Dear Marist School Community,
To fulfill Marist School’s mission in education, it is imperative that we foster an inclusive and welcoming school community. We are taking action, as we shared in our March 4 Progress Update
, and are committed to doing the hard work that is necessary. We would like to share the following steps that we have recently undertaken to encourage positive systemic change and build an anti-racist culture in our school community.
Fearless Dialogues Partnership
Even though COVID-19 forced us to shift to a virtual environment this spring, we were able to begin our work with the cultural competency experts we engaged earlier in February. Our partnership with Fearless Dialogues
is a two-year engagement during which we will invest considerable energy toward fostering a culture of change that features trust, accountability, and mutual support. Specifics of our process with Fearless Dialogues are below.
Year One (Spring 2020 through June 2021)
Activities during Year One focus on helping us alter the chemistry that has prevented us from building the inclusive school environment we want and need to have.
- Program Audit – In April and May, Fearless Dialogues audited the 26 programs that Marist’s Office of Inclusion & Diversity either sponsored, co-sponsored, or supported during the past school year. The audit metrics evaluated the execution, outcomes, and overall effectiveness of these programs in reflecting, reinforcing, or promoting Marist’s diversity, equity, and inclusion values. While the majority of the programs received high marks, Fearless Dialogues has a number of recommendations that we will begin to implement during the 2020-2021 school year.
- Curriculum Audit – Fearless Dialogues, alongside our new Curriculum Review Task Force, will work together to perform a review and valuation of the Marist School curriculum, which will determine the strengths and growth areas for embedding social justice, equity, and diversity into the classroom and student experience. Our intention is to enhance our coursework regarding the issues and history around race in order to prepare our students to be culturally sensitive servant leaders in our world. This work was to have begun this spring, but, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will begin in fall 2020 instead.
- Faculty/Staff Training – This fall, Fearless Dialogues will take Marist’s entire faculty and staff through training sessions that work toward transformation and change in self and others, helping to open eyes to see gifts instead of stereotypes, enable an environment for hard conversations, and cultivate the hope that leads to sustainable change. This training originally was to have occurred in April, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Experiential Learning Sessions – A foundational part of Fearless Dialogues’ work with Marist is to create spaces where each member of our community can feel comfortable speaking thoughtfully and courageously across differences. To accomplish this, Fearless Dialogues will lead a series of five workshops for a cohort of 200 members of our school community, including students, parents, alumni, administration, and Board of Trustees. Those that participate in these workshops will become ambassadors to foster a culture of meaningful engagement across differences during the second year of Marist’s partnership with Fearless Dialogues.
Year Two (2021-2022 Academic Year)
The goal of Year Two is to help Marist begin to embody the practices that inform healthy discourse and community-building across differences. By developing shared understanding, sharing experiences, and providing shared language and tools, sustained cultural change can begin to flourish.
- New Student Orientation – As new students enter Marist, they will participate in an orientation workshop to set expectations and cultural norms of the Marist School community. This type of orientation will become an ongoing component of the orientation activities experienced by all new Marist students.
- Student Engagements by Grade Level – Fearless Dialogues will take all Marist students through a series of workshops based on the theme “Embodying Courage.” These workshops will equip students to live out a commitment to know, to embrace, to listen, to care and acknowledge, and to act, thus helping create an inclusive community that embraces and celebrates differences. The workshops will draw from Catholic teachings on solidarity, human dignity, care for the vulnerable, and responsibility for nurturing God’s creation and will reflect and uphold the Marist mission and values.
Summer Reading Program Focusing on Anti-racism
Recognizing the importance of advancing the school’s conversation about and engagement with the topics of race and racism, this summer’s “On the Same Page” reading program will see the entire school community, alumni and parents included, reading books that will help us listen to and learn from voices that may be different from our own. Our Foundations students (7th and 8th grades) will read Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism and You
by Jason Reynolds and Dr. Ibram X. Kendi; our high school students will read the Young Adult version of Just Mercy
by Bryan Stevenson, and alumni will read the Adult version of Just Mercy
. Dates and times for alumni book discussions will be announced soon. Students, faculty, and staff will engage in facilitated discussions and lessons in the fall, and parent discussion sessions are being arranged as well. You can learn more about the summer reading program here
Office of Inclusion & Diversity
Marist School’s Office of Inclusion & Diversity has a full-time director, Ms. LaRita Williams. We have restructured her role so that, going forward, she will have a voice in all conversations regarding student life. Additionally, we have added coordinator positions to the Office of Inclusion & Diversity, expanding the number of people working in and helping with programming related to inclusion and diversity in an effort to grow and strengthen this department.
Recognizing that every aspect of our school community needs to be considered as we work toward building an anti-racist culture, we have reviewed, clarified, and updated our school policies related to discrimination, including racism, and harassment. We worked on our revisions with the help of students of color as well as with the oversight of our Diversity Advisory Council. The new policies, documented in our Parent-Student Handbook, will be conveyed to students at handbook assemblies and orientation activities the week of August 18. Parents will be required to review the handbook and affirm their commitment to these policies with a signature before their children can begin school.
Diversity Advisory Council
We have expanded the membership and role of our Diversity Advisory Council. The group now includes members representing current parents, faculty/staff, Board of Trustees, and alumni. The group will meet monthly to help guide the activities of the Office of Inclusion & Diversity and advise on incidents that threaten the school’s commitment to a welcoming and inclusive school community.
Student Diversity Advisory Council
When school is back in session this fall, we will form our new Student Diversity Advisory Council (SDAC), which will work with the Office of Inclusion & Diversity to promote a culture of inclusivity in the student life at Marist. Student leaders on the SDAC will be part of the cohort trained by Fearless Dialogues, and we expect they will attend the National Association of Independent Schools’ Student Diversity Leadership Conference and lead the Diversity Summit we host each spring for students from many area independent schools.
Faculty Leadership in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives
We acknowledge that faculty and staff play a key role in promoting an anti-racist culture at Marist and in supporting our students of color. As mentioned above, all Marist faculty and staff will participate in training and experiences led by Fearless Dialogues, which will equip them to recognize and address racism, to dialogue across differences, and to seek understanding through the lens of compassion. Additionally, we continue to broaden our nationwide efforts to recruit a diverse faculty and staff, including attending multiple teacher of color hiring fairs and visiting historically black colleges and universities.
Beyond the action steps we have listed above, we are firmly committed to listening and working with our Black students and other students of color, as well as with their families, to make sure their experience at Marist reflects the anti-racist culture we seek to foster and sustain.
All of our efforts here at Marist School reflect the position of the Society of Mary, U.S. Province, which has owned and operated the school since 1901. The Society’s recent statement on racism provides the moral imperative that propels us to do what clearly must be done. “Because we all bear the image of God, racism is above all a moral and theological problem that manifests institutionally and systematically. Only a deep individual conversion of heart, which then multiplies, will compel change and reform in our institutions and society. It is imperative that we confront racism’s root cause and the injustice it produces.”
In the name of Mary,
Fr. Bill Rowland, S.M.
Mr. Kevin Mullally