Over two consecutive weeks last half, around 100 pupils and staff gathered to hear a dialogue between Etonians who represent minority ethnic groups. Pupils felt it was important that we have conversations about diversity and acceptance at Eton, and appreciate the voices of ethnic minority pupils.
The first Experiences talk saw four Year 13 pupils speak about their experiences of being Black at Eton, reflecting that though their time had been ‘overwhelmingly positive’, they remembered occasional instances of prejudice.
A week later, seven pupils ranging from Year 11 to Year 13 spoke about their Asian heritage and identity, representing a wide range of countries from the Asian diaspora, including Singapore, China, Japan and India. It was a powerful start to a series of four talks ’emphasising the value of community allyship’ and hoping to open up a dialogue on racism following Eton’s 2020 race survey and report.
Ivan A, who joined Eton this year as an Orwell Scholar, organised and chaired both events, encouraging pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds to share their honest opinions. He explained, ‘it’s important that we feel comfortable to hold difficult yet vital conversation on race. I wanted to provide a platform for other ethnic minority students to educate through the power of conversation.’
The format was a mixture of prepared speeches from pupils, during which Tyrese G read a poem he had written, before the panellists took questions from the audience. It was encouraging to see pupils being so open about their thoughts on race, and that so many people from across the school turned up to hear their stories.
The conversations covered Eton’s African and Caribbean Society, and the growing East Asian and South Asian Societies, and what elements of school life could most improve in terms of openness and acceptance.
It was clear that lots of pupils thought educating younger year groups on the effect of prejudice and the history behind racial slurs would help combat microaggressions and instances of racist remarks. Pupils discussed mentorship and how they feel they can provide guidance to younger Black and Asian students struggling with their identity or racism.
A key part of the talks was the 2020 race report, based on a survey of the whole school in the summer of 2020. While it was published last year, hearing the human stories behind the statistics of racism was incredibly powerful, and all the pupils speaking were commended for their bravery in doing so with honesty and hope.
Like many schools and institutions, Eton is not totally free from prejudice, but events and conversations like these have the power to initiate real change, and through education and guidance it is clear that there is hope and appetite to do so.
This half there will be two more talks in the Eton Experiences series: The Muslim Experience and the Jewish Experience.
Thanks go to all the pupils for presenting and fielding questions, to Ivan A for pulling together panellists and chairing the talks, to teachers Mrs Osbourne (H-EO) and Mr Isama (AUI) for their role in organising, and to all those who came along to hear much-needed discussions.