Rahman Culver: Blair’s Diversity and Inclusion Instructional Coordinator
by Maya Britto for Silver Quest
The Magnet program allows students interested in STEM to expand their knowledge of the sciences through a rigorous curriculum. However, the Magnet offers many lessons beyond those regarding calculus or physics. Understanding the Magnet means understanding its history and the role systemic racism has played in its creation — the effects of which are still evident today. As a Magnet community, we have a responsibility to create discourse around issues regarding racism and other forms of prejudice present in our program.
Magnet alumnus Rahman Culver is the Diversity and Inclusion Instructional Coordinator at Blair, and he is working to help make our school an environment that provides an equitable outcome for all students. Culver’s participation in both the Takoma Park and Blair Magnet programs fundamentally shaped his views on diversity and inclusion and was crucial to his career choice.
Life as a Magnet Student
What He Does
There is no doubt that the social climate in our country has only become more heated in the past year. This previous summer, we witnessed a “cultural reckoning," as Culver calls it. As such, Blair principal Renay Johnson created the position of Diversity and Inclusion Instructional Coordinator and invited Culver — formerly a social studies teacher — to spearhead a campaign that aims to make Blair a safe, positive space for all Blair students. Culver executes this mission by working in four major areas.
The first area includes working alongside school administration. He encourages administrators to think strategically about the way they run our school and how they can better engage students, staff, and parents to foster a culture that supports equitable outcomes for everyone. He sits in on meetings, gives advice, collects student and staff voices, and helps make decisions about what broad efforts should be made to tackle some of the issues in our building.
The second area focuses on collaborating with teachers and acting as a “coach." Culver offers guidance on creating lessons that are more culturally responsive and strategies for facilitating tough conversations surrounding race, gender, and sexuality. He ensures he is available as an outlet for anyone who needs to talk about their thoughts or concerns, hoping to establish himself as a trusted and supportive colleague.
Culver also focuses on measuring the progress our school makes with regard to an equitable education. He develops tools and processes to capture qualitative data regarding the opinions and questions of students and staff. He further analyzes quantitative data regarding AP courses, Magnet and CAP program registration, and participation in extracurricular activities to ensure activities are accessible for all students.
Finally, he creates conversation. Culver engages directly with students and parents, attends PTSA committees, and ensures parents are part of the discussion regarding our school’s climate.
Years after his own high school graduation, Culver is back at Blair, and he's determined to inspire change in our school. “The most important thing we can all do is listen to each other, set goals, and reflect on the way we all operate as members of the Blair community,” Culver says. His experiences as a Magnet student have provided him with a unique outlook on the program as an administrator today.
Culver hopes to connect with each of us in the years to come as we each continue to do our part in making Blair a welcoming place for all students.
What advice can Mr. Culver give us? Here are some of Mr. Culver’s responses to some important questions regarding inclusion in our school.
Q: What unique challenges do the Magnet and CAP programs face when it comes to creating inclusion?
A: If we want to face the current challenges that surround the programs, we have to be fully informed about their history. The programs were created to bring white students into a school community that was predominantly of color. So naturally, these programs are made up of mostly white students. They also have a larger representation of Asian students in comparison to Black and Latinx students. So the question is, if that’s the dynamic in which these programs were designed, what can we do now to make sure that students of color that are underrepresented are not restricted from engaging in these programs? Right now, we must engage in creating a culture that underrepresented students feel welcome in so that they don’t feel marginalized and they don’t feel like they are 'imposters.'
Q: How do you advise students to start conversations at home?
A: I wish we talked about that more often. How do we help empower students to navigate their own personal environments at home with people that they have loving relationships with but also have fundamental disagreements sometimes? We don’t typically want to do anything that is going to be incredibly damaging and devastating to someone we love. I think it's important to start those conversations by first focusing on what binds you and the relationship you share. Make sure they know that you both love each other and that you want to have positive relationships with them throughout your life. That commonality will help you walk through those difficult conversations. You gotta say, "You may not agree with this, but I love you and I know that you love me, and I want you to love all of me. This might not be a part of me you agree with, but I want you to know me." Keep that conversation going from there.
Q: What should students who are part of the majority remember and be mindful of when it comes to tough discussions regarding issues of diversity and inclusion?
A: When it comes to conversations regarding race, the onus is almost always on people of color, and everyone else gets to judge whether their experiences are authentic or valid. This is not right. Students that are part of any type of majority have to acknowledge that they are going to have some blind spots when it comes to understanding minority issues. You are not going to completely understand someone else’s experiences. That requires some humility and some open-mindedness. Understand that your life is different from theirs, and make sure you are listening to them and not dismissing their thoughts or opinions simply because they are unfamiliar.
Culver remembers appreciating the academic rigor and intensity that the Magnet program provided. “These experiences quite altered my life course, and facilitated access to social and economic networks I likely would have never encountered otherwise,” he says. Regardless, even as a high schooler, Culver could not help but notice how few students looked like him. It was right in his face — the proof that something was unfair. So why was no one talking about it? Why weren’t efforts to decrease the glaring divide working? Why was inequity being normalized?
Culver grew up in a single-parent, low-income household in Takoma Park. Growing up, he would often hear people say that Black and Brown kids like him did not work hard enough to get into programs like the Magnet and that the pursuit of careers in either sports or entertainment was the only way to be successful — STEM was a no-no. Of course, this seemed ridiculous to Culver, surrounded by many hard-working adults who valued higher education. So who was spreading this false narrative about African-Americans and STEM careers? What did they know about African-American culture and values?
Culver says the primary difference between his early educational experience in STEM and those of his Black peers was a Black teacher who saw his potential and pushed him to apply for the Magnet. “She disrupted the system's status quo," Culver explains. "The system is broken if there isn't a functional mechanism to involve communities of color in the process to access these programs." Culver’s teacher recognized the lack of that mechanism and pushed him to become involved despite its absence.