On September 16, Michéle Stephenson, film maker and former rights attorney, discussed her documentary American Promise.
The documentary explores the experiences of two boys of color in their pursuit of a "good" education. Michéle Stephenson and her husband Joe Brewster followed their son Idris and his best friend, Seun, for thirteen years as they navigated their way through Dalton School, one of the most prestigious, and predominantly white private schools located in New York City. American Promise complicates and engages how issues of race and meritocracy shaped the trajectory of each boy from preparatory school to graduation.
Prior to the screening I was able to sit down with Stephenson along with a few students, staff, and faculty members and students to discuss the film over lunch. Stephenson started the conversation by asking us to contextualize Colgate for her. Most of our comments were centered on Colgate's racial climate and how issues of race are implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, weaved throughout our courses and social interactions. Through that conversation we were able to highlight some of the issues students of color face attending an institution like Colgate University.
After watching the film and listening to Stephenson's Q&A, I found the parallels between Dalton and Colgate apparent and applicable to addressing issues of race on campus. Dalton and Colgate are both predominantly white institutions that are filled with racial bias and micro aggressions that are pertinent to address.
While the film was great and expressed how race remains a pertinent issue, I found the lack of intersectionality throughout the film made it limiting. During the Q&A, a student asked how young girls navigated preparatory schools like Dalton. Stephenson expressed that while academically they perform well, there are other ways in which these issues effect young girls of color which I wish was explored more. I also found that class wasn't addressed throughout the film. As a family that belongs to middle class, how boys of color navigate schools such as Dalton or Colgate differ from boys of color belonging to the lower class.
- Natasha Torres