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Marist School Principal Updates Parents on Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Work

Marist School Principal Mr. Kevin Mullally shared this progress update with current parents.
Dear Parents,
 
I hope you enjoyed the long weekend and were able to recognize and celebrate Dr. King’s legacy by working towards justice, praying for peace, and serving to build equity. Marist students had the benefit of experiencing a program through the Anti-Defamation League on Monday morning and had the opportunity to watch their classmates reflect on the memory of Dr. King in this video sent yesterday. In the spirit of Dr. King’s ministry and work, I wanted to follow up to share an update on our work at Marist School to address and confront discrimination and racism over the last year.
 
Starting last school year, with the input of students, we crafted an anti-discrimination policy that took a clear stance on the expectations we have for our students’ behavior. Now completed, that document provides a formal and explicit description of the unacceptable behaviors that threaten both school safety and human dignity. Moreover, it includes an outline of the school’s response should anyone be in violation of the policy. As a foundation for shaping the culture at Marist, we launched that policy at the beginning of this school year via handbook reviews with students and at Parents’ Night in School.
 
Similarly, at this year’s mandatory meeting for new parents, Ms. LaRita Williams spoke on behalf of the Office of Inclusion & Diversity to give an overview of our ongoing commitment to equity and inclusion on campus. This was a change from past years, when the Office of I&D had not been included, and so we used it as an opportunity to affirm why diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are essential to who we are and to explain our expectations for all families and students in the community.
 
While we maintain that everyone here is responsible for uplifting the principles of DEI with us, we are partnering with students who have come forward as leaders for their peers. Recently, the school administration met with a group of students who approached us last fall to share their experiences with bias or hate on campus. This time last year, they voiced suggestions about things they would like to see done differently, and at the check-in meeting last month, they gave feedback about the very positive steps Marist has taken so far to influence student culture. It was humbling, but also very encouraging, to hear what they had to say. Their involvement is now institutionalized as the Student Diversity Leadership Council (SDLC), which will continue to gather monthly with the purpose of communicating issues, discussing how to build a culture of acceptance and compassion, and serving as a sounding board for student initiatives.
 
In addition to the SDLC, we also have a newly formed Black Student Alliance (BSA). As stated in its mission, “The BSA provides a safe space for Black students to gather and be themselves comfortably so that they can experience personal growth and connection to their racial identity. We will create a sense of community and belonging for the Black students at Marist by discussing our shared experiences and building education and awareness about Black culture across the diaspora.” This group joins the Latin American Studies Club that was introduced last year in providing focus on and education in the many diverse groups we are fortunate to have at Marist. We appreciate the sense of belonging these groups help foster at Marist.
 
On the academic side, we introduced a new African-American Literature course that is team taught by Ms. Williams and Dr. Shannon Hipp of the English Department. This course presents a unique opportunity to advance diversity of the literature studied in the English curriculum while also “building empathy and knowledge in order to advance important conversations on the topics of identity, individuality, race, and history within and beyond the Marist community.” For the students enrolled, the course provides an increased level of social awareness that they frequently apply to their understanding of Marist and their own lives.
 
Another avenue for incorporating social justice into the curriculum was through our summer reading selections, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You and Just Mercy. As was done last year with the “On the Same Page” Summer Reading Program, students were required to read the books and then to participate in a full day of programming dedicated to uncovering themes, which in this case related predominately to race, racism, and the Catholic and Marist theme of Ardent Love of Neighbor. Depending on their grade level, students heard from Associate Professor of African American Studies and Historian at Georgia State University Dr. Maurice Hobson for a historical perspective of race here in Atlanta and for a personal perspective from retired Catholic priest, Fr. Bruce Wilkinson, as well as from death row exoneree Mr. John White with the Georgia Innocence Project.
 
Inspired by the summer reading, one of our seniors composed an original song as part of the fall theater production, UNPRECEDENTED. Echoing the themes of Stevenson’s book, she and other students in the theater department offered commentary on the state of Black lives in America, especially in light of the recent and numerous killings of unarmed Black people by police. Our students have been challenged to confront both the history and current day reality of racism in our country so they might actively work against such discrimination as anti-racists. In addition to this variety of student programming, parents were invited to participate in a series of book discussions about each of the books.
 
Finally, we continue our work with Fearless Dialogues, which has included a full program audit of our Office of Inclusion & Diversity as well as a curricular review. Additionally, in November, our entire faculty and staff completed a half-day workshop with their animators around “seeing” and “hearing” one another (and students) so that we can cohesively move towards positive change. Over the next several months, we plan to build on this work with the adults on campus through continued professional development from the Office of Inclusion & Diversity. Fearless Dialogues also will lead a series of three experiential learning sessions for students in two cohorts of 100 each in the second half of this year.
 
I know so many of you were, like me, heartbroken by the painful memories and experiences shared through the BlackAtMarist Instagram account. Those stories of our current and former students as well as their parents and others in the Marist community are a powerful reminder of the importance of this work and the urgency with which we must take it up. To those who spoke there, we have heard you. Together, in the memory of Dr. King and all those who have stood up for justice, equity, and peace, let us transform ourselves, our school, and our society and let us build that day that Dr. King dreamt of, when people “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” At Marist, that is a vision of equity to which we are committed and to which our faith calls us.

Yours in Christ,

Kevin

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Marist School

3790 Ashford Dunwoody Road, NE
Atlanta, GA 30319-1899
(770) 457-7201
An Independent Catholic School of the Marist Fathers and Brothers