Exploring Issues of Race and Equity in our Classroom - Kingswood Oxford

Big Thinkers Blog

November 12, 2018

Exploring Issues of Race and Equity in our Classroom

Jane Repp, Director of Teaching and Learning
Colson Whitehead, a renowned writer whose novels offer profound and compelling explorations of slavery and its legacy of racism, will visit Kingswood Oxford on Dec. 6 and 7 as the school’s 36th Baird Symposium Writer.

His work provides a powerful opportunity for the entire Kingswood Oxford faculty and staff to examine courageously our own attitudes about racism and white privilege, and to confront the challenges of presenting and discussing the topic of race in our classrooms. This year the faculty has challenged itself with this essential question: How might we use Colson Whitehead’s visit as an opportunity to reflect on equity in our classrooms?

Looking at Ourselves

Exploring one’s own experiences and assumptions about racism is never easy, so it is important for us as a faculty to look at ourselves, just as we look at our students – with respect, understanding and compassion. The questions we’re asking include:


  • How can we explore honestly our own racial experiences and environments to discover blind spots, triggers, and assumptions that might influence our work in the classroom?
  • How can we help our students to be conscious of history and current events so they can move forward in a way that helps them create equity in their own lives
  • How can we create a curriculum and course materials that offer varied perspectives and celebrations of different cultures?
  • How do we deal with sensitive topics and language and create a culture of equity in the classroom?


Taking Action

To begin to answer these questions, KO teachers have pursued a variety of workshops, discussions, conversations, and readings for the past several months.• Last summer, the entire faculty and staff read The Underground Railroad and Debby Irving’s memoir Waking Up White, which explores the hidden psychic infrastructure of white privilege that shapes attitudes about race.


  • In August, before classes began, all faculty and staff members engaged in a day-long workshop conducted by the RE•Center Race and Equity in Education. Through presentations, group exercises and discussions, they examined their own personal identities and beliefs and engaged in interactive dialogue to build their capacity to understand and effectively engage students from diverse backgrounds and to support multiculturalism and equity in the classroom.
  • This autumn, members of the history and English departments met to discuss how to select and present material related to race, and how to deal with sensitive topics and language in the classroom.
  • In early January, all faculty and staff will re-convene for a workshop to share their perspectives on the issues raised by Whitehead’s visit and generate a collaborative approach to creating a culture of equity in the classroom.A Transformative Experience

This is challenging work, and it sometimes generates discomfort, fear, and sadness. We certainly can’t shift the attitudes and culture of our school overnight. But we hope that Colson Whitehead’s visit will begin an evolutionary process that will enable all of us to look at ourselves, our nation and the world in a different way.

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