We spoke with recent Miss Porter’s School graduate McKenzie Roller ’20, who served as tri-head of Porter’s Association for White Anti-Racist Education (AWARE) during her senior year, about her ongoing involvement with AWARE, why this work is important and necessary, and what the group needs to do moving forward. McKenzie explains, “I think the most important thing AWARE can do is to uplift the voices of BIPOC at Porter’s and support their efforts. It is not our voices, white voices, that need to be heard right now… I think that getting the message out there about calling white people into the conversation about race is important and necessary to creating lasting change.”
What is the purpose of AWARE, and why is it needed at Miss Porter’s School?
AWARE stands for the Association for White Anti-Racist Education. Our vision statement for the 2019-2020 school year was: Our goal is to deepen our understanding of our own racial identity, while striving to create a more just and equitable school environment at Miss Porter’s. AWARE creates a space specifically for white people to confront their privilege and work to understand what it means to be white in America and how to then work to show up as an ally.
The importance of a space specifically for white people is that it provides a setting for white people to be vulnerable and make mistakes. If white people are going to truly confront their privilege, they have to be willing to dive in and make mistakes and receive feedback and grow. Then, as white people learn to confront their privilege, AWARE provides a space to get clear on what it means to work to show up as an ally for communities of color. We discuss what it means to amplify the voices of BIPOC, to opt into thinking about race after recognizing that our privilege gives us the choice to care, and to continue to show up in real, meaningful ways.
AWARE is also important because it is not the sole responsibility of BIPOC to teach white people about race and issues of racial injustice. It is also on white people to educate ourselves using the incredible number of resources that exist and learning to seek out places to hear the voices of people who have experiences different from our own, whether that is through podcasts like Code Switch, or books or movies or other spaces where people share their voice. AWARE calls white people into the conversation about race.
What was your role in AWARE? How will you continue this work now that you are an Ancient?
I was a tri-head of AWARE my senior year and had participated in AWARE previously. The work to call white people into the conversation about race and work to create a more just society can’t end when we graduate; we as white people have to quit choosing when to care. The work should be constant until we reach a place where all people are truly equal. We are not even close to that yet.
So the work that I will continue doing involves starting conversations with friends and family who disagree with my views or are too afraid to initiate or become involved in a conversation about race. I will continue to push white people to lean into the discomfort of confronting privilege and share with them what I have learned about working to show up as an ally. Personally, I will do my best to continue to listen to and uplift the voices of BIPOC, continue to educate myself on the issues of race and racial history that get left out of our classroom settings, show up as an ally consistently, take part in real action steps, and opt into thinking about race always.
You recently facilitated a workshop on Whiteness, Privilege, and Allyship, alongside current AWARE heads Mara Farrell ’21, Ruth Torrence ’21, and Lydia Woodworth ’21. What prompted this workshop? What were the outcomes/key discussion points? Did anything that came out of the workshop surprise you?
I had been having conversations with white people outside of the Porter’s community about the international movements following the murder of George Floyd and asking people to engage with me in a conversation about privilege and how to show up as an ally right now. But I found that even though I know I have so much more to learn, very few of the white people I know outside of Porter’s had had a single conversation about race before.
I wanted to create a space to call white people into the conversation about race instead of continuing to see white people turning away due to being overwhelmed, or afraid, or confused. So I created a workshop to cover the basics with the hopes of forming the base for these students to have further conversations about race. We covered [topics including] “What is privilege?”, “How does [privilege] show up in my life and why should I care?”, “What is allyship?”, and “What can I be doing right now?”
We are having follow up workshops now to continue to encourage new people to come and to have more in-depth conversations about whiteness, privilege, and allyship. I think what surprised me was honestly the low number of people to register; how many whte people still won’t engage in the conversation. I was expecting to have to make a wait list, but that hasn’t happened yet and that is disappointing and frustrating. But more new people have come each week which in the end is the important thing — that we are continuing to call more people into the conversation. We’re working on how to get the people who need to come the most to show up.
What do you see as next steps AWARE should take, both in the immediate future as well as upon return to campus?
I think the most important thing AWARE can do is to uplift the voices of BIPOC at Porter’s and support their efforts. It is not our voices, white voices, that need to be heard right now, and frankly I was not sure if doing this interview was the best step. But I think that getting the message out there about calling white people into the conversation about race is important and necessary to creating lasting change. I believe the best thing AWARE can do is to continue to call white people into the conversation and challenge them to confront their privilege and work to show up as an ally each and every day while focusing on uplifting the voices and supporting the efforts of BIPOC, and specifically black people at this point in time (on campus at MPS and beyond).