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June 19, 2024

A Sense of Belonging

Radar Onguetou is Asheville School’s Director of Community Engagement, Diversity, and Belonging, as well as the Assistant Varsity Boys Basketball Coach. He looks back at his first year, including a powerful Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and shares how he finds the giftedness in every person.

How does your upbringing inform your work at Asheville School?

As a black man who grew up in Cameroon, a central African country of approximately 28 million inhabitants, I consider myself privileged in many ways. ‘Race,’ as a social construct, which has shaped the identity attributed to African Americans in the United States, was insignificant in my upbringing. Even when I became aware that my experience as a black man growing up in Africa is totally different than my experience in the United States, I never abandoned the deeply rooted values that have provided substance to my identity as an educated African black man, shaped my beliefs, and dictated my way of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Supporting our students and peers’ efforts as they embark on a journey of self-discovery and pursue their own personal greatness is the foundation of my work at Asheville School. 

What does inclusion mean to you?

This question makes me think right away of the period of schools’ “integration,” when the presence of black students was simply tolerated as they were expected to assimilate and fit in. Inclusion means being accepted for who you are (authentic self). Accordingly, given that some people hide their most authentic identity in fear of being rejected for who they are, people who feel included usually find affirmation and a sense of belonging. Furthermore, people feel included when their needs and interests are considered, and their respective voices heard when making decisions that impact them. This is what inclusion means to me, the opposite of exclusion.

What opportunities do you see for the future at Asheville School?

The commitment and ability of Black Student Union (BSU) students was on full display when they hosted the 2023 MLK Jr Day/Civil Rights Day. My vision for the program was inspired by the following questions: “What if we shift the stance of teacher as knower to teacher as learner?” and “What could we learn from our students?” I adopted a consultant stance, and it was a partnership. The only expectations for the students were to be their own selves. I believe that students must be front and center. I put my expertise at the service of this group of students by first learning everything I could about each of them individually and collectively. I inquired, interviewed, mapped, understood the dynamics, and saw their approach in preparation of the event. These students learned what mattered and discovered a pathway to their own creative genius. This is just the start. To borrow the words of the author and consultant Peter Block, the essence of this approach was to see BSU as a group of human beings, each with gifts in abundance, rather than as students with deficiencies or needs.

In your first year here, what have been some of your proudest moments?

The 2023 MLK Jr Day/ Civil Rights Day, hosted by BSU, was one of my proudest moments. I am proud of the fact that BSU students, including Danae Pate, Princess Adeyi, and Justin Rowe, led the Q&A panel with Dr. Clint Smith. I am proud of the fact that many BSU students ran for leadership positions in the Asheville School Student Council. I am proud of the fact that Armani Wachacha hosted an event in celebration of the Native American Heritage Month. I am proud of the success of ‘The Bridge’ DEIB collaborative initiative with Christ School and Carolina Day School. I am proud of the fact that students are already inquiring about the 2023 Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in St Louis following their experience at the 2022 SDLC in San Antonio.