Centering BIPOC Voices at Shipley: Rafhia Foster, Director of Enrollment
What are some important aspects of your identity? What does the intersection of these identities mean to you?
Naturally, aspects of my identity have changed over the years. My family is Trinidadian; I was raised Muslim but I love gospel music; I was raised by a single parent; and I, myself, am a single parent; I grew up in West Philly... and right now, the most important aspect of my identity is being a mother. Honestly, I “mom” a lot of people. It brings me joy and fills my well to help people feel valued. Those who look at me may see an African-American woman identity, but there are all those others, too. There’s so much more to who I am than what you typically see.
Tell me about growing up. Did you feel seen?
I felt seen because I made myself feel seen. I went to Agnes Irwin and I was the only African American girl in my class, with the exception of another girl who was there for two years and then left. A lot of people assumed who I was. My fourth grade teacher wasn’t used to people like me. I probably was the first Black girl she ever taught. I felt like I disappeared in the back of the class. I loved to read and I was quiet. One time I was sitting in the fireplace reading and everyone went to lunch and forgot me.
I realized I had a lot to say, but people weren’t hearing me. I made a concerted effort to step outside of myself and make sure I wasn’t giving up who I was by not using my voice.
My mother helped with this, too. She was the only African American female roofing contractor in the city so she had to push to make herself seen and heard. My uncle was a member of the LGTBQ community. He was a huge role model to me, but no one in my family ever talked about him being gay when I was young. He died of AIDS and I realized that not being able to have those real conversations (even as a child) about what’s really happening—that silence from others can leave a gap in you.
Now I’m in Admissions and all I do is talk! God forbid someone give me the mic.
What can you share with Shipley faculty and caregivers about how to create a more inclusive environment where kids feel seen?
We live in such insular communities and we need to step outside of ourselves. Look at your friend groups and the events you attend—what do you notice about who you interact with? You know, at Shipley we have kids from over 70 different zip codes. Everyone isn’t from where you might think they’re from, so you have to work to know who your students are.
We also need to share our stories. We can’t get to the point of having relational trust until we share our stories. Teachers need to lead with that. Talk about your family, share who you are and what’s important to you.
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.