Conversations with Quincy Featuring Andrew Davis

In our inaugural Conversations with Quincythe MTS Director of Equity and Inclusion Quincy Davis sits down with Head of School Andrew Davis, to learn more about this year's school theme of "Welcome," the importance of vulnerability, and the ongoing journey that Andrew and the school community are taking in facing and embracing the hard work around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Watch the video of the conversation here or read a full transcript below. 


Conversations with Quincy Featuring Andrew Davis 2021

Quincy: Thank you, Andrew, for joining us today on “Conversations with Quincy.” I really appreciate you taking the time. I know you're very busy. So we're just wanting to ask you a few questions today. Just to learn a little bit more about your journey here at MTS. So one question I really had –  I really enjoyed the passion that you really put out there – every single time I had a conversation with you. So, I'm just curious, can you tell me a little bit about your journey here to MTS, who are some of the people that impacted you that led you to come here and join the school? 

Andrew: Well, I'm glad that I could put on some passion for you to convince you to come to Mount Tam. And, I do just show up the way that I do. I, you know, as I think about how I landed at Mount Tam, it's through a series of amazing educators who I've known through my life. First and foremost, I was raised by a teacher. My mom was a French teacher, but really early on in my life, I went away to sleep-away camp. I actually went to sleep-away camp when I had just turned eight years old and some of the counselors – Charlie Richardson and others – were these amazing men who were teachers during the school year and then camp counselors and directors during the summer. And they showed up every single summer, every single day of the summer. And they were there for the kids. And I went on to work at Camp Kieve, and it was through them that I really just grew to do the work because I love working with children. So first and foremost, the two of them. 

The next thing, the next two people who were really impactful in that is -  in high school - and I went to boarding school - one was Alex Benet. She was my Latin teacher and my advisor. And, with Alex, I would spend evenings at her home. She always made amazing home-baked bread - and this was long before baking bread was like a cool thing to do - and I would sit at her kitchen table and get help on Latin or on an English paper or on math because her husband, Ron, was my calculus teacher. I just saw the deep care for the well-being of the child. Not that when I was in high school, I wanted to be called a child, but just that deep well-being and care for the whole student.

And then a teacher named Peter Paik. Peter was a teacher of mine in both junior and senior year of high school. And Peter just opened my eyes to concepts and ideas that really further inspired me to become a student. When I went off to Stanford undergrad, I was a religious studies major because of the things I learned with Peter.

So those are just a few people who really shaped who I am today as an educator. 

Quincy: Well, thank you for answering that. I really appreciate your passion in answering that question. So what I really love about you is how honest and open you are. And being vulnerable, and I think that's great for our students and teachers to see that in their leader. Can you tell me about a time that you really struggled? What did that look like for you? 

Andrew: Sure. I will get to your question in just a sec. You know, I think that, one of the things that I've come to see over time is that vulnerability only makes you stronger or at least for me in my experience. And I think it's really important to be a role model for students and particularly for the boys at our school. I think it's really important for them to see a male role model who is comfortable talking about times when things were really hard, times that they cried, times that they felt sad and bad because I just think so many messages for boys out there are to be tough and to be proud and to not show any weakness.

As I've talked about, at a number of times with the Mount Tam School community, I've managed a stutter my whole life. It's funny, I was actually just thinking a lot about this last night because for whatever reason, I've been feeling it a little bit more in recent days. And by that, I mean that at numerous points in my life, different grade levels, in post college and grade levels, I have had a rather profound stutter, where it's been incredibly hard for me to say words and get going in my speech and getting hung up on things.

Interestingly, one of the things that when my stutter's particularly hard for me, at those times, one of the hardest things for me to say is my own name. And I have these visceral feelings of the anxiety that I felt as you'd be in a new group – educators love being in a new circle and going around and “hi, say your name, and what school you're from, and what your role is.” And when you're going to say “My name is Andrew,” and you are terrified that you're going to stutter on Andrew. You know that only increases the anxiety, which then only increases the chances that I'm going to stutter, which only increases the anxiety. And it creates this really negative loop. It has really kept me from being myself at times.

I joke with my wife, Robin, that my stutter is the one way to keep me quiet. Because otherwise I'm someone who talks way too much. So that's just something that I've had to manage at various points in my life. While in the moment, it can feel incredibly painful, I'm really glad that I've had that experience because I think it's really helped me understand the challenges and the pain that plenty of other people feel on a daily basis.

Quincy: So thank you, Andrew, for answering that, that really was impactful. I know that one of my best friends has a stutter, and it's something that has impacted him every day of his life. And so I truly appreciate your vulnerability. So, I’m here as the Director of Equity and Inclusion because of you. And it truly is because of you. When I saw the passion that you have behind this work. Can you kind of talk a little bit more about that? Why do you think that this work is important? What have you tried to have all of your faculty and families and every member of this community to understand why this work is so important? What have you done to really change the way MTS was six years ago around this work and where you are now?

Andrew: Oh, man, this is big. So, let me rewind. I mentioned Peter Pake, a teacher of mine at Middlesex school. Peter is honestly the first person of color that I can remember being a teacher of mine that I ever had, that was junior year of high school. And I remember noting that at the time. And interestingly, Peter, in the class that he taught, was the first person who really introduced me to many of the topics that are now in common parlance in the discussion around equity and inclusion. 

So, for example, in that class junior year of high school, we read Peggy McIntosh's Invisible Knapsack of Privilege piece, which has now probably been downloaded millions of times and whatnot, but a really beautiful, simple, paper that helped me see, that as a white male and frankly, a white male who is straight, who is cis-gender, who grew up in a very affluent household, how much privilege I had. And I can now reflect back and see the progression that I went through of realizing that, whoa, I hadn’t really noticed that, and a little bit of like, are you trying to make me feel bad about myself? And then realizing, no, I don't have to feel bad about myself. And so I think one was just first being made aware of that. 

The second was having great conversations, and I wish I could remember the person who said it, but I do remember one person saying to me around privilege – and talk about a loaded word these days, but I think a really important word these days – around privilege, you never have to feel bad about the privileges you have. You just can't feel better about yourself than someone else because of the privileges you have. 

Though I ride bikes more now than run, I do like to run and someone once told me that privilege is like a tailwind running where you'll go out for a run and feel great and feel like you're just trucking and doing a good, hard workout. And then you turn around and you run back to your car, and you're running into a headwind. And then you realize, oh, I was going fast, but that sure was helping. I definitely had a lot of tailwinds at my back. So I'd say that's where the work really began for me is with Peter and then just first becoming aware of the privileges that I've had.

When I came back to the education space after two years at Stanford for graduate school, I was at Crystal Springs Uplands School. And at Crystal, we started to dive into the work of equity and inclusion. And, I got to see lots of why’s. I think just morally, it feels right. There's just kind of like this moral why of all children should be given the same chance, the same tools to be successful in life. And there are a lot of things in the way, right? So there's some just some of “it feels right, darn it.” The data person in me that I discovered in business school also just really liked the research that shows that teams that are more diverse and teams that are more equitable and inclusive are more successful. I love that there's like peer reviewed data that just shows you get better solutions to problems. If you have a diverse group of people solving the problem where they are all working on a level playing field. So that, in my heart, I knew it was the right thing, and then I knew it in my head, right, I had that logical explanation for why. 

And so with the head and the heart now at Mount Tam I have had the opportunity – and I really appreciate what you said and that you chose to come here and for the work that we've done – honestly, I look to from when I first showed up here and Barbara and a handful of other faculty members, Elliot and others came to me and said, can we do a two hour workshop with someone around diversity work here at school? It's like, have we not done that? Of course we can. Right. So, with my heart on board and my head on board, it really has just taken me supporting really wonderful other people. And you being here is because there were so many other people who prioritize this work and who kept this work going and saying, we want to bring in a conductor to our equity and inclusion orchestra.Hence you being here. So that's kind of how we landed here. 

Quincy: I love that. Question for you. What do you see as the future of Mount Tam? When it comes to DEI, where do you want to go? 

Andrew: I want to do hard work. So, all really important things, all really good things, all things done really well are hard to do. Otherwise people would have just already done them. And so I think it would be too easy to say, “We've hired Quincy, and we're done. Andrew's job is done, here.” Right? I think it would be too easy to say, “We're going to change our seventh grade history class to this topic in diversity and say we've checked the box because this work is not checking the box.

It is my hope – you know, this year's theme is welcoming – it really is my hope that we do all the hard work on all the systems and levels working with teachers, working individually with students, in groups of students, looking at what we teach, how we teach, so that every single student shows up at school and in this year's theme really feels welcomed. That really has that sense of belonging. If we have a great diversity of people, and I'm not just saying black people are diverse people, but like a great diversity, of people, people who bring all these different perspectives and they can all show up and feel like they belong, then we're winning. Then we're doing the work really well. So, to me, the future is that. And the future is filled with a lot of hard work. And as you and I have been talking about, it's not a straight line. I love a good PowerPoint or whatever, that, this is going lead to this, this is going to lead to that – it is going to be a zigzag, but we are gonna move forward and progress.

Quincy: I love that. And I love the idea of having a theme that says welcoming because that is what this work is about. Making kids, making families feel as though they’re welcome. And first and foremost, before we do anything else, that is what we're going to accomplish here. 

Andrew: Last year at graduation, when I introduced the theme, which most years in my graduation speech I try to introduce the next school year’s theme. I bravely, perhaps not so wisely, started to sing the beginning of Cheers

Quincy: Can I stop you right there for a second? Everyone who is watching this would love to hear that right now. We'd love to hear this. 

Andrew: (singing) “Sometimes you just want to go where everybody knows your name, dunh, dunh, dunh, dunh, and they're always glad you came down.”

So that to me, if, as a school, every single student, every single adult in this community can feel like everybody knows my name, and everybody's glad that I came today. That would just be beautiful if every single day a student shows up and yes, we know their name. I love a school of 240 kids because I can know all of their names, but really know them. And every day they feel like people are really glad that they're here. Man, we are just doing something special. 

Quincy: So in essence, you want everyone to feel just like Norm does in Cheers

So, Andrew, my brother from another mother. I think the next thing that I would love to know, and I think as a community, we all would love to know, this work is hard. Everyone has their own feelings about this work. What do you feel has been the response in this community to this work? 

Andrew: Yeah, it is hard work, and it's really interesting to watch different school communities around the country and around the Bay Area respond to this. I really am happy with how it's gone, and I think, and I'll speak to that in a second. I think that's in part because of recognizing that this is like that there is no one size fits all program or curriculum for Mount Tam, and we just have to check these things and then we're done, that we’re moving into this with nuance and subtlety and trying to really make it right for Mount Tam. That's the reason that you're here, right. Is to really make sure that we have someone who has the bandwidth, the talent, the skill to help be that partner in making sure that where we land is the right place for Mount Tam.

So, how has the Mount Tam community responded? I think in all the ways that I would expect and that some people have said, “Haven't we been doing this? This is what I've been doing in my classroom.” I mean, when you look at a lot of teachers, a lot hasn't changed because these are things that have been really important and have been going on for them for a while. And I've heard from some families saying, this is really interesting that you're going here, I've been waiting for the school to go here. And also some families saying, “I'm a little nervous. This is not something that school has done before. What is this gonna look like?” 

What I've loved is that in all those responses, even when there's been questioning, there's been questioning with really good intent and there's been a lot of trust. And I just so appreciate that our school community has been willing to trust Mount Tam to do a hard thing and to do it well. I think that they, that there's also just been trust and understanding that it's not going to be perfect all the time. And one of the things that I think has enabled that is the pace of which we've moved, is that I want to move at the pace of trust. And we're also moving as our students ask us to move and in partnership with them so we're not doing this because this is what a bunch of adults wants us to do. We're doing this because this is what as educators we see is right for students. And we're having great conversations with students and moving along with them, but mostly across the board what I've seen is interest and trust, and I couldn't ask for more. 

Quincy: I love that. And I can say in my short time here, I couldn't have said it better. A lot of these students are so interested in this work. They are so interested in becoming better people and wanting to know more about others that look a little different than them more or have a different socioeconomic background or have any type of difference So, I really appreciate that. But speaking of interest, what kind of interests you right now? What podcasts or books are you really looking at right now? Because I know you’re the podcast king. 

Andrew: Well, I used to listen to a lot more podcasts for the past many years – I will fully own that I now have an absurdly short commute – which is when I used to listen to even more podcasts. So, I've listened to all sorts of really interesting things out there. I wish I read more than I do. But particularly around equity and inclusion, it was fascinating to listen to what was going to be a three-part series. And I think they made it through only two parts, a podcast called the “Reply All” did what was going to be a three-part series on Bon Appetit magazine. So, Bon Appetit hired a guy named Adam Rappoport to come in and be their executive editor. And he came in from, I think, GQ to come in and spice up Bon Appetit and bring it more into the mainstream. And he was very successful. There was at the same time as the nationwide racial reckoning within Bon Appetit magazine, there was a racial reckoning with really just a lot of people who had worked in the magazine talking about how people of color had not been given assignments that then went to white authors and white cooks. Where even a Vietnamese woman would pitch an idea about Vietnamese food, and it wouldn't be given to her, and six months later, a white guy would be given that very same assignment. So, just a really interesting episode about how race was playing out at that magazine. But then, just to add this like level “Reply All” the podcast had their own reckoning of a, oh, snap, the same things that we're bringing to light about this magazine could be said about our own show and our own larger umbrella organization called Gimlet Media.

So, it was just really interesting, this double self-reflective piece about how is this playing out in different workplaces and contexts. And it was just really interesting to think about any possible correlations, what that might look like at now at Mount Tam, and then also that self-reflective of any time that you get the sense of like we're doing this better than them, you need to start looking at yourself, was definitely one of my takeaways from that one. So, I'd say that's one of the ones that was, frankly, I think it was last winter that I was listening to that. And it was just a really powerful moment.

So, that's one that I have to recommend. And I mean, who knows if you'll end up including this too, but I also – definitely not suitable for our students to listen to – but, I loved, I think an eight part series about the history of the Chippendales dancers. Amazing, amazing podcast series, and it actually deals with all these topics around race. It deals with topics around masculinity and toxic masculinity. I mean, just fascinating. Fascinating. If you ever have a long drive ahead of you and you want to be entertained, listen to “Welcome to Your Fantasy,” which is the history of the Chippendales. 

Quincy: I love the title too. So last thing, one last question. Your favorite food.

Andrew: My favorite food. I would say pasta with meatballs and grilled squid sitting at the bar at Delfina back pre kids and pre being gluten-free. 

Quincy: Nice answer. Okay. Number two. Here's the second one. Who's the cook in the house? 

Andrew: Me, me, me. Robin very strategically, early in our relationship, burned a quesadilla and then made a frozen pizza on top of the cardboard in the oven. I've been knowing the vast majority of the cooking ever since. 

Quincy: Love it. Number three, who is the athlete of the family? 

Andrew: Again, just no brainer Robin. She truly is an athlete. I am the master of niche sports and suffering. 

Quincy: Love it. Next question. Biking or running. Which one would you prefer? 

Andrew: Biking though it is more injury prone.

Quincy: Hmm, I haven't heard anything about that. Very last question. If you had the choice, would you rather be with your wife or be with the kids? Joking, don't ever answer that. 

Andrew: Yeah, exactly. There's definitely no good answer to that, though I will say I'm looking forward to our au pair arriving in about two weeks. 

Quincy: Yeah, so maybe you did answer that. All right, Andrew, I really thank you for taking the time to sit here and have a conversation with me and being so vulnerable and honest. 

Andrew: Of course, I'm really excited that we're doing this, and I encourage all of your listeners, viewers, whether it's in front of a camera or recorder or just around campus, to have a conversation with Quincy. 

Quincy: So one of our big things we're trying to do is start these conversations. So, we started with Andrew, and we're going to have these conversations on camera, off camera, and we want to thank our great producer, Heather. So, with that being said, thank you for having this conversation with Quincy and Andrew.

See you next time.

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