"Playing Catch," by Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Erica Pernell
During my junior year of high school, I joined a travel softball team in New York. I did not know any of the players on the team. As a young black woman with a white mother, I noticed a brief dim to the previously lively conversations when we walked into the gym. When it was time to warm up our arms and play catch, everyone seemed to pair up easily, and I was left awkwardly wondering what to do. After what seemed like an eternity, a smiling, ponytailed angel ran over and asked me if I wanted to play catch with her. I was grateful, but still perplexed as to why I was the only one struggling to find a partner to throw with in the first place. It was the first day of practice and some of the other players were new too.
Later in the season, after many miles and hotel rooms and games and meals together, our team was as close as we could be. At one of our last tournaments, I asked my teammates why they hesitated to play catch with me at our first practice. One teammate explained that she thought I was intimidating because I “looked like I could throw hard enough to hurt her hand.” Another teammate said she just wasn’t sure how friendly I was. A third teammate said that, when she finally took the time to get to know me, she was pleasantly surprised to realize how funny and kind I was. To my teammates, my fear-inducing differences were all they could focus on in the beginning. A summer of forced interactions traveling and playing softball together allowed them to look beyond their initial assumptions, but only after I had proven myself to be safe enough to trust. The fact that I did not share their racial make-up and that I did come from Westchester County created a boundary that I had to work patiently to break down.
Research shows that the assumptions my teammates expressed start young. Children can discern racial differences at six months of age. By three years old, children have an awareness of gender roles and by third grade, they are aware of societal stereotypes. It is natural and instinctual for people to notice differences and look for patterns. Media influences the internal frameworks young people create as they learn to interpret the world. As educators, parents and guardians, we have an opportunity and an obligation to help students move past the idea that differences are intimidating or worthy of fear. Schools and families can give students the skills to interpret and engage with difference. In the past, popular belief held that talking about race would cause young people to become racist. We now know that it is critical to be direct and clear when discussing race, gender, socioeconomic status and other aspects of multicultural identity. Talking about race and other areas of identity creates more conscious, empathetic and equitable adults and is a proven way to reduce young people’s tendency towards in-group favoritism.
In order to lead for the public good, Nobles graduates must be masters of cultural competency—effective and capable when interacting, collaborating and communicating with people radically different from them. As leaders for the public good, they must be able to understand and articulate complex interactions involving culture, power and personal experience. We want our graduates to see the value and worth inherent in the presence of diverse perspectives and to use their top-notch Nobles education to work towards true equity and inclusion for all people. As an institution, Nobles takes a strategic approach to these goals, including an evolving academic curriculum, dynamic assembly presentations, robust EXCEL travel programs and other age-appropriate programming tailored to address the specific needs of our community. While at Nobles, students have the opportunity to practice leadership by engaging in real work to make the school and the world more inclusive through work in active student-led organizations:
SURJE: Students United for Racial Justice & Equity
JCC: Jewish Culture Club
SSEA: Students for Socioeconomic Awareness
SGA: Students for Gender Awareness
Spectrum: Gender/Sexuality Diversity
ACC: Asian Culture Club
UNIC: Uniting Nobles' Identities and Cultures
At Nobles, we hope you’ll join us in our efforts to inform and inspire students to be leaders for the public good. Talk with your family about your own experiences with intolerance, injustice and hate. Discuss the value and importance of the relationships you maintain with people who are different from you. Share what it means to truly connect with others so that our students can see differences as a source of strength and excellence.