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Celebrating Three Fully Endowed Faculty Chairs

Sidwell Friends donors have advanced the School’s Equity, Justice, and Community (EJC) Strategic Action Plan in a major way.

As the Together We Shine campaign nears its goal, donors have fully funded all three endowed faculty chairs in cultural studies. These include the Señora Guillermina Medrano de Supervía Endowed Chair for Spanish and Latin American Studies funded in October 2020; the African and African American Studies Chair funded in July 2022; and the Asian American Studies Chair funded in June 2023.

Establishing these endowed chairs attracts top-tier faculty to each field and reduces dependency on tuition revenue to maintain and further overall academic excellence. “No independent school I know is investing so heavily in these academic disciplines,” says Head of School Bryan Garman. “Our community is letting its life speak with these investments.”

The chairs were made possible by passionate groups of Sidwell Friends donors who rallied around each effort beginning in 2019. Recognizing that extraordinary teachers like Supervía are the hallmark of remarkable schools, Alan Bernstein ’59—one of Supervía’s former students and longtime friends—helped lead the effort to an endowed chair in her honor.

“Honoring Señora is honoring the best in secondary school teaching,” said Bernstein. “My brothers [Daniel ’55 and George ’64] and I simply wish to create a permanent honor for the very best in high school teaching in a way that benefits Sidwell Friends School students for years to come.”

An advisory council co-led by DeDe and Dallas Lea P ’22, ’25 and Simone and Wayne Frederick P ’24 led the philanthropic charge for the African and African American Studies Chair. Many families answered the call with generous support, exceeding the goal of $1.2 million. Families like Lesli, John, and Jordan Mathewson ’24 who said, “We are excited about the prospects of a curriculum that reveals both the African and African American experience as part of the American story. Complete American history isn’t fully told if it excludes communities that are typically marginalized. This omission depletes an understanding and erodes the empathy muscle needed for future generations of leaders like Sidwell Friends students. They possess the wonderful power to change, shape, and influence tomorrow. They can’t change what they don’t know.”

Joanna Wang P ’22, ’24 expressed a similar sentiment saying, “The Asian American experience has been so integral to the history and culture of our country, and if recent events tell us anything remains an understudied field. The story of the Asian American is both familiar and unique: one of the universal immigrant road to this young country, but with the characteristics of ancient Asian cultures and societies. I am proud to have been involved in the establishment of a new Asian American Studies Endowed Chair, which will give Sidwell Friends students an opportunity to benefit from a more systematically curated curriculum on the Asian American story.”

Wang and scores of other generous donors surpassed the $1.2 million goal for the Asian American Studies Chair, raising an additional $14,000 that will be used to support the chair’s associated programming.

Each faculty member appointed to the chairs brings deep expertise in their field. Social scientist Silvana Niazi is the inaugural Supervía chair. Dr. Jewell Debnam holds the title for the African and African American Studies chair. The inaugural chair in Asian American Studies will begin in the 2024-2025 academic year. Expressing her excitement about having all three chairs funded, Associate Head of School Min Kim says, “We are guaranteeing that we will have faculty on staff who are experts in these areas, so our students can deepen their learning. They are also resources for faculty, for providing development across divisions, and for programming for the larger community.”

Upper School Principal Mamadou Guèye says, “Our curriculum needs to reflect the student body, needs to tackle the histories that reflect the diversity of the population we have. The world is multi-canon, interconnected, and interwoven. I would love Sidwell Friends to have 20 endowed chairs.”

Indeed, Kimberly Johnson P ’23, ’26, whose family contributed to the African and African American Studies chair, echoes that idea saying, “The opportunities for bringing [Sidwell Friends’] tradition of excellence to students in a manner that expands their horizons and opens more avenues for thought leadership are truly endless.”

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