Sharing among the many generations of Foxcroft women is one of the wonderful aspects of Reunion Weekend that has grown in recent years and the second annual “Courageous Conversations” session, held Friday afternoon (April 12), has become a much anticipated and appreciated reflection of that.
Indeed, it was standing room only as Roomies filled to bursting with alumnae, students, faculty, and members of the Board, which had paused its meetings so they could attend. This event is organized by the Alumnae Council Diversity and Inclusion Committee and draws its name from the book Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools.
For their second annual Reunion event, the Committee chose to address “Unconscious Bias and Challenges for Women in College and Beyond,” and five alumnae — Allison Bejar ’14, Rachel Means ’08, Rochelle Arms Almengor ’96, Kassinda Usher ’93, and Jennifer Thorpe-Lewis ’83 — comprised a wonderfully articulate and insightful panel that shared their experiences of bias and answered a variety of questions posed by moderators Bella S. ’20 and Courtney B. ’20, the student leaders of “We the People” Foxcroft’s diversity and inclusivity club.
It was an impressive hour of sharing personal experiences. While the alumnae talked about preconceived notions and invisible assumptions that they found others sometimes had of them, they also noted that Foxcroft helped them grow beyond their own unconscious biases.
“My time here really helped in terms of being able to navigate a variety of cultures, companies, environments, and attitudes,” said Kassinda. She spoke specifically about attending a client meeting where she was the only woman in the room. She was also the only person who apologized to the client for a delay in manufacturing. In turn, the client appreciated her ability to own the situation and move forward, and was willing to keep working with her team. Kassinda went on to say that from that point forward she was expected to be able to “make things happen,” and the enormous pressure she felt as a result.
Jennifer, who had traveled very little before high school reflected on her time here and how it influenced her later, “Foxcroft brought the world to me. I saw things and experienced things that I never would have encountered if I stayed home. So, when I did finally step out of the area, when I did travel to different places, other countries, it wasn’t as difficult as it might have been. Foxcroft was tremendously broadening for me and my world.”
Jennifer also gave the sage advice “Experience it for yourself.” She spoke about how we accept impressions and judgments from our friends and our colleagues, for example, “Professor Smith is awful and never gives anyone a passing grade—do not take his class!” Jennifer herself received this advice from a friend, and she decided to go against the advice and take the class anyway. She ended up thoroughly enjoying the course and getting the highest grade in the class. In fact, Jennifer is still in contact with her past professor today.
Getting to know who you are and holding on to that despite what one encounters, the women agreed, was crucial. “Maintain and realize who you are and realize that others don't know who you are. Tell them,” said one alumna. “Don't let others’ ideas of who you are define you,” added another. “Don't let anyone put you in that box.”
And don’t believe everything people tell you. “Pause and probe, and make decisions for yourself,” said another. “Always take time to think about the input you get from society and from others, instead of just acting. Probe to see how that input might affect you, and then make up your mind.”
Questions and personal responses from the audience and continuing conversations after the time was up were indicative of how engaged participants were. We look forward to more "courageous conversations” in the future.
Many thanks to Committee Co-Chairs Carol Der Garry ’79 and Kate Hartshorn Domanski ’96 and their committee for putting together such a wonderful event. This was Carol’s last event as Co-Head, she is stepping off of the Alumnae Council in June. We are thrilled to welcome Kassinda Usher ’93 into the role, and thank Carol immensely for all that she has helped us achieve in these past years!