Being black in boarding school
When some people meet Kendra James, it’s hard for them to believe that she actually went to boarding school. She’s a rarity: In 2003, James became the first black heritage student at Taft School, an elite preparatory academy in Connecticut. And in “Admissions: A Memoir of Surviving Boarding School,” James brings readers a live account about how it was out.
When James first arrives as a freshman, she is determined to make friends with white students – but to no real result. She is the girl who is ignored by her white roommate. She’s a girl who never gets a “can of crush”, a school tradition, from an admirer. No matter her father went to Taft too, James just couldn’t seem to fit in.
Over time, she was able to make friends with other students of color, who became her allies.
Taft’s board of directors, which say they are “proud whenever a graduate has authored a successful book,” are still competitive with its history and practice, decades later. A school spokesperson has changed and improved dramatically over the past 16 years. “Our work never ends.”
James spoke with Giulia Heyward, a reporter who regularly covers education, about her experience as a student – and whether she would ever send one of her children to a boarding school.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You went to Taft in the early 2000s. But the moment that matters to you comes at a reunion, after a former classmate of yours, another Black student, dies. How did that play into your motivation to write your memoir?
I was talking to a kid in my class, and we had to talk about people who weren’t there.
It’s just really weird to realize that he didn’t know that this classmate was dead. A lot of them didn’t know that he had passed away. And that incident prompted me to continue thinking about the legacy of memory that students of color need at Taft. Not only how we, students of color, remember Taft, but also how our classmates remember us, and whether they really remember us.
We clearly stand out when we’re there, because it’s hard not to. But how much did they really remember about us? Our personality? What did we experience while we were there?
There are many difficult moments to read in this book. I remember a classmate accused you of stealing $20. But I also found myself laughing at so many passages in the book! Why are you writing about these moments with so much humor?
The idea that I went to a boarding school was so odd to some, that it was just how I started telling those stories. I always tell them something like “Aha! That’s the way it happened”, to hide the insidiousness of what was really going on.
At some point during my senior year, the boys in one of the dorms decided to start urinating in bottles and spilling out the dorm windows. I just remember one day, during English class, we all ran to the window, because I think one of the bottles had hit someone, or very close to someone, on the sidewalk.
So stories like that, I will tell humorously. And it makes those stories a little more palatable to outsiders and those unfamiliar with these things.
After graduating from Taft, you start working at an organization that helps students of color go to boarding schools. How do you feel about that now? Do you think Taft, and other schools like it, have changed?
I think they have changed. Now they know the offending word. That said, but I think school incidents are very cyclical. Because they happen, the school has to have a huge response, but then it almost dies. Similar incidents then happened again, a few years later.
I think in a place like Taft, there’s more to wanting than wanting to do better. It’s just a matter of ensuring that the work is ongoing and ongoing.
Much of this book is really a coming-of-age story. And I’m curious, what do you think your life would be like if you didn’t go to Taft but go to your local high school in Maplewood, NJ?
I knew that my life would go in a completely different direction. First of all, I’m not going to go to Oberlin University, and like it’s just a numbers game, right there. Our local high school is known for sending a few kids to Oberlin every year, but between my grades and everything else, I’d be lost in the numbers. That would be a big change for me, personality wise.
I think some of the realities of being a black person in America are not going to come to me so quickly. Maplewood is a very rich and diverse town. It will take me longer to get out of that bubble. It will take me a while to come to terms with some rather difficult truths.
In “Enrollment”, you write that you do not intend to send your child to Taft. Do you still feel the same way?
For a long time, I thought I would send my children to Taft, before I got married or had another lover. My attitude has changed a lot.
I opened an independent school. My wallet may not be open to the independent school.
I just would never send my kids to a place where I can’t get to within 15 to 20 minutes. When you send your child to a boarding school, you are buying in loco parentis, on behalf of the parents. And so you are putting your trust in this team of faculty and staff that will raise your child for you.
How can a white adult be considered a parent of Black children if that white adult does not have the tools or instincts normally necessary when parenting Black children in America? That just stayed with me. It’s simply something you can’t change.
Pfizer asks FDA authority two-dose vaccine regimen for children under 5 years of age.
Public health officials are focusing on increase injections for children aged 5 to 11Their vaccination rates are even lower than most experts fear.
Some schools are having second thoughts about “test to stay“Policies.
New Orleans has implemented a vaccine mission for children 5 years and older, effective Tuesday.
Utah will allow state workers take a break from their day to help staff schools.
“It’s like turning on and off, on and off,” Reyes Pineda-Rothstein, an 8th grader in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Ill., told The Times about schools in remote areas. “It’s just stress.”
Idea: School masking mandates in the free states “have kept children wearing masks in communities where the public health regime would otherwise have had little procurement,” said Ross Douthat, curator Times column, discuss.
Idea: “Mandatory mask wearing in schools will end when coronavirus rates return to pre-Omicron levels,” said Michelle Goldberg, Times columnist discuss.
A good read: A new study shows that personalized tutoring is both an effective way to make up for missed learning, but is unlikely to be extended to all students who need extra help, 74 reports.
What else we are reading
Ban books and monitor curriculum
Some Parents, Legislators, and School Officials in America try to ban books. A school board in Tennessee voted unanimously to remove “Mausthe Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, as it contains inappropriate curse words and depicts a nude character.
Chinese government sentence a man to death to create a textbook with information on historical resistance movements. This man is a Uyghur official, the head of Xinjiang’s education department.
Teachers in Utah are fighting a bill that would allow parents review textbooks before the lessons.
At least 17 historically black colleges and universities said they received bomb threat in recent days, although no explosives were found. The University of California, Los Angeles, moved to distance classes next Tuesday threats.
Georgetown University Law School Suspended Ilya Shapiro, A Lecturer Who Criticized President Biden’s Oath nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court.
A 20-year-old student at the State University of New York at Oneonta died after found unconscious outside the school campus.
President Biden’s pledge to cancel some student debt has stalled, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Several women have filed lawsuits against the University of Michigan and a former faculty member, claiming sexual assaultPsychological torture and university negligence.
And the rest…
Residents of Cambridge, a predominantly white town in upstate New York, are fighting a state ruling to remove Native American mascots and the group name: “The Indians”.
Attorney for charged teenager in the Oxford High School shooting said he would pursue a crazy defense.
Private companies are paying teachers more leave the classroom, The Wall Street Journal reported. A January poll from the National Education Association found that 55 percent of teachers had planned to leave the profession earlier than expected.
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https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/02/us/what-its-like-to-be-a-black-student-at-an-elite-boarding-school.html What it’s like to be a black student at Elite boarding school