Spence News

Kenji Yoshino Presents the 2024 Mary Frosch Lecture for Equity and Justice

Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at NYU School of Law and the faculty director of the Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, Kenji Yoshino presented this year’s Mary Frosch Lecture for Equity and Justice to Spence Upper School students and faculty. Yoshino’s most recent book, Say the Right Thing: How to Talk about Identity, Diversity, and Justice, which he co-authored with David Glasgow, served as a foundation of his lecture. The text focuses on allyship and navigating difficult conversations related to social issues.

“All of us have some advantages and disadvantages - it means that all of us can be both the givers and the recipients of allyship,” Yoshino told the audience, elaborating on the definition of an ally as one who leverages their advantages in support of others. “The problem is not that we lack the desire to become an ally. The problem is that we lack the ability to become an effective ally,” he said.

Yoshino outlined conversational traps that get in the way of effective allyship: avoidance, deflection, denial, and going on the attack. “If you can memorize these four behaviors, then you can be on the lookout for them. We can correct them in the conversations we’re trying to have with others.” Using real-world and personal examples, Yoshino shared tools that help acknowledge these traps. “We should be moving away from a cancel culture and toward a coaching culture.”

Included in coaching culture, Yoshino said, is asking questions when finding yourself in these types of conversations: as an ally, do I have proper motivations? Have I considered the burden I’m placing on an affected person? Students were specifically interested in what happens when we become a source of hurtful behavior: how do we turn that behavior around?

“Why are we so terrible on apologies that are sincere?” Yoshino reframed. “The reason is that we feel acutely vulnerable. If I apologize to you, I worry that I’ve admitted error… that you might publicly shame me.” Yoshino listed four R’s in sincerely apologizing: recognition, responsibility, remorse, and restitution, the last being an ability to ask oneself, how will I behave differently? “Past conduct is a promise of future conduct,” Yoshino explained. “Since I can’t talk my way out of something I acted my way into, I need to commit to a course of conduct that doesn’t include the bad behavior. Apologies are not just closing a book.”

Yoshino’s lecture offered practical and straightforward tools for building empathetic skills and new capabilities in allyship. Following the lecture, students had the opportunity to continue their conversations with Yoshino, further exploring the intersection of constitutional law and his work in diversity, equity, and inclusion.   

Established by the Board of Trustees upon her retirement in 2015, the Mary Frosch Lecture for Equity and Justice 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 and Leticia Smith-Evans Haynes '95.
A K-12 independent school in New York city, The Spence School prepares a diverse community of girls and young women for the demands of academic excellence and responsible citizenship.


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