In October, we welcomed Walker’s alumna Dr. Veda Pendleton ’75 to campus for the launch of her new memoir, Prepped: Coming of Age in Black and White America. Throughout her story, Veda juxtaposes her southern upbringing with that of her prep school experience at Walker’s and comes to understand that the journey prepared her for a life living with differences and similarities amongst women of all hues. A dynamic discussion was followed by a reception with Veda, who was joined for her visit by her daughter, Lauren. In her remarks, Veda talked about where we’ve been as a school, where we are and where institutions like Walker’s are continuing on this journey.
By Vanessa Lois ’21 and Anastasia Reid ’21
“As students of color, Vanessa and I had a desire to interview Dr. Pendleton in order to have a greater understanding of our developing sense of self within a community of people who don’t resemble similar cultures. Vanessa and I discussed life at Walker’s with Dr. Pendleton inquisitively, eager to understand a time unlike our own. The following series of questions and responses were recorded by both Vanessa and me in hopes of further developing our ideas about our cultural identity, as well as creating a plan to ensure we could be recognized and understood. Through Dr. Pendleton’s thoughtful responses, we saw fragments of ourselves, sparking hope for our futures as young women of color.” Anastasia Reid ’21
What was student social life like when you attended Walker’s? Were there many class indicators?
Social life at The Ethel Walker School was strongly connected to money, which was the norm back in the 1970’s. But, with trips and going places, the school took care of the costs which meant I could participate in everything everyone else was participating in.
To fit it, we used money to invest in halter tops for dances and events. There was not much financial insecurity, especially with the uniforms, but the main class indicator was Bass Weejuns shoes. Another factor that indicated class were names. Famous names, or just names of future donors to the school, were apparent.
“Skinfolk ain’t kinfolk” stood out in the excerpt read by Ms. Catherine Reed in our English 11 Honors class especially because we believed that those who were like us were our community here at first too. How did race affect your outlook on Walker’s ?
Allyship consisted of manipulation when I was a student here.
What then is your perception on self segregation?
The politics of self segregation depend on if it’s meant to do good or meant to do bad. Behind it all is language and effective communication. With a good sense of self already, exposure to self segregation will not do much harm, exposure being a spark. Internalization of stereotypes is when self segregation begins to do harm.
Walker’s was foreign to those in Pine Bluff. It was published in a paper that I got into college at 15 years old when in reality I was just going to boarding school. It felt like I was off doing something else. Walker’s was an insulated environment, a cocoon.
When asked about her feelings toward microaggressions she faced at Walker’s, Dr. Pendleton asserted:
Because I was exposed to racism so prematurely, Walker’s taught me to accept human frailty…to acknowledge the weakness in those around you.
Has Walker’s changed your opinion about race in general?
Walker’s did not change anything about my perception of race. It could have made me more aware, but I was from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. My upbringing, though, I credit to helping me take ownership of my blackness. Being told I was loved, feeling loved, being complimented and told I was beautiful gave me self confidence and a sense of self. I was able to take full ownership of all of this melanin. This was all nurtured at Walker’s.
Do you wish there would have been affinity groups during your time at Walker’s?
I came in 1972, and the first black student to graduate from Walker’s graduated in 1971. Survival was my priority at Walker’s. Affinity groups would have been nice, though.
Did you feel a desire to code switch?
Everyone code switches.
Do you feel you have fully taken ownership of your identity as a black women?
I would like to think I take pride in my blackness! [I have come to the understanding that] I don’t want you to be colorblind, I want you to see all of it! [I have learned] that there is more than one way of being black and female, and all are equally valid.
How did the all-girls environment prepare you for life beyond the classroom?
It taught me to gather my sense of self and determination, and to expose my children to various topics in order to spark their educational curiosity. At Walker’s I had the privilege to see my first Broadway play, which was Hamlet — an amazing experience. This factored into giving my own children further educational opportunities, and so I worked hard to ensure my children were given exposure to the world.
Dr. Pendleton recalled the time when she got a job selling tickets at a ticket booth for the Olympics, and used the profit she gained to buy her children tickets to go see the Olympics.
Would you have liked for your daughter, Lauren, to attend The Ethel Walker School?
This is when we also asked Lauren to gracefully interject.
I went to an all women’s college, [which influenced me] to maintain the expectation of women fulfilling leadership roles.
In reference to our mention of “the Walker’s bubble…The education you receive at Walker’s is so special. You are receiving education with headphones on, to enable you to reap the most out of your education you can [while being completely focused].
What is something you want us, especially as women of color, women of black heritage, to take as advice for our own future and the futures of others like us at Walker’s?
Be and embrace who you are and all of its glory.
Each person has three things: Self love comes first. Second comes skin, the wrapping. A lot of time people get too hung up on the wrapping and fail to see what’s inside. Third, important, is the gift inside.
Dr. Pendleton’s Words of Advice:
Get some gumption, even if you have to borrow someone else’s. Fake it ’til you make it mentality.
These were inspiring last words, beckoning students of color to challenge societal norms, refusing the privilege to bulldoze over microaggressions, and blatant racism. Dr. Pendleton encouraged us as young women, regardless of our skin tone, to be comfortable with confrontation, because it produces a learning moment for both parties involved creating an overflow of curious, global citizens.