Club time on Wednesdays provides an opportunity for St. Stephen’s students to share in many common interests, but it also creates a safe space for important communication across differences.
Within the last few weeks, the school’s WOKE and Independent Thinkers club members met to respectfully share their varying beliefs in a group setting. WOKE is an affinity group for white students open to knowing more about equity issues. Independent Thinkers is a forum for students of all cultures and backgrounds to hold meaningful discussions about the important political issues of their generation. The club is led by politically right-leaning students.
“The meaningful conversations held by members of these two clubs reinforced our school’s longstanding belief that people can hold conflicting perspectives while still being in community with one another,” explained Director of Equity and Inclusion Yvonne Adams.
More recently, Adams invited Director of Security Donna Cowling to meet with members of the Upper School Unapologetic club, an affinity group for students who identify as African-American, black or African. A 25-year veteran of the FBI, Cowling spoke with students about what feels to many people to be systemic violence against people of color by law enforcement officers who have enlisted to protect and serve everyone.
“I acknowledge that this is a real problem in our society,” Cowling told the students. “We are all predisposed toward certain beliefs because of the way we were raised, and there are certain groups that are targeted more, particularly those from lower socio-economic neighborhoods. I believe we’ve come a long way in our society to overcome these biases, but we still have a long way to go.
“There are good officers and there are bad ones; in my opinion, most of them are good and are there for the right reasons,” added Cowling, who ended her talk by offering the students tips on how to respond if they are ever stopped by police.
“Both sets of discussions proved to be thought-provoking and schema-changing for many students,” Adams said. “It is my desire to encourage more communication about personal differences within our community, as well as cross-cultural communication among members of different campus groups.”
For Adams, these most recent conversations underscore the true value of our school mission. “It is our hope that students will leave St. Stephen’s skilled in intergroup dialogue — to be able to respectfully listen, question and respond on a multitude of topics that our students care about and that touch their lives, including health care, homelessness, immigration and race relations.
“We are not interested in telling them what to think but, more importantly, how to think,” she concluded. “Perhaps, in one of these conversations, a seed might be planted that could change the world.”