Wellesley Public School administrators on Friday defended their approach to supporting students in the wake of a shooting spree in the Atlanta area earlier this week that took the lives of eight people, including six women of Asian descent.
The WPS Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Office on Thursday organized an online “healing space” for students in grades 6-12. The gathering to process recent events was restricted to Asian, Asian American, Black, Indigenous, and people of color from the student and faculty/staff.
An email now widely circulated from a Wellesley Middle School teacher explicitly informed white students that this was not for them, but that they could seek help from her and their guidance counselors in processing recent events. The email, and a blog post ripping the teacher and school system, has been widely circulated among the Wellesley school community and beyond today.
School administrators issued the following memo on Friday afternoon to defend its approach:
Dear Members of the Wellesley Public Schools Community:
As our district has continued to deepen its work around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), we have learned the importance of providing different types of spaces in which these challenging conversations can occur. Many of these opportunities are broad-based, occurring at faculty meetings, through community forums, and as part of whole-class conversations. At the same time, we have come to unequivocally affirm the importance of “affinity spaces,” where members of historically-marginalized groups can come together in a spirit of mutual support and understanding of shared experiences. The district has benefited from the feedback provided through these conversations, which members of these groups might not otherwise feel comfortable sharing in broader dialogue sessions.
This week, in which recent trends toward violence against Asian and Asian Americans has been highlighted, the district offered an affinity space for Asian and Asian American students in grades 6-12 and faculty, understanding that they might be acutely feeling the impact of the week’s events. The goal was to provide a safe space in which students and staff could reflect, share, and be supported as members of our school district.
At the same time, we can also understand the discomfort that some members of our community have shared when learning of a practice that they perceive to be discriminatory in nature. It’s important to note that affinity spaces are not discriminatory. Hosting affinity spaces is part of a long-term, evidence-based district strategy that amplifies student and faculty voices on various issues, and enhances their sense of belonging. Our hope is that broader DE&I dialogue throughout the district will be strengthened by parallel conversations occurring within specific communities of interest. Spaces for both types of conversations are vital.
We look forward to continued engagement with the district community in the days ahead around these important topics.
Dr. David Lussier Dr. Charmie Curry
Superintendent of Schools Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Dr. Mark Ito Dr. Jamie Chisum
Principal, Wellesley Middle Schools Principal, Wellesley High School