Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Project, in April 2021 undergraduate student Gabrielle Villadolid (C’21) interviewed Chad Evans, assistant principal of formation at Magis Center for Equity and Inclusion in Saint Ignatius College Preparatory (SI), San Francisco, California, United States. In this interview, Evans discusses aspects of racial justice at Magis.
Would you mind re-introducing yourself, telling me a little bit about what you’re currently doing and what your connection to Magis is?
My name is Chad Evans, I am an assistant principal here at St. Ignatius. I’ve been a religious studies teacher; this is my eighteenth year at SI. I’ve been an assistant principal for the last five years, and my title is assistant principal for formation. And so there are three areas of the school that I work most closely with that I supervise directly—campus ministry, community service, and then the Magis Center for Equity and Inclusion. So, my primary interaction with Magis at this point is that the director and assistant director are part of my team, who I work with everyday.
And pre-pandemic, how often did you visit the Magis Center’s physical location during your time at SI?
Yeah, I would say in the first decade or so that I worked at SI, I probably went to the Magis Center a couple of times a semester, not very often, and then once I started in this position as assistant principal, in the Magis Office daily. Sometimes for meetings with adults, sometimes I also help out doing after school tutoring. I’ve been involved with the college tours, so different events going on, Magis meet and greets, some of those things. So pre-pandemic, I would say everyday, more than once.
What were your reasons for visiting the Magis Center? You already kind of spoke on them, but if you can elaborate on any personal, social, professional slash academic reasons?
Mhm. Yeah, so certainly personal and social. My first year in this position, Ana Hernandez was the director of the Magis program and Ana and I became friends very quickly, and so I would stop by and talk with her, and you know, just check in with her. And certainly that is true when Mr. Joo and then Ms. Hernandez worked in the office. They are people who I have a lot of affinity and affection for, so I would certainly stop by just to chat, but much more often professionally I was there for meetings. I was there to support the programming. I was there to support the staff, right. I was there to work with students.
And thinking back to when you would go into the Magis Center physically, what did you notice about the space, and how did this make you feel?
Yeah. One of the things that I noticed about the space right was that, for our BIPOC students, the Magis Center was home on campus. That it was a space on campus where many of our BIPOC students felt was a safe place, was a place where they were known and seen and loved and they could be more fully themselves, maybe than they felt that they could be. You know, in the larger Student Center or in the hallways or even in classes, that was one thing that I noticed right away. It was as a classroom teacher that I would see sometimes BIPOC students who I experienced in class as somewhat quiet or reserved much more, sort of outgoing or engaged in the Magis office space or when they were with their friends and with a group and, you know, an office or a Center on campus that was fundamentally dedicated to creating a safe space. I could definitely feel that.
I would also notice that there are many students who would use the Magis office as a social hub. And there were many students who would use the Magis office as a quiet place to do homework, or even just a place to sit down and, you know, eat lunch or whatever. You know from being at SI that we just don’t have enough room for all of our students and all of our teachers—space is really at a premium. And so there are always students who get here early and sort of find their quiet space inn the Student Center and start doing their homework and the Magis office is definitely one of those places for students where, you know, “Hey, during resource period I’m going to go to the Magis office and just do homework for an hour” or, you know, “I’m going to go and just sort of hang out before school and maybe chat with friends,” but it’s a physical sort of home, right, for so many students.
Could you describe what your participation in Magis activities was like? And how did your participation make you feel?
Yeah, the activities that I was most frequently engaged in were certainly college tours. I’ve been on the SoCal college tour. I’ve been on some of the local Bay Area college tours, so just being another adult chaperone and supporting students in those experiences. Being actively involved with our parent affinity groups, so the African American and Latino Parents Association (AALPA). Going to AALPA meetings monthly, developing those relationships with parents, especially for me, when I go to an AALPA meeting, I really don’t speak very much, but it’s important for me just to hear what parents are saying—“Hey, these are some of the concerns we have or these are some of the things that our students are facing.” Because often times I find that some of our students, especially for some of our students who might feel like SI is a primarily white institution, it’s maybe not a place where I feel comfortable being my whole self. Some of those students are maybe going to be a little more reticent to say, “Hey, this would work better for me if it works like this” or “I could use this support.” And so for me, AALPA meetings are really important for me to go and to hear parents talk about things that sometimes their students don’t feel comfortable to talk about, right. Yeah.
So, certainly college tours. I did—I haven’t been involved as much in college workshops, but I’ve been to some of those events, the things that Ms. Vaccaro does. Certainly after school tutoring, so I was a regular Wednesday afternoon tutor in the Magis office. Going to the Magis meet and greets at the beginning of the year, just introducing students, “Hey, this is who I am, this is what I do to support you.” Going to AALPA and SIPAC meetings the day of frosh orientation and meeting all the parents and introducing myself and saying I’m here to help you.
I would also say one of the highlights for me every year is the Magis triclub graduation celebration in May. That’s something I always make a part of my, you know, it’s just really important to go to that and to celebrate our students. You know, I think since you left, Gabby, we may have done this your senior year—you probably went to Pasko or are familiar with Pasko over the last decade. But in the last four of five years, we’ve also done a Black Excellence showcase in February as part of Black History Month. And then ALAS does a Latin Excellence showcase in September during Latino heritage month, and so I help support those events in their planning, but then I also go to those events, so I would also say it’s also really important for me to participate in the celebratory events that happened through the Magis office, not just kind of the academic or the sociocultural support, but also some of the like, graduation and the showcases. Those are really important to be there and just to remind our students that they’re seen and loved and celebrated.
What impressions do you have about how other students, faculty, and other members of the SI Community interact with the Magis space and activities?
Yeah, you know it’s interesting. I think for many folks, especially—I shouldn’t say for many folks, I will speak for myself. As a white person coming into SI—I did not go to SI, I wasn’t connected with the school before I started working here—I didn’t have much of a sense of what the Magis office was for, I knew that it was a safe place for BIPOC students. But I didn’t feel like, oh, those are things that I should go to, or those are things that I should support, it wasn’t something that I went out of my way to be engaged with. And I would say for some of our white students and probably for some of our white faculty, there’s a similar sense of like, oh well, I don’t, I don’t really, you know, engage with those programs firsthand, so you know, I don’t know if I should go. So I think there’s a little bit of a reluctance initially on the part of some of our students and some of our faculty, about just going to either events or walking into the office and saying hey, what goes on here, who can I meet, right. And I think part of that comes from the desire to be sensitive, to say you know, this is a safe space for BIPOC students, and so I don’t want it to be overrun by white faculty or by white students.
And at the same time, you know, at the same time, almost every year there’s at least one senior who identifies as white who finds that their friends and their community is in the Magis office and that’s where they wanna hang out and feel like, yeah, this is totally normal, this is totally a place where I’m seen and accepted, it’s not, I don’t feel uncomfortable being in here. So I think for many of our white faculty or white students, there’s kind of a sense of, oh, that’s not for me. But I think that’s— from my experience, that’s coming from the individual, that’s not a feeling that’s coming from folks in the Magis office and saying, oh, you’re not welcome here, this isn’t for you.
So, in light of your experience with Magis, what do the Magis Center’s current descriptors, equity and inclusion mean to you?
Yeah, Gabby, I think when I think of equity, I think of structures. I think of, do we have structures in place when it comes to screening, recruiting, accepting incoming students; screening, recruiting, hiring faculty? Do we have fair, transparent, equitable structures to bring people in? Do we have fair, equitable, transparent structures in place when it’s time for a person to leave? When we either have to ask a student to go, when we have to say to a faculty member, we're not going to rehire you, right.
So when I think about equity, I think about those policies and procedures, those structures that are in place. I also think about when we offer acceptance to an eighth grader who has maybe relatively low test scores or relatively low academic strength coming in in terms of their elementary school experience, do we have structures in place to support their success? And if we don’t, are we being fair to them when we accept them, right? Is that an equitable structure if we’re not going to actually give you the tools that you need to survive here? The analogy I would use is, if you have three people who need to take a swimming test for PE, and one has done a lot of swimming and has been on a swim team, and one knows how to swim, and one has never been in the water before, would we just throw all three of those people in the the pool and say, okay, now swim to the other end, I’ll time you? If we did, that would be foolish of us to expect that that’s fair, or that somebody won’t get harmed. And I think a similar thing is true, when we accept students at SI, there are some students who are going to come in and say, oh, I’m totally ready for this, I can swim to the other end, no problem. And there are some students who are going to say, wow, I’m in way over my head. And so when I think of the Magis office, I think that’s a way that we try to provide support for students who might otherwise really struggle, right, that says you can do this, you can get to the other end of the pool, and we’re going to help you give your full effort, we’re going to help you with some supports that will make it more likely that you’ll get to the other end of the pool. So when I think of equity, I think about structures and policies.
When I think about inclusion, I think about culture, what does it feel like, right, not just what’s on paper, but what does it feel like. Right now, we have about 14,060 high school students and we are just over fifty percent, like 50.5% BIPOC students and about 49.5% students who identify as white. But when I ask my BIPOC students in closed settings what’s the racial or ethnic makeup of SI, they say, “Oh, it’s probably ⅔, three quarters white.” SI is almost exactly half students who identify as white, but for many of our BIPOC students, it feels white. It feels dominated by whiteness. It feels dominated by white culture. That’s everything from who gets celebrated at awards, who’s on varsity sports teams, what students are in our publications, what students feel confident speaking in class on the very first day and what students maybe say, you know, I’m not sure if I should speak up. Our faculty is about 70% white. So that’s a little bit better than the national average, nationally about 80% of school teachers are white, but it is nowhere near where we want to be and it is nowhere near where our students need us to be.
Representation is really important, and our students should see themselves in the leaders in their classrooms. They should see themselves in the curriculum. And I think those are significant areas of growth for us, and I also think that those are efforts that go a long way to creating an inclusive culture—creating a feeling among students that is, SI is my home, my full self is welcome here. Right? Do I see myself represented in the activities that I’m most passionate about? If I’m a black student, do I see black teachers and black heroes represented in the curriculum? If I’m an Asian student, if I’m a woman, am I seeing the voices of Asian women in the curriculum? Am I being taught—is there a chance I could go through SI and not have a single non-white teacher? Probably. I would say, for some of our students, they might go for years at SI and not have a single non-white teacher, right. So I think there are—when I think about inclusion, I think more about culture and how does it feel, do people feel like I belong here, I am welcome and celebrated here, when I think about equity I think about structures and policies, right, that are transparent and fair, you know.
And connected to your reflection of Magis descriptors, what does the actual term “magis” mean to you?
Yeah. Yeah, so Ignatius used the word magis meaning the more, the greater good, what is the most significant thing to do. You know, Ignatius said if you had to choose between good and evil there’s no choice there, nobody would choose evil knowing that it’s evil. What’s hard for us is when we have to choose between two things that we know are both good. And so, he said when you’re confronted with that choice, you choose the magis, the more, not the more, you know, powerful one or whatever, but the place where you can give yourself more fully, the place where you are more fully alive, where you will have a bigger impact, right. So when I think about Magis in light of equity and inclusion, I think, where is that place where my... time, my energy can have the most significant impact on the well being of our students, right? Yeah.
So what connection, if any, do you perceive between equity and inclusion and magis? And you already spoke of the term magis, so maybe more of the Magis Center?
Yeah. Certainly the Magis Center is a place that feeds both of those goals of equity and inclusion, equity in the sense that the Magis office is one of those primary ways that we try to put structures in place to support all students’ success here, especially our students who may be first generation college bound, who may be traditionally underrepresented in higher education, who may have significant financial need. So all of those things that we named, the college tour, the college workshops, the sociocultural events are structures that we put in place, right, to say whoever you are, whatever your previous experience is, we want you to thrive here at SI and have the full SI experience. But I also think that those spaces, whether it’s the physical space of the Magis office or if it’s the more emotional space of larger cultural events on campus, those help create a culture of inclusion. Those help create a space where students feel like hey, I grew up in a daily where I was trained to do Nicaraguan folk dance, but there’s no place at SI that says hey, that’s cool, share that with us—the Latin excellence showcase does. Here’s a place where I can bring something that I’m passionate about, something that’s a part of my identity, I can bring it to life and share it, right, so I think the Magis Center goes a long way towards helping create both equitable structures, but also a culture of inclusion, a feeling of belonging for our BIPOC students.
Thank you. What connection do you see between equity and inclusion and specifically racial justice as presented to you in the Magis context?
Yeah, obviously a tremendous connection, right? In terms of numbers, we talked about diversity—SI has made significant progress in diversifying its student body in the time that I’ve been here and had been making significant progress in diversifying our faculty as well. The question is, with more than 50% of our students identifying as BIPOC, do those students feel that SI is their home? Do they feel like they are fully welcomed, celebrated, belonging here? I think, especially the murder of George Floyd, the recent uptick in the incidence of Asian hatred-hate crimes, those are all places where BIPOC students have very clearly asked, “We need you to publicly speak up, saying we are a part of your community, we love you and support you.” I sometimes hear white students, white teachers and administrators say, “Do we really have to make a statement condemning hate crimes? We’re a Catholic school, of course we condemn hate crimes!” And are there students, are there parents or [are] there teachers in our buildings who feel vulnerable, attacked, excluded? And that is totally contrary to our mission. It’s essential for us to make a statement to our BIPOC faculty and students and parents that say you belong here, this is a place where you’re safe, this is a place where you’re safe to be you. This is a place where you don’t have to conform to some sense of white culture. This is a place where we see you, we love you, we know you, we welcome you, right.
So there’s a tremendous link between our efforts in equity and inclusion and racial justice. Primarily, the ways that we are called as an institution to use our privilege, and certainly that comes with our whiteness, but it also comes with our financial standing, the fact that we’ve been here for almost 170 years, our role in San Francisco, like all of those things—we have tremendous privilege at SI. And so there’s a real responsibility for us to use that privilege to work for justice, and there’s no more pressing justice issue in our culture right now than racial justice. You know, Pedro Arrupe said that we ought to equip students to engage with the most challenging issues of our time. And I think, you know, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the murder of George Floyd, the protests that we saw, not only last summer but throughout this year, those are place where, you know, it’s not my job as a teacher to tell my students what they should think or feel about Black Lives Matter. But it is absolutely my job to ask them to consider carefully, to pray about it, to educate themselves, and then to make a compassionate response. I think when you were here, you went probably with your freshman or sophomore class and you spent a day volunteering at St. Anthony’s.
One of the things that’s most important about that experience is that we invite all of the students to simply say, I’m going to put myself at the service of those people on the margins and I’m going to listen, right. Not, I’m going to serve them a sandwich and say, oh look, aren’t you better now because I helped you. No. Certainly, you know, volunteering in the dining room, all those things are important and the most important part of that day is waiting in line with the clients and sitting down to share a meal with a person whose experiences is very different from my own and to say, I want to encounter you as a human being, like, I want to know you as a person, right. And so when I think about the connection between equity and inclusion and racial justice, that’s the place where we want students to enter into, right. We want our students, if they feel comfortable, to attend a Black Lives Matter event and say, I’m here to listen, I’m here to learn, right.
So, in the context of the contemporary social justice movements that are going on today—you’ve touched upon them, such as those related to COVID, Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate, what meaning does the Magis Center carry for you? Has its meaning changed for you in the context of these times?
Wouldn’t say that the meaning of the Magis Center has changed, but I think the need of the work of the Magis Center has become more evident and more intensely necessary, that the Magis Center as a safe space on our campus, as a place that supports... provides, yeah, provides affinity space, that’s essential. But I also think that the Magis Center also includes the challenge that it presents to the larger SI community, to say the safety, the belonging, the affinity that our BIPOC students experience in the Magis Center is not enough. All of our students should feel that our hallways, our classrooms, the Student Center is a safe place for them, not that there’s one place on campus where they feel safe. I also feel like the Magis Center does a tremendous job just to educate the larger community and that sometimes is on social media, sometimes that’s in person, bringing in speakers, engaging events, right, pushing people to say, yeah, we do need to make a statement in favor of Black Lives Matter, we do need to make a statement about stopping Asian hate. So there’s also a part in which the Magis office pushes the larger institution on issues of equity and inclusion, right. Not just that it provides a safe space for students, faculty to discuss, parents, but also pushes the whole community in ways that we need to grow.
We’re coming to the end of our conversation. For our last question, I want to ask, is there anything else that you believe is relevant to this conversation that you’d like to talk about or that I have not asked yet?
Gabby, I think I would say two things. First, I know that SI is a human institution and that we have our weaknesses, we have our blind spots and we have a mission that calls us to grow beyond those, but there are certainly times where we’ve not looked up to that and there are certainly significant ways that we ended to grow as an institution to be more equitable and inclusive. But we do have a mission that makes that essential. As a Catholic school, we’re committed to the dignity of every human person. So this isn’t like, oh, one President thought it’s important, or it’s in the news, we need to respond to it—that’s core to who we are. The second thing I would say is I am so proud to work in a place with students like you, with colleagues like Ms. Hernandez, with Mr. Joo, who take very seriously what they’ve learned here and calls us to more and say, hey, you know, SI says you’re about these things but it doesn’t feel like we’re living up to it here, right. As I said, I think we have tremendous areas of growth, we have significant things we need to, we need to work on and change. And I’m grateful to work in a place where people continue to push us to do that. Not that we’re where we need to be—I’m not saying we’ve arrived, but I’m grateful for the folks—students and teachers alike, and parents—who say that we could do better on this, right.
Thank you so much, Chad, for your time and thoughts today!