structure of our society. Conversion is the ever present task of each Christian. In offering certain guidelines for this change of heart as it pertains to racism, we note that these are only first steps in what ought to be a continuing dialogue throughout the Catholic community and the nation at large. [...] There must be no turning back along the road of justice, no sighing for bygone times of privilege, no nostalgia for simple solutions from another age. For we are children of the age to come, when the first shall be last and the last shall be first, when blessed are they who serve Christ the Lord in all His brothers and sisters, especially those who are poor and suffer injustice."
These problems are not far removed from the homes and lives of Iona Prep students. Iona Prep students come from all over Westchester, Rockland, CT, and NYC and have different experiences with law enforcement. Right now, as New Yorkers across the state are exercising their First Amendment right in the light of the brutal killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by a police officer, NYC police are using tear gas and projectiles, wearing riot gear to peaceful protests, enforcing curfews, and detaining people.
We appreciate Iona Prep’s mission of developing “young men into moral and ethical leaders who are dedicated to Christian service and who strive for spiritual, intellectual and physical excellence..” This mission endows Iona Prep with the onus of preparing young people to address the most pressing and dire issues with which we are confronted, especially issues of inequality and tragedy, that obligate us to take a stand. As an institution with a majority-white student body, Iona Prep has the added responsibility of ensuring its students learn about and denounce the historical and still-present systemic racism in the United States. Iona Prep must honor its commitment to supporting all its students, past, current, and future, making all feel welcomed and valued.
Iona Prep must also teach its students how to practice core values of the Catholic faith, which we learned as service, justice, right to life, and dignity under God - particularly for the most vulnerable among us. Just as each year members of Iona Prep’s administration, faculty, and student body attend the March for Life in Washington, DC, so too should the school’s leaders advocate for Black lives. The Iona Prep community must support faith in action when the right to life of Black and Brown people everywhere are at risk, including in our own communities. We expect - and demand - more.
What does anti-racist work look like for Iona Preparatory School? To most effectively offer an education that will shape and stay with students far beyond high school into the rest of their academic, professional, and personal careers, Iona Prep should review and advance its curriculum, goals, and objectives as they relate to social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Many educational institutions are seeing this fall as an opportunity to re-imagine education as committed to justice. Education is the most valuable tool to dismantle racism and create a more equitable society. We are grateful for the education that we were able to obtain at Iona Prep and are excited to propose these improvements for the betterment of the next generation of Iona Men.
We propose the following action items:
1. Add anti-racism and racial justice articles and/or books to the curricula of Iona Prep’s theology, U.S. history, economics, English and mathematics departments, in summer reading lists or academic year syllabi. Use these works to facilitate in-classroom conversations around race, faith, privilege, allyship, and justice.
a. The following is a non-exhaustive list of books that could be incorporated into the curriculum to accomplish this goal: Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, and Jason Reynolds’s and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Melba Patillo Beals’s Warriors Don’t Cry, and Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi’s Tell Me Who You Are: Sharing Our Stories of Race, Culture, and Identity.
b. The following is a non-exhaustive list of media that could be incorporated into the curriculum to accomplish this goal: America to Me (2018; dir. Bing Liu, Steve James, Rebecca Parrish, Kevin Shaw), The Danger of a Single Story (TedTalk by Chimamanda Adichie, available at https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story the New York Times’ “A Conversation on Race” series (available at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/your-stories/conversations-on-race National Public Radio news articles and podcasts that discuss racial inequalities, discriminatory language, gender identity, etc., and “What Would You Do?” (videos can be found on YouTube).
c. The following are resources for curricula to accomplish this goal: The 1619 Project Curriculum (available at https://pulitzercenter.org/lesson-plan-grouping/1619-project-curriculum); the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture’s “Talking About Race” portal (available at https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race); and the Black Lives Matter 2020 Curriculum Resource Guide (available at https://blacklivesmatteratschool.com/teaching-materials/
2. Undertake a third-party, holistic review of Iona Prep’s curriculum, admissions, hiring process, and student body administration to search for areas of potential improvement in the fields of equity, inclusion, and diversity.
3. Invite speakers to present the topics of Black Lives Matter, racial justice, and white privilege to Iona Prep’s student body.
As Pope Francis said, “I wish to emphasize that the problem of intolerance must be confronted in all its forms: wherever any minority is persecuted and marginalized because of its religious convictions or ethnic identity, the wellbeing of society as a whole is endangered and each one of us must feel affected.” We must heed this call to action, as many other educational institutions have done, or risk complicity. By not participating in this dialogue, Iona Prep implicitly takes a stand. Iona Prep empowers its students with a commitment to learning, love, and community, but when it does not endow its students with tools to address harm to Black Americans, and does not empower them to speak out against racism in this way, it allows injustice to remain.
The Undersigned Students, Alumnae, and Community
(Original letter written by: Sarah Sakha and Lauren D’Souza of Xavier College Preparatory in Scottsdale, AZ
Adapted and expanded for Benet Academy: Morgan Birck (2012) and Mackenzie Birck (2014))
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