Black at Stuyvesant Development Day Talk

Stuyvesant hosted a professional development talk on February 8 regarding the topic of culturally-sensitive education.

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Stuyvesant hosted a professional development talk on race on February 8, which was meant to address the issue of creating an environment in which all are welcome. This talk was given during a full faculty meeting consisting of 155 teachers, and was organized by College Office Counselor Dr. Jeaurel Wilson and junior, Student Union Vice President, and Black Students League Vice President Amanda Cissé with presentations from junior John Chandler and senior Nyarai Masoni.

To organize the presentation, Cissé was first approached by English teacher Maura Dwyer about leading the talk, with inspiration from alumna Shivali Korgaonkar’s (‘21) talk in 2022. Cissé made slides regarding the Black experience at Stuyvesant and reached out to Chandler and Masoni to speak, while guidance counselor Dr. Jeaurel Wilson made slides with information from her doctorate about culturally sensitive education.

In particular, the presentation focused on Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education (CR-SE), as well as Culturally Responsive Practices (CRP). CR-SE was first implemented in 2018 and is a program that emphasizes the importance of acknowledging cultural differences, using CRP to achieve this goal. CR-SE contains six framework briefs: “What is Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education?,” “What is the Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Framework?,” “What do students gain when culturally responsive-sustaining education guides our education system?,” “Why should schools focus on the cultures of their students?,” “What are the four principles of the Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Framework?,” and “How does implementing CR-S improve your school community as a whole?.” 

The presentation also emphasized the challenges with creating a “gifted-and-talented” curriculum for students of color, seeing that gifted-and-talented programs often prioritize a rigorous curriculum over educating students with respect to their culture. “According to research, gifted education focuses on academic excellence at the expense of equity; therefore, gifted students are often not educated in a culturally responsive manner,” Wilson said in an e-mail interview. “The lack of [students of color] represented in gifted programs can cause long-lasting, devastating effects for them both social-emotionally and in college and career planning.”

Later on, Cissé, Chandler, and Masoni gave a presentation on the nature of being Black at Stuyvesant. The students highlighted stories from Cissé’s @blackatspecialized Instagram account to testify to the experience, with quotes such as “I lost the accent I had in middle school because I was worried people would call me ghetto / uneducated / unprofessional and sometimes I don’t even recognize the way I talk anymore.” While few have experienced explicitly racist or hostile incidents, many Black students have experienced microaggressions from their friends or peers. “A lot of students say a lot of microaggressions about Black students and that isolates a lot of Black students,” Masoni said. “[Through the presentation], they could learn about how they could improve their language; what they say about [Black] students that could isolate them.”

The students also highlighted a survey conducted by The Spectator in October 2022, which found that students who identified as Black or Hispanic agreed with statements like “I have felt uncomfortable at my Specialized High School because of my racial or ethnic background” to a much greater extent than White or Asian respondents. Through this, Cissé wanted to uplift the experiences of Black students at Stuyvesant. “By spreading awareness, you can create a general mindset shift that helps with people’s implicit biases because the changes made now create new changes for Stuy students [in the future],” Cissé said.

To do so, they demonstrated the best ways to teach students about race. These included teaching appropriate language, showing the full truth of all events, and having one-on-one conversations with students who feel uncomfortable. Following the presentation, many teachers have already incorporated these practices into their classroom. “I had one of my friends text a screenshot of her teacher e-mailing her saying ‘This is what [they] talked about at the presentation; what can we do to support you?’,” Cissé said. “[Additionally], [mathematics teacher David] Peng is adding a history of discrimination in finance to his personal finance curriculum.”

Along with changes specific to Stuyvesant, the presentation may also have an effect on the wider New York City high school system. “[English teacher Annie Thoms], who sits on Beacon’s [parent-teacher association], is working with their diversity, equity, and inclusion team to give our presentation to them, so it’s actually spreading to other schools now,” Cissé said.

While the talk has already had a large impact on the Stuyvesant community, many presenters were incredibly nervous about presenting in the first place—partly due to a miscommunication regarding the scale of the event. “When I first got to the staff meeting, I thought it was just going to be a few staff members; I didn’t realize it was going to be the entire staff,” Masoni said. “It was on stage in front of the entire staff and it was very shocking and very scary to do because I am not the best on stage.”

Ultimately, however, organizers felt the presentation was worth the nerves, and helped to achieve their goal of providing tangible resources to support the Stuyvesant Black Community. “The [@blackatspecialized Instagram account and Spectator article] create awareness of what the issue [is] at school [...] but [don’t] actually tell teachers how they can help. This presentation [emphasized] that there was a problem, but here’s what you can do [in support],” Cissé said.