Endowed positions are advancing the School’s commitment to equity, justice, and community—permanently.
Natalie Randolph ’98 is ready to make a mess. “As a society, we’ve lost our stamina for difficulty,” Randolph said. “People want things to be uncomplicated. But we need to move toward complicated, because diversity is complicated. Having multiple perspectives in a room can mess up everything we think we know. And that’s what we’re trying to do: get messy.”
This work may not be new for Sidwell Friends, but given the recent, nationwide increase of hate crimes and violence and increasing attention to institutionalized racism, Lora and Jeffrey Drezner (P ’03, ’06, GP ’34) felt compelled to take action. Moved by Head of School Bryan Garman’s and the Board of Trustees’ vision and commitment to EJC as an integral part of the School’s curriculum, the Drezners decided to direct funding toward the EJC program. By endowing the EJC director position, they permanently fund this important leadership role for the School community; reduce budgetary pressures from reliance on tuition revenue; and position the School to retain and attract top-notch EJC professionals.
“We’ve followed the idea that there is always this continuing call to pursue a more just world,” Lora Drezner explained. As parents of Michael ’03 and Dani ’06, the Drezners share an appreciation for how Sidwell Friends fostered a deeper sense of service and belonging in their children.
Diverse teams solve complex problems faster. If we have a more intentionally diverse team doing EJC work, we will be that much closer to ticking away at the complex problems.”
As DeDe and Dallas Lea (P ’22, ’25) and Simone and Wayne A.I. Frederick (P ’24) shared in the 2019/20 Report on Philanthropy, the African and African American Studies (AAAS) endowed chair will guide the School in developing decolonized curricula that will open windows onto unexplored cultures and transform all students into global citizens and leaders. Just as importantly, it will hold mirrors for African and African American students to see themselves reflected in historical narratives that have long denied voices, agency, and representation to people of African descent.
The philanthropic leadership of the Leas and Fredericks inspired an energetic response from donors in the Sidwell Friends community—parents, alumni, and others who care deeply about elevating African and African American voices, histories, and experiences. By the end of the 2020/21 academic year, leadership donors had provided over half the funds needed to endow this chair, and fundraising for this transformational educational position continues.
“We saw that their Quaker education was a critical part of their development and their maturation in focusing on community, and ultimately made a huge difference in who they are in the world today,” Jeffrey Drezner, a current trustee, said. “It’s our hope that this initiative will make a significant difference in what people believe and how they deal with truth.”
Like the Drezners, Sidwell Friends families who have contributed to the African and African American Studies (AAAS) endowed chair are interested in providing teachers and students the tools to access and elevate truths—especially those of underrepresented communities, whose histories have been long ignored or repressed.
Meanwhile, support from Sidwell Friends for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, which has faced a rise in anti-Asian hate since the pandemic began and a more significant surge in early 2021, has led to early fundraising efforts for an Asian American Studies (AAS) chair.
Together, these endowed chairs will fill a critical component of the School’s EJC Strategic Action Plan, because they will contribute to the broadening of students’ perspectives. “If we hope to unravel the threads of racism and racist violence built into the fundamental economic structures of this country, we need to help our students to recognize, in age-appropriate ways, how they became systematically entangled,” Head of School Bryan Garman said.
Once fully endowed, the AAAS and AAS endowed chairs will join Natalie Randolph and Silvana Niazi, the inaugural Supervía Endowed Faculty Chair for Spanish and Latin American Studies, on a team that will address how, as a community, Sidwell Friends can better espouse the values of equity, justice, and inclusion.
Niazi was appointed the inaugural Supervía Endowed Faculty Chair following a fundraising campaign spearheaded by Alan Bernstein ’59 and other alumni to honor excellence in teaching that launched in 2017 and successfully concluded last fall. It’s a campaign that has offered a template and inspiration for both the AAAS and AAS endowed chairs.
“I hope to begin by listening deeply, conducting focus groups, and developing spaces for conversation that invite student, parent, alumni, and faculty and staff perspectives,” Niazi said of her first year in this position. “This will be an important way for us to genuinely comprehend and identify the priorities of the diverse stakeholders in the Sidwell Friends community. I believe this is fundamental to understanding and effectively documenting both the needs as well as existing strengths of our community.
Upper School principal Mamadou Guèye anticipates that in her new role, Niazi will begin the process of better enabling faculty to teach Latin American Studies from a Latin American perspective, rather than a European one. “This is an important step in decolonizing our curriculum, which we need to do to incorporate voices and histories that are often excluded,” Guèye said.
According to Randolph, Niazi will offer vital expertise beyond curriculum development. “As a member of our all-School EJC team, Silvana Niazi is an expert on Hispanic and Latin American issues who we can turn to for advice on issues like recruiting and admitting more Latinx students, creating culturally appropriate Hispanic and Latin American celebrations and observations, and providing support to student affinity groups.”
The three endowed chairs will bolster the EJC efforts that Randolph will be leading, bringing specific expertise that will elevate the communities they represent and ensure that diverse perspectives are brought to bear on larger institutional issues. Together, they will ensure that the faculty and staff delivering content and programs are better equipped to “serve students as they are when they walk in the door,” Randolph said. “Diverse teams solve complex problems faster. If we have a more intentionally diverse team doing EJC work, we will be that much closer to ticking away at the complex problems.”
For Sidwell Friends faculty and students, understanding and addressing complex problems like institutional racism may be the work of a lifetime. The School will continue to look for new ways to welcome a wider community while adapting to the evolving needs of a diverse student body. And thanks to donors who contribute to the endowments for the EJC director and the chairs, the Sidwell Friends community will forever have a diverse team to guide them through this meaningful work.