DEI Intern Sarah Spruill ‘18 is a Powerful Role Model

  • Alumni
  • Upper School

 

When Sarah Spruill ‘18, a junior at Skidmore College, learned that she would not be able to return for on-campus instruction in the fall due to the pandemic, she was incredibly disappointed. As she settled herself with the reality of remote learning from her home in Annapolis, she harkened back to her senior year at Key and the appointment of its first Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

“When I was a student at Key, I was vocal about our need to address issues surrounding race, gender and other marginalized identities, and regularly shared my thoughts, concerns and ideas with Upper School Division Head Brian Michaels. I was part of Black Affinity and involved with Students for Social Change. I knew there was always work to be done around diversity, equity and inclusion, but until Key hired Jenifer Moore I did not think of it as a real job. As someone personally invested in the work, it can often feel like one person going up against an institution, so it was great to actually see a defined role and institutional value placed on the purposeful work. As a student who interviewed the candidates, I already felt a little connection with Jenifer, so I decided to reach out to see if I could intern with her. It felt like the perfect coming together of timing and life circumstances.”

As for Jenifer Moore, Sarah’s outreach could not have come at a better time. “With the pandemic, the racial unrest in the spring, and several anonymous letters aggressively calling into question the validity and intent of DEI efforts at Key, it was a challenging time. And then, out of the blue, I receive Sarah’s email. I remember our first Zoom call and hearing this bright, enthusiastic voice asking to partner with me to learn more about inclusivity work and participate in our efforts. It was a wonderful moment.”

Sarah’s background and educational focus made her an ideal candidate for this role. “I asked Sarah a lot about her experience and interest in undertaking active inclusivity work because I was protective of her,” said Jenifer. “The work is challenging and leads to uncomfortable conversations and interactions; Sarah understands that both personally and through the work she has undertaken at Skidmore.”

As a sociology major with Black Studies and French minors, Sarah said her diversity and inclusion work at Key is what piqued her interest in sociology. After taking Race Theory, Gender Theory and a Race and Power course in her freshman year, Sarah’s final project involved work with a local Kindergarten, where she and classmates developed age-appropriate workshops for the students, through a DEI lens. That led to a year-long research assistantship in her sophomore year with a sociology professor specializing in critical race theory and pedagogy. In addition to her role at Key, Sarah is presently working for her advisor in the Sociology Department conducting research.

As one of the few Black girls in her grade, Sarah experienced challenges during her time at Key. Reflecting on a lack of faculty of color with whom to connect, problematic remarks by individuals that were indicative of a lack of understanding about the experience of marginalized groups, and feeling a loneliness in pushing for institutional change, she said, “Doing the work out of what felt like necessity as a student turned into a genuine passion. Most shaping for me, as I look back to my time at Key, is that I realize there was not such a massive power dynamic with those above me. Our small classes enabled us to build bonds between teachers and students, and most of them wanted us to speak up, and tried to encourage us. I had the space to speak up and even push back when necessary. Now, I do not feel fear of reaching out and speaking up. And, I think those high school experiences made my transition into college a little smoother.”

Sarah’s current work at Key is multi-faceted. She collaborates with Jenifer Moore in professional development training and has co-facilitated several workshops including Equitable Discussion Norms and faculty sessions on Black Feminism/Womanism. She compiles resources to build awareness about, and participation in, monthly heritage and affinity celebrations. She supports conversation in both faculty and grade-level meetings by sharing her experiences and perspective, and adds an extra voice and perspective to administrative conversations as well. She is also active with Key’s Black Affinity Group and the Student Diversity Group.

“It’s really nice to be back in the spaces I recall being in as a student,” Sarah said, “and it’s interesting to realize the difference in my perspective from when I was seventeen. Seeing how things have shifted, and can continue to shift, is affirming. As a student, my biggest supporter was science teacher Alyssa MacMeekin, and I love getting to continue this work with her. Key students are super creative, intelligent and thoughtful. I am inspired by how they think, how they push, and how they hold Key accountable. Healthy, sometimes difficult, exchanges between the adults and students are important and will empower them as they move on.”

When reflecting on the challenges of DEI work, Sarah acknowledges that it is slow work. “The framework Key is creating now won’t necessarily make a significant shift in the experience of the older students. It’s hard because when you identify something, you want to fix it now, but that is not how DEI work happens. We can address certain things immediately but there is no magic ‘fix’—the work will always be ongoing.”

It is clear that Sarah has deep affection for Key and strong hopes for the School’s continued work in support of diversity, equity and inclusion.  “A positive outcome to all we have experienced this past year is that schools like Key have really been jolted into assessing where they are lacking and how they are going to commit to changing. I have seen so many teachers starting to thoughtfully work on how we grow and evolve our program. I hope the work we are doing now continues, that we all remain up to the challenge of it, and that we all, adults and students, continue to get something meaningful and just out of it.”

If there is an upside to Skidmore’s decision to continue remote learning for the remainder of the school year, it is that Key School gets to keep Sarah Spruill as its DEI intern throughout this spring. While quiet and reflective with a contagious smile, Sarah is a powerful presence and a remarkable role model. She is one of Key’s COVID silver linings, and we are so fortunate she reached out to join us in our collective work.