June 22, 2020
Dear SEA College Students and Alumni,
I’d like to follow up the letter that I sent to the SEA community earlier this month, and write to you directly. Over the past month, my colleagues and I have been moved by your emails, social media posts, and other messages, and by the conversations we have had with many of you about the dynamics of race and the existence of racism in the SEA community. We respect your courage in sharing your stories and we are grateful for the ways in which you are pushing the SEA network to do better.
Our network is not monolithic, which is reflected in the variety of perspectives and feelings that exist about racism in the SEA community. But there are clear patterns and themes, and a number of the same questions are being asked. Why do our programs do little — and in many cases, nothing — to prepare students for the experience of being in predominantly white and wealthy spaces? Why are our programs associated with clubs and institutions that make little or no effort to welcome and include people of color? Why are nearly all of our organizations’ leaders white, and why does it sometimes seem like they prioritize fundraising needs over those of students?
As a community, we need to wrestle with these and other difficult questions. As proud as we are of the SEA model and all that you and our students have accomplished, we need to take a hard look at what we do — and do so through the lens of race. We need to begin acknowledging the myriad ways that white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and systemic racism impact you and your communities, and how our network has not done enough to challenge these societal ills.
Listening to students and alumni is the first step, and the stories I’ve recently heard have been sobering. One graduate of CitySquash, where I worked for a decade, told me that he was called racial epithets at boarding school, and didn’t have anyone at our program with whom he could talk about this experience. A graduate of another SEA program who played varsity squash at a college in New England recalled being stopped by four campus security vehicles on suspicion of bike theft while riding his own bike through campus. These kinds of stories are common. All of the alumni we’ve talked with have described the discomfort and pain of being the only Black or Brown players at squash tournaments, and how their programs — however well intentioned — didn’t do what was needed to help them through the process of racial self-understanding in predominantly white spaces.
At the same time that we are developing a deeper understanding of the systemic racism that exists in our community at large, we are awakening to the racism and bias that are in each of us individually. This is a time for the white community in particular to be self-critical. Over the past month, I’ve learned of times when I have said things that were racially insensitive. How many times have I unintentionally offended others by using words whose connotations I didn’t appreciate? And in what ways have my actions and decisions as a leader of this network been influenced by my unconscious biases or perspective as a white male? These are questions that I need to ask myself, and I am committed to doing the work to better understand my biases.
Every program in the SEA network is different, and some have done more than others to create spaces for conversations about race. But on the whole, we as a network are nowhere near where we need to be. We have to learn from this moment so that we can begin to heal the past, better serve our students, and become a stronger community of organizations. As we commit to becoming an antiracist network, three areas of focus have emerged.
Student & Alumni Support
We need to create spaces for our students to talk openly about race. We need to give them the tools they need to navigate predominantly white communities. We have to be more thoughtful about the spaces to which we bring students and alumni, and we must reexamine the organizations with which we are affiliated. We need to challenge these organizations to be more inclusive and welcoming, both in the substance of their policies and in how they physically present themselves to outsiders.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and Anti-Bias Trainings
We need to provide formal diversity, equity, and inclusion and anti-bias training for volunteers, staff, and board members. The people who work on behalf of our organizations should be comfortable discussing race, educated in the history of racism, and have tools to examine their own racism and biases. This will equip us to more fully support our students and foster in them a greater sense of belonging, within the program experience and in the external opportunities our network provides.
Diversifying Staff & Leadership
We need more non-white people on our staffs and in leadership positions throughout the network and at SEA. Seventeen of our 20 U.S.-based member programs are led by executive directors who are white, and there is not one executive director in the U.S. who is Black or American-born Latinx. Although 96% of the students we enroll are Black or Latinx, only 9% of our network’s board members in the U.S. identify with one of those groups. We need to establish aggressive goals for increasing representation of marginalized groups in our leadership ranks, implement measures to ensure that job searches across the network are inclusive, and build robust leadership pipelines for staff of color.
These are just some of the first steps that SEA will be taking, starting this summer. We are committed to investing resources in these areas and we will work with our member programs to ensure that they do the same. As we develop the details of our plans, we welcome your input. If you have not done so already, I invite you to share any thoughts or recommendations you have with me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or with the whole SEA team at Race Equity.
Although the SEA network has a lot of work to do, I am confident that everyone in our community — students, alumni, families, staff, volunteers, partners, supporters, board members — will come together to move the network in the right direction. Much of my confidence stems from you. No group better understands the possibilities and limitations of what we do, and alumni have never been more involved with our programs. In addition to the countless number of you who generously volunteer as tutors and coaches, eight alumni are now board members of SEA or our member programs, and 30 work for our programs, with a growing number in leadership positions. Alumni are influencing the experiences of students across the network every day at practice, and you are shaping the conversations — in staff meetings and board meetings — about how we can strengthen and improve the SEA model over the long term.
It’s been twenty-five years since this network was launched, and we can be proud of what has been accomplished. But we must do better, and we can.
Squash and Education Alliance