“They Accepted You for a Reason”
Cardigan’s mission makes preparing its students for “responsible and meaningful lives in a global society” the School’s primary focus. As part of that effort, last January Cardigan’s administrative team made diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) a priority at all levels. Alumni Board member Malcolm Boyd ’03 saw an opportunity to involve alumni in the effort as well.
When asked about his Cardigan experience, Mr. Boyd’s response is for the most part positive; however, as a student of color, it wasn’t always easy attending a school in which he was one of only three Black students and in which there were no faculty of color. Nearly two decades later, Mr. Boyd has joined the School’s Alumni Board and wants to help change this experience. He is currently working to collect stories from Black alumni—through written stories, through panel discussions led by Black alumni, and through interactions with the boys at Cardigan today. The goal, through listening to these experiences, is simply to make Cardigan feel like “home” for all boys, no matter their race or where they come from. To kick off this effort, Director of Alumni Relations Jeremiah Shipman ’00 asked Mr. Boyd to share his Cardigan experience, in his own words.
How did you find out about Cardigan?
My mother was fortunate to learn about Cardigan's six-week Summer Session program from the parent of one of my classmates in the Bronx. She sold the idea to me by describing the extensive sports the program offers, while conveniently leaving out the fact that I would attend school each morning. The academic piece was not revealed to me until we were more than halfway through the seven-hour drive up to Cardigan. I begged and pleaded for her to turn around, all to no avail. During my six weeks in attendance, however, she barely heard from me and had a hard time convincing me to get back in the car and head home once the program was over. I knew then, as I know now, Cardigan is a special place. The following school year I enrolled at Cardigan as a rising seventh grader.
What were your greatest concerns or fears about moving from the Bronx to Canaan, NH?
My greatest concern, by far, was leaving my mother. As the only child of a single parent, we had become an unbreakable team. Not only was she my biggest cheerleader, but she also supported me through the ups and downs of life, school, family, and athletics. She helped me to become the man I am today, and I was unsure what my life would look like without her in it. Another huge concern was my ability to connect with my peers and make new friends who not only did not look like me but also came from different backgrounds than I did.
What would you tell a Black student arriving on campus today? What do you wish someone had told you?
First and foremost, be you! There is a reason Cardigan accepted you into this community, and although you may feel alone at the beginning, the beauty of this community lies in its diversity. Second, speak up and share your story with others. Not only will this help people better understand the world from your perspective, but if you also meticulously listen to others, you will learn things you never considered. Third, find your joy in trying new things: keep your room clean, ask for help, stay organized, play a sport, and take as many art classes as you can. Fourth, never forget where you come from. Write to your family often, be the respectful young man they raised you to be, and always be the first to say hello.
What was your first impression of Cardigan (the location, the campus, the people, etc.)?
My initial thought was, what in the name of fresh air and pine trees? To say that moving from the Bronx to Canaan was a huge adjustment would be an understatement. I wasn’t simply in a different town in a different state. I was in a different world; however, I quickly fell in love with the endless acres of fields, lakes, and mountains.
What was diversity at Cardigan like? How did you deal with being one of three Black students?
Global diversity at Cardigan is certainly one of its strengths. Sharing courses with students from around the world was an incredible learning experience for me and helped me broaden my cultural horizons. As one of three Black students, however, I did not see myself reflected in this array of diversity. There were times–such as when I was confused for another Black student or when I was questioned by white students about Black culture and traditions–when I struggled to feel known and seen. I spent a lot of my first year on the phone calling home to find my center. What ultimately helped me through this period was focusing on what I knew to be important and central to who I was, and continue to be–academics, athletics, and forming genuine relationships with others. Having a strong sense of purpose and self helped me to overcome the fact that I was different and celebrate what gave me strength.
Did you feel welcomed, respected, heard, understood, etc. in the community? Could you express yourself?
I often felt misunderstood in the community as a whole. The lack of Black faculty and students made me question a lot of my knowledge and experiences prior to coming to Cardigan. Being surrounded, taught, and mentored by people who did not look like me or come from my background was challenging in my influential years, and I found it hard to connect and establish an authentic sense of self.
Were you treated fairly?
I found my treatment at Cardigan to be fair, but not necessarily tailored to my individual needs as a Black man in this country. Overall, Cardigan has been molding its graduates to become extraordinary young men in a systematically unjust society. But as a man of color, my experiences and perceptions of that society are fundamentally different and require varying support. Cardigan should do a better job of embracing the individuality of their students by considering this when educating, mentoring, and supporting their students.
What were the most important things you learned at CMS?
As a student here, I learned to value the struggle. Many aspects of our School are demanding. Managing the rigorous school curriculum, competitive athletics, campus jobs, and general angst of growing up is a full docket for anyone. But mastering and overcoming these struggles showed me my true capability and made me want to set new, ambitious goals for myself. By far the most important thing I learned at Cardigan was to cherish the friendships that I made. So many people that I met during my time there have become my lifelong friends who have inspired and encouraged me in my later years.
In what ways could your CMS experience have been better?
Although the student body was globally diverse, the faculty at Cardigan was not. So, having faculty and/or mentors of color that could help me to process and navigate both my time at Cardigan and the world beyond would have gone a long way to improving the overall quality of my experience. I want to work with the School to improve this facet for other students of color.
Tell me about your DEI work with the Alumni Board.
Diversity, equality, and inclusion has been on the forefront of many initiatives throughout my career, and it was Cardigan that showed me its importance at an early age. Attending this School shaped me into the man I am today, which is why I am teaming up with the Alumni Board to share my experiences as a man of color and to encourage current/future/past students to continue to push these important conversations on representation and inclusiveness forward into the future.
What are your goals with this initiative?
We each have a unique perspective on the world that stems from the way in which we have lived and learned from each other. Without diversity and a clear emphasis on the value that each one of us brings to the table–as opposed to merely tolerating these differences–we lose the ability to achieve the kind of change that is needed to make Cardigan a place that delivers equality and opportunity to everyone.
To me it is important to understand that each student has not just an individual right, but also a responsibility, to offer his contributions to Cardigan. My goals are simple:
- Begin and support these hard conversations on diversity, equality, and inclusiveness amongst students, faculty, and alumni.
- Become an example of how to use the time at Cardigan to appreciate one another’s contributions through education, sports, and independence.
- Represent Cardigan’s community by bringing together potential students and faculty from varied backgrounds and diverse locations.
Collectively, our goal is to encourage conversations in the community about what it means to be a Cardigan boy for everyone, no matter your race or background, and hopefully diversify the entire community from the faculty and staff to the Board of Trustees.
To get involved in this effort and share your story, please contact Director of Alumni Relations Jeremiah Shipman ’00 at email@example.com.