Academy’s Race Problem

An Ambitious Mission

Albuquerque Academy is not racist, or so they claim. If you scroll to the bottom of the school’s website, you will find that “Albuquerque Academy is an independent, college-preparatory day school for students in grades 6 through 12 and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, creed, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or disability in admissions, the administration of its educational policies, tuition assistance, athletics, and other school-administered programs.” I contest this whole-heartedly. While the intention is there, the execution is not. Not only is our school as an institution not racism-free, but our school as a community is far from it as well.
One of the main reasons I chose to go to Albuquerque Academy was because of the inclusive community it presented. My elementary school, in hindsight, was the worst place for a little Indian-American kid. All of the more than 30 teachers were white. We learned that the cause of the Civil War was states’ rights and that Malcolm X was a radical criminal. Ads for Albuquerque Academy seemed like another world. They featured smiling, Ivy-bound kids who looked like me and a full curriculum with accurate readings of the history. Fifth-grade-me was ecstatic when he got that acceptance package in the mail. Five years later, I realized I was deceived.

Institutional Diversity

Percentage of Students of Color at AA over time. Graph Courtesy of AA

Over my years here, I have come to see these diversity claims as exaggerated. As the graph shows, we have improved dramatically since 1984 in terms of the percentage of our student body that identifies as minorities, a figure now touted at 58% in admissions literature. My conversations with Mr. Gloyd and Ms. Puente also demonstrate the complexities of collecting and evaluating such data.1.5% of students solely identify their race as Black. However, 4.5% of students identify as Black when you include multicultural and multiracial children. The city of Albuquerque is about 3.31% Black. For Native Americans, about 1.2% of students identify solely as Native American while 4.6% of students use Native American as one of their many racial identifiers. Albuquerque is about 4.7% Native American. These figures are encouraging and appear to be on an upward trend. However, despite the relative success in recruiting students of color, our school is far from being prejudice free.
A lack of institutional diversity can still affect the well-being of the student body. One student, who preferred to stay anonymous, told me “I do think the lack of diversity impacts me. Being [one of the] only fully Black kids in our grade does suck sometimes. It’s like a lot of my problems, whether they be about hair texture or other things, [are] hard to talk about because no one can relate to me or truly understand how I feel.” The dichotomy between the school as an institution and the school as a community is critical. While both can be problematic, it seems the school is making improvements as an institution each and every year, with attempts at improving diversity and inclusion, while the school as a community is not.
The community’s prejudice, however, ties directly to the school as an institution and as a center for learning. Prejudice is taught, not innate and can also be taught against. The two issues of prejudice in the community and prejudice in our institution are inherently linked and cannot be separated.

Problems in Curriculum

While on the surface Albuquerque Academy does not discriminate against race, the culture that the institution is built on is problematic. We claim to be different from those American institutions that are built on a history of racism: the police department, healthcare, criminal justice, and many more. Albuquerque Academy is one of the best high schools in the country, but the way we are perceived is elitist and screams “white privilege.” Talk to any APS student and you will hear that Albuquerque Academy is for “the rich white kids,” and that’s partially our fault. We are responsible for the uninviting culture we sport.
Take the Asian community for example. Asian people at our school are not exempt from bigotry. In history class, we learn that Asian countries are poor, but we never learn why. It’s not until sophomore world history that we learn that Asian and African modern economic problems stem from European and American imperialism. American exceptionalism is overtly present in the way the school teaches history. In 6th grade, I was taught that the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima were the only way to end a war between America and the people of Japan. I remember having an in-class discussion about whether or not it was justified – as if killing millions of people is ever justified. As 11-year-olds we were taught that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a way to restore peace and save lives, rather than the spectacle of genocide that they were. These are just a few examples of problematic treatment of race and history that I have encountered in my own classes at this school.
One of the scariest days every year for each little brown boy and girl in this country is 9/11. We’re told by our parents to stay alert. We’re supposed to hide our cultural identifiers. During history class on this day in the U.S., many feel the need to hide their faces in the back of the classroom. It is no different at the Academy. Many students learn that 9/11 was an attack on our beloved country by a group of religious extremists. Academy teachers certainly deliver a better message but still fail to counter the dominant narrative. What we fail to learn is how that day amplified Islamophobia in our country. Muslim comedian Hasan Minhaj said, “We felt like our love for this country was under attack.” What we fail to learn is how Ronald Reagan and the CIA funded the terrorists that ultimately committed the horrific acts on 9/11. It wasn’t until sophomore year that I stopped blaming my own for the events on 9/11.

A Problematic Culture

The community in general has similar xenophobic tendencies that are far more blatant and malintended than those of the institution. Friends of mine have been mocked for “eating dog.” Bigots are quick to point out how inhumane Chinese dog eating practices are, but ignore the American agricultural industry. The bias towards white culture at our school and in our society is obvious. The hidden goal is not to stop inhumane dog eating practice but rather to paint one culture as primitive compared to another. Coronavirus has only amplified animosity towards the Asian community, with many on campus choosing to point the blame towards anyone from the continent. I’ve heard many refer to coronavirus as the “Chinese-flu” or the “Chinese-virus,” imitating former President Trump’s words. Many of my own classmates have taken to social media posting conspiracies that coronavirus was lab-made by the Chinese as a bioterrorism weapon. People are using any means possible to point the blame towards Asian people.
In a similar vein, the n-word is no joke. It’s a word that denigrates Black people and has historically been used to identify them as personal property. The word is toxic, offensive, and hurtful. In my opinion, and as I wrote previously, the word should be restricted to use by Black Americans. Yet, non-Black Academy students throw it around like it’s sarcasm. I’ve heard white students saying it to each other in locker rooms, hallways, and parking lots. It’s not an uncommon occurrence. The lack of Black students and faculty likely contributes to this. There’s no one that holds people accountable for misusing this harmful word. While we certainly have gotten better about using the word, many students still use it frequently. While the faculty may be blind to this, the fact that Academy students feel that it is OK to use the word is partially our as a school’s fault for not properly educating them on the word.
In recent years, some students have sported “Blue Lives Matter” merchandise like it’s a fashion statement. Blue Lives Matter is a protest to Black Lives Matter and a symbol of hate. After the death of George Floyd, some students were quick to point out his past transgressions as justification for his murder. Classmates ridicule others who are trying to be a part of the solution. While many in our community are activists for race issues, the number that actively contribute to these issues is appalling. Many express the old “13 percent of the population, but 50 percent of the crime,” chestnut referring to a cherry-picked statistic on Black crime, as a valid reason for racial disparities in arrests and police murders. The message that statistic is conveying is that Black people are inherently more crime-prone than other Americans, and confuses a trend tied to poverty with a trend tied to race.

Community Responsibility

Albuquerque Academy must not only hold students accountable for blatant racism, but they must also incorporate things like racial bias amongst policing and harmful stereotypes into their curriculum.
The school should exert more effort freeing up money for financial aid for children who aren’t as fortunate. They should look to students of color for advice on how to make the community more accepting. There are so many routes Albuquerque Academy could take to at least begin to remedy the problem, but as of now, they have done little to nothing.
I would like to make two drastic suggestions to the administration that can be made immediately. One being to ditch admission testing and reconstruct the process altogether. I propose that the administration adopt a lottery system with a quota. This quota would align with the race demographics of the city at the time. Admissions testing is an unfair and inaccurate way of judging intelligence and compatibility. A lottery system ensures that those who are underprivileged are not shot down by admissions testing where they are put up against those who have had access to far more resources. Admissions testing unfairly favors white and rich students. We have a responsibility to give a good education and opportunity to those who have been denied it all their life.
The second suggestion is to stop playing the national anthem at school events. The Star-Spangled banner had been edited immensely before it came to the form we know it today. One lyric that was removed was No refuge could save the hireling and slave. The lyric was meant to threaten African Americans who fought for the British in exchange for their freedom during the war of 1812. While the lyric was removed, the anthem was still written to glorify a country which at the time enslaved people for the color of their skin. The very institution the anthem was built upon was founded on the practice of slavery. It screams a forced loyalty to a country that has not ensured fair or just treatment to everyone.

Accountability and Aspirations

Head of school Julianne Puente told me that “we do not have an obligation to help everyone,” and that she will help “the children in her sphere.” She went on to explain that we did not have the resources available to do so. While that may be true, I vehemently disagree with her original statement. Everybody has an obligation to help everyone else that they can. The sphere that Ms. Puente is referring to is a sphere of elitism. What we should be doing is widening that sphere. However, we are no better than anyone simply because we can afford a fancy institution. We are no better than anyone because the color of our skin is lighter.
This issue too is very nuanced because the school simply does not have the funds to help everybody, but we cannot operate on the idea that we must only help the people in our “sphere.” In fact, Ms. Puente said, “The Academy will always fall short of its mission.” She’s right.
Albuquerque Academy claims to be a school of acceptance and implies lack of bigotry. As a student of color who has attended the school for almost six years now, this is far from the truth. The administration must do what they can to address the issues: hold students more accountable, ditch American exceptionalism in the classroom, change the narrative and stigma associated with the school, and adopt a fairer process for admitting students. For now, we as a community can work together to stop hatred and bigotry. We can hold others accountable and, at times, even hold ourselves accountable. We can make minorities feel included and more comfortable to simply exist at Albuquerque Academy. Maybe then, we can claim that we do “not discriminate on the basis of race.”