In February 2022, Gould's College Counseling Team attended a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Colloquium provided by ACCIS (Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools). The first day of this colloquium included a session with The Wells Collective. It was through the powerful impact of that experience that The Wells Collective was recommended to Ms. Montgomery, Director of Diversity, Equity and Belonging, and the Senior Administrative Team to further Gould’s professional development around Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, specifically anti-bias (definition
) and anti-racism (definition
The Wells Collective is a group of six Black professional women from the mid-atlantic region who came together with a mutual vision to “radically shift organizations in the direction of justice.” (https://www.thewellscollective.com/about
) When I first approached The Wells Collective about working with Gould, we discussed developing a long term plan that would build on relationships, deep personal work, and systemic change. Here is an insight to The Wells Collective and to why Gould is so fortunate to be working with them.
The following conversation occured between Maggie Davis (Associate Director of College Counseling) and Akailah Jenkins McIntyre (The Wells Collective).
Q: Why would six Black Women from the Mid-Atlantic Region of the United States respond to a call from Gould Academy, a predominantly white institution in Western Maine to work with our community, a community you don’t even know or have any connection with?
Akailah: Equity and Justice work is a necessity for schools to be safe spaces. The Wells Collective does this work out of love for children and love for society. In many ways, school buildings are places where equity work can be done intentionally. We chose to engage with Gould for the same reason we work with any institution: because we love schools and we love children. We answer the call to advance justice in schools and that work - Equity and Justice work- is for everyone. It is just as necessary for white children and adults (if not more so) than it is for people of color.
Q: What are the most common obstacles you find in working with predominantly white boarding schools?
Akailah: Generally what we see in predominantly white schools is that people believe they personally are not the problem. Educators tend to believe that they are absolved from causing harm because they love children. However, it is possible to love children and to cause them harm. Harm comes from what you do not know and from what you are unwilling to examine. Therefore, people need to come into understanding that harm can and does come from them. When it comes specifically to boarding schools, teachers become pseudo parents, further deepening the disconnect that they could possibly be causing harm. But this work is not neutral. There is no space for “not being part of the problem”. We are either acting against the systems that cause harm or we are perpetuating the harm. Being able to explore the impact we have on people who identify in ways differently than we do is our next level of work.
Q: What is the most gratifying feedback that you received? How is this work rewarding for you?
Akailah: Feedback or comments that make us proud or excited come from people at the end of sessions who are in spaces of deep questioning and reflection demonstrating how new thought processes spur internal growth. We aim to give people the tools, but we are just vessels for the work people have to do for themselves. It is rewarding when we can see the personal stake people are taking in this work. We like to hear that people are digging in and digging deep as personal growth and action to do things differently.
Q: When you and I initially spoke, we talked about the importance of developing a relationship with the community and not just doing one-off professional development sessions. Have you found significant results when developing relationships with communities?
Akailah: The most transformation happens in communities when relationships are built. The most successful shifts happen when in deep relationships with people - from maintenance, to the Head of School, to the Board, to alumni - everyone has to be invested in the school community and community at large. Building relationships allows people to trust you enough to believe that there is something beneficial for you at the end - there is a reason, a purpose - to this work. It would be easier to say “that is not problematic”. It is easier to say - “that’s not true”. But anyone with privilege has to identify the spaces in which they don’t have to evaluate their impact. We have to be in deep relationship with people so that alternative perspectives can be shared without feeling personally attacked. We have to be able to get to that place in order for community building, long term capacity, long term impact - can be part of the rhythm. That is what shifts communities
Q: What are the hopes/ goals for Gould?
Akailah: Our hope for Gould is that people will start asking enough questions to start a domino effect. We want the questions coming from students, teachers, administrators. The more questions, the more domino effect. Schools are a microcosm of society in that anything that is happening at Gould is happening at our surrounding towns. So the more people are questioning, ultimately moves more people to advance Equity and Justice.