And that’s just a small taste of what it’s like to be a Black student at Mount Saint Dominic Academy in Caldwell, dozens of alumni say.
Mount Saint Dominic Academy – sometimes called “the Mount” on campus – is a four-year Catholic prep school in Caldwell that serves female students in grades 9 to 12. It serves a vital function in a world where gender bias still exists, administrators say.
“An all-girls’ education remains relevant in a society where gender equity is not yet a given,” an administrator told Patch in 2018. “The Mount community fosters an atmosphere of inquiry, self-advocacy and critical thinking, and we are committed to preparing young women for a future where they will excel as culturally competent, social justice-minded, empowered learners and leaders.”
Social justice has many components, however. And one of them – racial sensitivity – still has some catching up to do at the Mount, according to Chelsea Green.
Green, who recently earned a degree from American University in Washington D.C. after graduating from Mount Saint Dominic Academy in 2016, now splits her time between West Orange and Virginia. But some memories of her old alma mater in Caldwell still sting, she told Patch.
Together with about 10 other alumni, including another West Orange resident who graduated Mount Saint Dominic Academy, Green has been compiling stories and quotes from current and former Black students.
She offered a sample of some of the experiences they’ve been sharing:
- “The head of schools to my face told me that her and multiple teachers see me as defensive and always want to fight.”
- “A religion teacher (who currently a Dominican sister) showed the class a news story about police doing work in a local neighborhood. She then went on to tell the class that the police were the only fathers to those Black boys.”
- “A girl told me that she almost wasn’t my friend because she thought my parents were illegal.”
- “[Said] to the faces of multiple Black and Hispanic girls: ‘Your parents are stealing jobs.'”
- “Students were using the n-word in songs during prom and teachers did nothing about it.”
- “A student used the word “n***a” on Instagram and was asked respectfully to take it down by a Black student. The Black student was then called a “black b***h” on social media. This was brought to the head of school’s attention specifically with screenshots for proof and context. The student was told to read a book called ‘The Underground Railroad.’ There was no further follow up with the Black student. We were not informed of how the administration intended to prevent such hate speech from occurring again.”
- “I was called into the dean’s office and they reminded me that ‘the Mount has a no violence policy.’ I never had a fight, nor threatened to fight anyone.”
- “I wore a Black Girl Magic sweater for dress down day and I received detention because it was an excluding message and I wouldn’t remove it because I did not have a shirt under it.”
- “A student told a group of Black girls that their natural hair, in its textured state, was ugly, made us look homeless and unkempt. The administration knew about this and did nothing about it. The student then shared that she thought we would jump her, which was never true, but we were called into the office and were told that there is no violence at Mount Saint Dominic Academy.”
Other students said they face a chronic lack of trust that their white peers are granted without a second thought.
“My best friend’s mother had cancer, so she decided to not go on the senior Disney trip,” a student wrote. “When she wanted to let the deans know, I went with her in support. They saw us and we were met with ‘What did you two do now?'”
“Despite the rude welcome, she continued to tell them she was not going on the trip due to her mother having cancer,” the student recalled. “We were met with ‘How do we know you’re telling the truth?'”
“They told us that her mother needed to come into the school so that they could see with their eyes that she was sick, and she was unable to because she was in the hospital. They didn’t believe someone’s mother was sick with cancer and needed proof of it. Why? They refused to believe her mother was sick until graduation when her mother was brought into the gym in a wheelchair, blankets covering her and clearly losing weight.”
BLACK ALUMNAE: ‘A CALL TO ACTION’
While Black girls at the school have been having these experiences for years, the issue gained new life when the school posted a social media message condemning the “horrific killing of George Floyd” earlier this month, Green said.
The post generated a comment section backlash from some of its Black alumnae, who said that the school needs to walk the walk – not talk the talk – when it comes to racial justice. Soon, the graduates began reaching out to school administrators and demanding change.
After going back and forth via email and meeting with school administrators, the alumnae offered a list of demands on June 9.
“While we appreciate the expediency of your response to each of us, the students of past and present, it is insufficient and falls short of the call to action we expect and believe Mount Saint Dominic Academy is capable of,” the alumnae wrote.
“This is not an isolated issue,” they continued. “The issue of racism, micro and macro-aggressions and implicit bias at Mount Saint Dominic spans well over 24 years. The time for the administration and the Dominican sisters who founded the school to act is now.”
Their demands included:
‘OPENING OUR EYES TO SEE’
According to school administrators, the voices of their alumnae are powerful – and they won’t be ignored.
“We have made mistakes, and have been blind to what has been within our sight,” Sister Frances Sullivan wrote in a June 26 letter to the school community. “For this, I sincerely apologize.”
According to Sullivan, administrators are listening and taking action. For example, the school immediately appointed a pair of alumnae, Sandy Castor (class of 2001) and Ghilianie Soto (class of 2008), to its board of trustees. Both were among the signatories on the June 9 letter to Mount Saint Dominic Academy.
Other steps will include:
- Mandatory education and trainings for the board of trustees, faculty, staff and students
- Holding “open forums” on racial justice with the school community
- Increase the diversity of students, faculty and staff
- Creating a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Alumnae Council under the direction of the Alumnae Office
- Creating a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion subcommittee within the Board of Trustees
According to Sullivan, these steps – while important – are just the beginning of a new era at the Mount.
“We recognize these steps are just the beginning and look forward to collaborative and intentional change,” Sullivan wrote. “Thank you for opening our eyes to see, our minds to embrace you and your feelings, and our hearts to begin to bring about the healing and change that is required.”
Send local news tips and correction requests to email@example.com
Don’t forget to visit the Patch Caldwells Facebook page. Learn more about posting announcements or events to your local Patch site. Sign up for Patch email newsletters.