This year’s Mary Frosch Lecture for Equity and Justice was particularly momentous as the lecture brought back to Spence one of Ms. Frosch’s own students, Leticia Smith-Evans Haynes ’95, to discuss the complex history of efforts to achieve racial equity in the United States–a topic made even more timely given the events of the prior day, January 6, in the Capitol.
Smith-Evans Haynes is currently the Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity at Williams College and she recently served as a member of Spence’s Anti-Racism Task Force. Her presentation, “In Pursuit of Racial Justice,” reflected on her more than two decades as a civil rights lawyer, advocate, educator and administrator. True to Frosch’s example, Smith-Evans Haynes has “dedicated a large amount of her practice advocating for racial minority groups, LGBTQ+ rights and immigrants,” shared senior Ada C. in her introduction of the guest speaker, who worked to desegregate schools and improve access to higher education amongst racial minorities at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund prior to her role at Williams.
In opening the virtual assembly, Head of School Bodie Brizendine saluted beloved Spence English teacher Mary Frosch, noting that she is someone who “believed then, and believes now, in the hope of every young scholar in their collective potential to change the world.” “I think it’s important to pause and acknowledge this moment in our history,” Brizendine further reflected. “Yesterday’s obscene events represent everything we know as wrong and dangerous, everything, in fact, that Mary Frosch fought and continues to fight against.”
Throughout the lecture, Smith-Evans Haynes reflected on past and present efforts to bring about racial justice, which she defined as “the systemic fair treatment of people of all races resulting in equitable outcomes and opportunities for all.”
The unrest in the United States Capitol the day before gave Smith-Evans Haynes the opportunity to deepen her remarks, as she emphasized that advancing racial equity is not possible without first exploring our history. “It’s critical to have an appreciation for the significance of what race means in this country.” She also reflected on the language we use to speak about our past, noting her purposeful use of the terms “his story, her story and their story” to demonstrate the many people, stories and perspectives that have contributed to the history of race in America.
“This country endured nearly four centuries—or 400 years—of legalized racial segregation,” Smith-Evans Haynes underscored. “For decades … advocates engaged in vigorous, carefully planned and thought out campaigns to eradicate what we know of as Jim Crow laws and dismantle the legally mandated system of racial segregation in public facilities.”
Despite these efforts, “the United States Supreme Court consistently affirmed legally mandated racial segregation.” Smith-Evans Haynes cited numerous cases as examples of this, including Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896), which upheld the notion of “separate but equal” facilities based on race, and Lum vs. Rice (1927), in which the Supreme Court decided in favor of separate school facilities for white and non-white students.
It was not until 1954 in the landmark Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education that “separate but equal” facilities based on race were abolished and schools were integrated. However, even with this ruling, along with the civil rights movement that followed, Smith-Evans Haynes emphasized that change has been slow to take place. “Racial and ethnic disparities continue, in all walks of life, particularly in education.”
As she concluded her remarks, Smith-Evans Haynes focused on the questions, “What do we do and what can we do?” to advance racial equity.
“Racial justice ... has to be achieved through deliberate action to dismantle problematic systems,” she shared, encouraging students to be “intentional about making sure that those who have been historically oppressed have a voice and facilitate collaboration, productive dialogue and deep explorations for social change.”
“We cannot be afraid to ask difficult questions. We cannot be afraid to accept history. We cannot be afraid to act.”
Established by the Board of Trustees upon her retirement in 2015, The Mary Frosch Justice and Equity Lecture brings in an annual speaker and salutes Mary’s deep and enduring dedication to equity throughout her more than 30 years of teaching at Spence. Past speakers have included Jane Kim, Stanley Nelson, Marcia Smith, Khalil Muhammad, Alina Das and Tanya Coke.