by Matthew Toms, Director of the Student Assistance and White Mountain Scholars Programs
Over the past 17 years directing our Student Assistance Program, The White Mountain School’s in-house counseling and support program, and more recently running the new White Mountain Scholars Program, I frequently hear the specific and unique challenges that students who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) at the School face. While we have worked to address many of those concerns and challenges (and have a lot of work to do!), one persistent challenge is hiring and retaining faculty of color. Our BIPOC students frequently do not see themselves reflected back to them in their teaching faculty and advisors. The challenge and impact of this cannot be understated. We continue to work on changing this reality, and I am hopeful that some of the strategies and ideas we have moving forward will lead to impactful and lasting change in this realm.
I have been thinking for some time about how we can better support our BIPOC students in the face of this current reality and, in this process, reached out to a few BIPOC alumnae/i, informally, to brainstorm ideas. In this community of alumnae/i, there is a wealth of knowledge, experiences, and wisdom about navigating a predominantly white institution (PWI). While at the School, our BIPOC alumnae/i developed and honed the racial stress coping skills and strategies to survive and, for many, thrive at White Mountain.
Over the spring, I reached out to Kim Cooper, our director of equity and inclusion, to pitch the idea of engaging BIPOC alumnae/i in the hopes that some would be willing to serve as mentors for our current BIPOC students. After doing a couple of listening sessions with BIPOC alumnae/i, we put out a limited solicitation for participation in a pilot mentorship program for current BIPOC students. The response was overwhelming! So many alumnae/i were eager to mentor, guide, and support current BIPOC students. After meeting regularly with Ericia “Rece” Bramwell ’16, Chantal Stephenson ’17, Darius Borges ’16, and Fawaz Okoya ’18, we developed a framework for this pilot program. By the end of the summer, we had current BIPOC students matched with BIPOC alumnae/i. Though the program has only recently begun, I regularly hear from many mentees how appreciative they are for having these budding relationships with their mentors.
This year, as it is a pilot program, we limited participation to only current White Mountain Scholars and mentors. The program consists of regular formal and informal touchpoints between mentors and mentees. The program will also include one retreat annually—either at White Mountain or another location—where we can all spend time and get to know each other and continue to build this foundation of support for current BIPOC students. In the absence of a pandemic, this will happen in person, which we are so excited for! In the meantime, we will have a couple of larger group Zoom meetings to get to know each other. Additionally, any interested BIPOC mentor can serve on a BIPOC Advisory Council that serves the School in making programmatic and directional recommendations to the senior administrative team and Board of Trustees. Next year, after we have worked out some of the kinks, we hope to open this program up to any current BIPOC student, domestic or international.
I want to extend my deepest thanks and appreciation for all of the alumnae/i who have given so graciously of their time to play this role in the lives of the next generation of White Mountain BIPOC students. It really means a lot to these students. If you would be interested in playing this role in support of a current White Mountain student, please reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or to email@example.com.
Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a gender-inclusive, college-preparatory boarding and day school for 140 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.