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Ted Talks: What Are We Going To Do With Our Privilege?

By Ted Graf, Head of School

During Civil Rights’ Day, our annual faculty and student-designed teach-in held in honor of Dr. King’s birthday, our keynote speaker, Lewis Conway, Jr., inspired us with his personal story, then challenged us with the following question:

What are we each going to do with our privilege?

This question came after Lewis shared that he spent eight years in prison, and in spite of this he still recognizes that he has privilege. Once Lewis acknowledged his own privilege, he challenged us all: imagine how much we each have. He transformed the issue of privilege, a topic that usually divides students by class and race, into a unifying force. Regardless of race or class, we each have privilege, so what are we going to do with it? He went further: what action could we take individually and collectively with our privilege? He closed his talk with a statement: “It is your duty to use your privilege to help those without your privilege.”

Lewis’s visit was timely, and we’re grateful to high school English guide, Lorena German,and the Cultural Competency Group on the River Campus for bringing him in. As we have aspired to live out our new foundational language over the past 18 months, we have had more conversations among faculty, among students, and parents about diversity, inclusivity, and multiculturalism. “Are we doing enough,” people ask. “What do you think we mean by the phrase: “embrace diversity,” I frequently ask my colleagues. Many parents have asked, “How can we be more welcoming, accepting, and inviting to a diverse group of students and their families?”

While we have reaffirmed our commitment to peace education as can be seen in the school’s purpose statement: We cultivate identity formation, foster empathy, and embrace diversity to bring more peace to the world; we are questioning whether we need to be more explicit and energetic about social justice and about being anti-racist.

After all, how can we expect our children to become peace-makers if we don’t know what social justice looks like or feels like? How can we expect ourselves to resolve complicated conflicts if we, as educators, aren’t aware of biases in our own practice or injustice within our school. In order to know what we need to do and where we want to go, we need to know where we are with regard to these important, complicated, and emotional questions.

Soon after March break, we’ll be doing some work across our school and across all groups (students, faculty/staff, parents, and trustees) with the help of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and their tool: Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism (AIM, link to AIM FAQs). In short, AIM is divided into two distinct parts. First, we’ll take an online climate survey that will help us do some counting and know our own demographics better. Following the implementation of the survey, we’ll engage in a school self-assessment (facilitated and organized by us). This part of the process will help us examine and explore some of the questions I have posed and go further by having us look at all aspects of program, community, operations, and governance. When both steps are completed, we’ll receive a report and help from NAIS in interpreting the findings and then developing goals and a plan for action in 2018-2019.

In the meantime, we would love to hear your responses to the question posed above so feel free to respond according to your platform of choice: Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and tag Headwaters School. If you’re interested in thinking more about this topic, check out the list below of student and faculty designed workshops offered on Civil Rights Day:

The School-to-Prison Pipeline Game

What is the school-to-prison pipeline? Find out what students in other school settings are dealing with and the ways the education system and processes are problematic for them. How will you really get it? Come play the School-to-Prison Pipeline Game and find out.

#metoo: Voices of Empowerment

Take a closer look at the #metoo movement, Oprah Winfrey’s speech at The Golden Globes, and what it all means.

What Does Freedom Really Look Like?

We’ll have a focused conversation about inequity among schools and in college admissions. We’ll also talk about how our school might become more welcoming to a broader and more diverse range of students. First, we’ll identify the assumptions we make about being here at Headwaters and we’ll do our best to understand how an environment like ours can feel intimidating and exclusive. This link gives some background to consider.

Representation of Marginalized Groups in Comics & Graphic Novel

In this workshop, I will be presenting on common tropes and themes that stereotype marginalized groups, specifically in the areas of gender and race within comics and graphic novels. This will be an eye-opening session and you’ll never see these books the same again.

Art and Activism (Button-Making)

We will be looking at activism in art history and making buttons related to our chosen topic.

Let’s Talk About Race

Using “the Race Cards,” (probing questions about race, ethnicity, and identity from a deck of cards developed the San Francisco Coalition of Small Schools), students draw cards to spark conversations about identity and perception.

What is DACA and What is Going On with It?

Who are the Dreamers? What is DACA and how does the DACA program affect the lives of those who participated in it? Why did DACA start? Why was it rescinded? What do you think Congress should do to address the legal status of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children?

The International Refugee Crisis

The past several years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people worldwide seeking refugee status. Students present their research about these people, their journeys, and the challenges they face as they seek a safe place to resettle.

Art and Peace (Mural Making)

We will be making a creative collaborative mural that features MLK Jr. quotes, student drawings and creative expressions of unity and peace. Hopefully we can then hang this on the wall of the Studio for a month or so!

White People Need to Talk about Racism LOFT

In this session, learn a bit about Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson, and a personal story of waking up to the reality of racism embedded in our society.


A hosted panel with a diverse group of people (students and outside guests) answering common questions and speaking to the queer experience.   

The Americans with Disabilities Act and You

A brief history of the ADA and a call for increased awareness, love, and inclusion.

Semiotics in Civil Rights

We talk about symbols used in civil rights and how we define key terms in civil rights. Interesting queries such as what is the definition of racism?, how do we use visual symbols?, is it more powerful if the LGBT community is unified under one flag or has many?, and how do words and symbols change over time? will be explored.

Food Justice in Austin

We will discuss the issues of food equity and justice in the city of Austin. We will also share an action we took through our Middle School Social Justice class.

Langston Hughes’ “Harlem”

An interactive discussion/unpacking of Hughes’ poem: how does the poem offer insights on responses to oppression? Why does the poem fit historically? How does the poem inform our current states of activism in the United States?

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