Culture of Equity
Volume 1 Issue 1
Independent School Alum Blazing a Trail for Other Students of Color In Independent Schools
Chanel Malik is beginning her tenth year as an independent school educator serving this year as the new Academic Technologist at Lowell School (Washington DC). Chanel is a part of a growing list of Alliance alum to become educators in an independent school. Prior to joining Lowell School, Chanel served as a Middle School 5th grade teacher and the Middle School Equity, Justice, and Community Coordinator for Sidwell Friends School. Before arriving at Sidwell Friends School (SFS), she served as a teacher at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School. Chanel has a long history of service in independent schools, with previous roles at Campbell Hall School and Buckley School where she also graduated from as a student.
The Independent School Alliance Executive Director, Rob Evans had a chance to speak with Chanel about her time as a student in independent schools and her role in a rapidly evolving educational landscape.
What was it like for you as a student in Independent Schools?
I was a kid that grew up in the Valley and didn’t have a lot of black friends. I always hung around the same people. The biggest difference I noticed was socioeconomically. I wasn’t able to get the things that my peers got. I attended two independent schools. One in middle school and one for high school. Prior to high school, I would have described my independent school experience as a pretty good one. But, at that time, I lacked a sense of self as a student and didn’t necessarily know certain things were wrong. My experience changed during junior and senior years of high school. The socioeconomic differences (my mom was a hairdresser) became very apparent as students became old enough to drive. In addition to the class disparities that I witnessed, I experienced challenges racially too.
I was a cheerleader and ambassador for the school. While looking for leadership opportunities during my senior year, my friend and I went to talk to the school’s administration about establishing a Black Student Union. I remember vividly how resistant the school’s leadership was to that idea. “It [Black Student Union} was too harsh of a name!” So, instead of creating a space for black students, we ended up creating a club called Students For Diversity that’s still a part of the school community today. Unfortunately, there was a lot of resistance to any of the programming that we thought would shine a light on the experiences of black students and students of color. After we attempted to plan events for Black History Month, there were even awkward and uncomfortable articles and op-eds written in response to our efforts in our school’s newspaper. Those experiences made me think about who I was and who I wanted to be.
Once I left the bubble of independent school education after graduation, I enrolled in Loyola Marymount University and got the opportunity to connect with more black people and began to discover who I was as a person. I also finally had the opportunity to learn about the African American Experience in my African American studies course. It was with this context that I began to evaluate my high school experience more critically through the lens of race, diversity, equity, and inclusion. When I look back on the experiences that I had in high school, I think it was really hard and disappointing.
During my sophomore and junior year of college, I decided I wanted to be an educator. My godmother was a teacher and administrator and I would often help her at her school. After completing my requirements and student teaching, I decided to go back to independent schools to teach because I wanted to be a mirror for the kids who I know don’t have a lot of black people around them for them to look at. Essentially, I’ve tried to be a voice for girls, black girls, black kids, and the LGBTQ kids. When you’re a teacher, we’re the caregiver for children for an entire year, sometimes more than their parents. This was all before I did any formal work in diversity.
Why is educational access important today?
Seeing all of these Black@ Instagram pages reminds me everyday why this work is so important and how much things have remained the same for kids. I’m just trying to be one more advocate, mirror, or window for kids that are treated like they do not belong.
As mentioned earlier, Chanel is a part of a growing group of scholars and alums that are dedicating themselves to advancing equity and challenging the status quo. We are thrilled that Chanel is advancing equity and challenging the status quo in independent schools. As a reminder, at the Alliance, we believe that independent schools are some of our most effective engines of social mobility in an increasingly rigid and class-immobile society. Additionally, independent schools enable students to develop some of the social capital necessary to navigate that world. Therefore, we believe that it is important and necessary to have diverse students, families, teachers, administrators, and board members in our member schools.