• Quaker Roots
  • The Center
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Center of Gravity: Quakerism, Critical Conversations, and a Conduit for Change

Imagine an old building. The walls and doors are strong; the frame is sturdy after centuries of reinforcement. Looking up, it is clear that there is something familiar, yet disorienting about this structure—the sun shines through the roof., the sky is visible overhead. The ceiling is made of glass.

Now imagine it's your life's work to climb a ladder and break through that ceiling. Women have long been taught that the answer lies in moving upwards, but for students at Lincoln School, the solution is often found by spending time in the Center. 

There's that resonant and familiar phrase about women: 'shatter the glass ceiling.' But at Lincoln we rethink that," said Dr. Barret Fabris, director of The Center for Justice, Peace, and Global Citizenship, often referred to simply as The Center. "Through the work of The Center and all that we teach here, we empower students not to break the glass ceiling, but to actively dismantle the structure that supports it. That is the only way to ensure real progress when working toward gender equity."

The Center is a cross-divisional entity tasked with tackling critical issues of social justice, gender, diversity, inclusion, multiculturalism, and global citizenship. Its mission has evolved over the years. The Center originated as a force to address diversity and inclusion in the late 1990s as a result of a self-study under former Head of School Julia Eells, on a foundation of work from former Head of School Joan Countryman. For four years The Center benefitted from the guidance of Sterling Clinton-Spellman '02 and has grown under Dr. Fabris' leadership to serve as both a location and a community itself. The Center supports student clubs like Model United Nations, Quaker Youth Council, and 2B1, classes like Peace and Conflict Studies and Grade 8's Human Rights yearlong course, and will soon launch community affinity groups.

Often one of the busiest places on campus, people seem to gravitate toward The Center, a revamped space on the first floor of Faxon Hall that feels more like a living room than a classroom. Girls are pulled in by the promise of authentic conversations, the potential of deepening community roots, and, perhaps particularly, the recognition of their own agency and capacity to implement change.

"The Center lies physically and philosophically at the center of Lincoln," said Dr. Fabris. "From day one at this school I saw a natural inclination in our girls to challenge authority, and The Center is built on a pedagogy that supports that. We welcome the difficult questions. We want to hear dissenting opinions. This work focuses on empowering students to reflect critically on their surroundings, to examine the narrative they've been given, and to formulate their own identity in the face of that. It's an ever-evolving conduit for change."

The Center is also the natural home to many of Lincoln's Quaker principles. Interestingly, one of the oft-asked questions Dr. Fabris encounters addresses Lincoln's institutional identity as the only all-girls Quaker school in the country: how is it possible to be an all-girls school and still honor our Quakerism? 

"It's important to name the elephant in the room: we are an enigma to a lot of Quaker schools. Quakerism is built on the concept of equity, so excluding an entire gender from enrollment may not make sense at first glance," said Dr. Fabris while presenting to the Alumnae Board this fall. "But upon further reflection, it seems like we're a lot more Quaker than most, because at Lincoln we recognize that women in today's world are still a marginalized group. As a school based on and grounded in notions of social justice, we are committed to actively addressing that marginalization and dismantling those societal structures of support. Being an all-girls school doesn't make us biased; being an all-girls school is the way to equity."

With a background in human rights work, a Masters of Science in Global and International Education from Drexel University, and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Peace Education from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, Dr. Fabris had always felt called to the teaching profession and drawn to do something innovative and important. After moving to Providence with his wife Kristin, a chiropractor, he joined Lincoln first as a soccer coach, then as a history teacher, and finally as the director of The Center.

His work extends into the Fabris home—their daughter Isla is a student in Lincoln's Little School, and benefits from the cross-divisional nature of her father's position. In Little School, there is a Center Library with books that discuss identity, inclusion, and the value of difference. In Lower School, Dr. Fabris' work dovetails with the SPICES (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, Service, and Stewardship of the Earth) using service partnerships and literature. In Middle and Upper Schools, The Center is a space for students to both learn and lead.

"The Center provides girls with a lot of opportunities to shape the course of their education and choose from where and whom they learn," said Dr. Fabris. Students are in charge of, among other things, planning Morgan Stone '00 Day, a full day dedicated to exploring issues of racial justice; they also help determine the agenda for The Future is Feminist Conference, which was formerly Lincoln's celebration of International Women's Day. "That freedom turns teachers into students and students into teachers, and creates informed global citizens with a true capacity for critical reflection that will have a lasting effect on the community and beyond."

Imagine an old building. The glass ceiling looms overhead. But instead of a ladder leading upward, all around are powerful tools to break down the walls, tinder to spark a flame that will raze that building to rubble, making way for a brand new structure, built this time on level ground. 

"I come to school every day looking forward to what we can accomplish together, and I am constantly amazed by how much these Lincoln girls are able to teach me," said Dr. Fabris. "I hope the world is ready for them."



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