By Aneesh Karuppur (V)
In late May, the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota policemen triggered a mass movement across the nation (and eventually the world) in support of Black Lives Matter.
The Record previously detailed some of the earlier impacts that this multifaceted movement has had on the Pingry community. Pingry’s leadership has affirmed its support of Black Lives Matter and of minority students. Furthermore, Pingry students have taken action by petitioning, protesting, and consistently spreading awareness.
The focus on our nation’s problems has also thrown issues surrounding race and identity within the Pingry community into sharp relief. To this end, an anonymous account known as Black at Pingry (@blackatpingry) was created. Modeled after similar accounts at other private preparatory schools (including Dalton, Lawrenceville, Exeter, Andover, Choate, and Newark Academy, among many others), this Instagram account provided an outlet for Black students to anonymously expose some of the discrimination and issues they’ve face. Within several days, the platform began highlighting instances of racism and unfairness towards other people of color, and has since expanded to include all minorities (religious and racial).
The first post on the account appeared on June 11, 2020, a week after Pingry’s Finals Week concluded. Posts are added regularly; as of June 27, just over two weeks after the first post, there are 80 explanations, descriptions, and expressions of frustration. The account has 1,776 followers, and it has achieved widespread recognition among Pingry students, parents and alumni on Instagram.
We at The Record encourage readers to view the extent to which both ignorance and prejudice has penetrated the Pingry community by viewing the posts on the @blackatpingry page. Incidents include use of the n-word both inside and outside of class by teachers and students; ignorance about non-European civilizations, cultures, and history; various microaggressions, including unsavory remarks about wealth, intelligence, and cleanliness; and taunting behaviors based on cruel stereotypes of racial and religious groups. These pervade through speech and action (in some cases, inaction is the most poignant) and demonstrate that Pingry’s commitment to true diversity and inclusion has not fully succeeded in correcting some of the troubling behaviors.
Regarding the account, one student said: “@blackatpingry opened my eyes to a side of Pingry that, before, I only vaguely knew from second-hand information. It was jarring to learn the specifics, but I think it’s precisely the kind of wake-up call that our community needs.”
In response to these powerful posts, the school released a brief letter from Head of School Mr. Matt Levinson. Some students expressed disappointment that it had taken so long for the Pingry administration to respond to the emotional strength required to tell the stories on the @blackatpingry page. Once again, we encourage readers to view the full statement on Pingry’s social media channels (Instagram: @thepingryschool). Mr. Levinson exhorted the community to read the @blackatpingry page, and said that “unless and until we are willing to acknowledge these experiences, take responsibility for our past and present, and commit to the work of creating a better Pingry for our students of color, the stories of pain will never end.” Mr. Levinson ended his message by expressing a school commitment to active anti-racism and an effort to decrease the burden on the backs of students of color at Pingry, especially Black students.
After this public commitment, Mr. Levinson sent out an email to the Pingry community on June 24 to announce two events, both called “BECAUSE WE CARE.” The first, on Thursday, June 25, was for students who identified as Black; the second, on Friday, June 26, was for the caregivers of those students. These discussions were intended to foster “ongoing, honest, and open dialogue” and begin a continuous conversation about diversity and inclusion. On June 26, Mr. Levinson released an action plan for treating the ills of discrimination and racism in the Pingry community, and explained that incoming Director of Diversity and Inclusion Mr. Gilberto Olvera would be the point person for these initiatives. The plan calls for an anti-racism task force, engagement of the school community, a more inclusive and multicultural curriculum, faculty and staff training, better human resource management, and a progress check.
The Pingry community will anxiously await the administration’s more concrete actions on such issues, and some members have expressed concern over certain directives. According to one student of color, “I find it concerning that Mr. Levinson makes diversity sound like it only includes one perspective, the general ‘people of color.’ Within people of color, there are so many nuanced interactions that Mr. Levinson has made quite clear he is unaware of, and has no interest in learning about, given the exclusive wording of his emails.”
Another student of color voiced a different opinion on the decisions: “It’s a little bit disappointing, but expected given previous actions, that Mr. Levinson only chose to address racism directed towards [black members] as opposed to the racism which affects various other groups at Pingry. At the same time, I understand his position of leadership is a very difficult one to be in, and no matter how he responds, it is inevitable that people will pick out the flaws in his response based on their own perspectives and interests. Nonetheless, the detail that he provides in his email reflects a promising and focused commitment to anti-racism, and I hope we can see these plans manifest into measurable change.”
The @blackatpingry Instagram account has had an outsized impact in bringing to greater light the issues that people of color and minorities face at Pingry. The Pingry community ought to look forward to an equitable future for all; we will see how administrative and community decisions work towards such a future.