Following the murder of George Floyd in May, we began to talk about how to ensure we were communicating on Nueva platforms in anti-racist ways. Overnight, it seemed like the landscape of social media had shifted to become a platform for information sharing, activism, and education related to racial justice. This shift prompted us to look at our own work and how to navigate this new change on social media, as well our other platforms. We put out a statement, like many other institutions, affirming our school’s belief in the importance of anti-racist work and working toward racial justice. But we knew that one statement one time was not enough; this was going to be ongoing work in which we needed to engage, a lens through which all of our work was put.
To tackle this, we engaged in regular (almost everyday) conversations and found ourselves repeatedly saying, “We need to be doing more—this is not a one time thing. This is something we need to think about every day.”
We immediately realized that we had all of these questions, and that our colleagues at other Bay Area independent schools most likely had similar questions.
That’s where the idea for the Anti-racist Communications Strategy Session first emerged. To evaluate if our idea had any legs, we met with Nueva Director of Social Justice and Equity Alegria Barclay to get her thoughts about the idea and see if she could help us build a framework for this discussion. Right away, Alegria shared our enthusiasm for bringing together communications professionals from throughout the Bay Area to engage in conversations around some core questions:
- As communications professionals, our role is to showcase the best side of our institutions. Given that, how do we incorporate authenticity and honesty into the stories we share? What are we beholden to?
- How do we thoughtfully lean in?
- How do we reckon with our faults and our growth?
- How do we showcase a diversity of perspectives without tokenizing?
With the support of Head of School Lee Fertig and Director of Communications Antonia Ehlers, we dove into planning this virtual strategy session, which took place on Friday, Sept. 11 and was attended by 50 independent school professionals from more than 25 schools.
Led by Alegria, the strategy session provided a space for us to come together to talk through these really important issues. Alegria presented norms for the group, including honoring each other’s experiences, leaning into discomfort, and considering this a learning space. She also shared important working assumptions to ground us, such as “This work is not theoretical; lives and minds are impacted and potentially harmed by what we do and say,” “This work is predicated upon the fact that this country and our institutions are rooted in anti-blackness,” and “Independent schools have played and continue to play a role in creating and maintaining racial and social inequities.”
Following this foundational framework for our conversation, we spent much of the morning in breakout rooms discussing how we can be inclusive and message inclusivity, how to respond and engage with social media, and how to support our schools’ anti-racism efforts.
We knew that the strength of this session would be in developing a concrete set of best practices and questions that all of us can use in our work. Using Designing for Diversity as our example, we collectively proposed questions and created best practices for anti-racist communication. Below are some of the questions we came up with, which we will use in all of our work going forward.
- What would success and failure look like for this communication?
- Who will see themselves reflected in this communication and how might they feel about it?
- Who needs to look at this before it goes out (colleague, social justice director, etc.)?
- Are diverse voices represented? Can diverse voices be added?
- How can we introduce a counter narrative and/or challenge assumptions?
All of the best practices we created can be found in this document.
We have heard positive feedback from attendees, and we hope that they got out of the session what they sought. We learned a tremendous amount from our colleagues, which we are already thinking about and brainstorming ways to incorporate into our work.
We know that this is just a starting point, which needs to be followed by action, and we are excited about the work ahead. To that end, we will be gathering again as a cohort in October, and we hope that this will become a regular meeting of the minds.
As Lee said when he opened the workshop, “The way we articulate stories comes back to influence who we are. It’s that exercise in articulating who we are and the stories we tell that actually makes us better, so when we’re dealing with such an important set of issues, such as anti-racism and racial justice, don’t underestimate the value of who we are as communications professionals.”