Embracing Diversity and Inclusion

In Collegiate School’s ongoing efforts to help students, faculty and staff better understand each other and the world in which we live, the School has continued this school year to foster conversation, self-reflection and meaningful action around diversity and inclusion.
The most recent endeavor took place this morning, when Collegiate School faculty and staff heard from Jonathan Zur, President and CEO of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, during a professional development session.

Mr. Zur spoke about the how and why of creating an inclusive environment, including following these four steps: build community; center diversity and inclusion in lessons; address issues quickly; and seek input regularly.

“If we do these four things, we create a more fair, equitable and just environment,” Mr. Zur said.

The audience then broke into small groups for further discussion facilitated by Collegiate faculty. The breakout sessions gave faculty and staff members the opportunity to explore tangible ways to implement Zur’s four steps.

The conversation and activity were one of many ways students, faculty and staff have explored how to understand diversity and embrace inclusion at the School.

In the Middle School, the first Tuesday of the month is designated Inclusion Tuesday, during which advisors lead students through an activity designed to foster understanding. This month, Middle School Advisories participated in #500Friends, where they mix 5th and 7th Grade and 6th and 8th Grade students. The goal of #500Friends is to allow the different age groups to get acquainted and have the older students take on leadership roles in the discussion. This activity built on the first two Inclusion Tuesdays, which focused on empathy and being an upstander — someone who speaks up when another person is being mistreated.

In mid-November, 10 Collegiate Middle Schoolers attended a leadership conference at the St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Virginia, during which they examined perspectives and biases. About 175 students from schools in Maryland, D.C and Virginia attended the 4th annual Student Diversity Conference, entitled Do You See What I See? Examining Bias to Embrace Differences. Middle School art teacher Teresa Coleman and Middle School activities director Andrew Slater accompanied the 7th and 8th Graders as they participated in various workshops aimed at helping them to see different points of view, examine their own stories and consider how they might help to create a more inclusive environment at school.
Liz Jackson, Upper School Counselor and Associate Director of College Counseling, accompanied six 10th and 11th Graders to Richmond Diversity Dialogue Day, a one-day youth leadership conference on Nov. 14. The conference, held at the University of Richmond, brought together 10th-12th Grade students from public and independent schools throughout Richmond to foster awareness and action in the areas of diversity and inclusion. This year’s theme was Breaking Down Bullying and students left the program with the tools to create school and community environments without prejudice, stereotypes and bigotry. Students returned ready to engage in the work of fostering an inclusive community.

“When I asked students to reflect on their experience, they said, ‘Diversity is passive; inclusion is active,’" Ms. Jackson said.

Kate Ayers, the Executive Director of ReEstablish Richmond, spoke to 4th Graders on Nov. 16 about the work her organization does in helping refugees transition to their new lives in Richmond and become more self-sufficient. She explained to the students what they might expect when they meet some of these new friends on Nov. 30. On that date, the 4th Graders will host 100 guests from ReEstablish Richmond for a potluck dinner, a culminating Project Based Learning event as part of their immigration studies. Not only will the students help to set up, serve and clean up, they also will interact with the guests and play games with the children who attend.  

“Being welcoming means a lot,” Ms. Ayers said. “A smile will go a long way.”

Later this week, seven faculty members — Laura Matthews, Sydney O'Neill, Kate Cunningham, Laurie Goode, Liz Bowling, Elizabeth Jackson and Erica Coffey — will attend the 2017 National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference, themed Voices for Equity and Justice Now and in Every Generation: Lead, Learn, Rededicate, and Deliver, from Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Anaheim, California. Six Upper Schoolers — Tyler Tunstall, Zaed Karabatek, Shreya Sharma, Austin Tyner, Savanna Ellis and Gabbie Spurlock — will accompany the faculty and attend the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference, which ispart of the PoCC. Keynote speakers at the conference include Kimberlé Crenshaw, American civil rights advocate and professor at the UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School; Maria Teresa Kumar, founding president and CEO of Voto Latino; and Ta-Nehisi Coates, New York Times best-selling author of Between the World and Me, the winner of the National Book Award, and national correspondent for The Atlantic.

The mission of the People of Color Conference is to provide a safe space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and theirallies of all backgrounds in independent schools. The Student Diversity Leadership Conference provides a similar opportunity for independent school students. Collegiate has sent a cohort of faculty, staff and students to both conferences each year for more than a decade.  

Beyond the efforts undertaken this semester, conversations, helpful exercises and lessons will continue, said Head of School Steve Hickman. ​

"Our Board of Trustees has made it is explicitly clear that we have the responsibility to help educate Collegiate students about the great benefits of diversity, to offer an inclusive environment that fosters empathy in our young people and to help them develop the skills to better negotiate the world that they will one day lead."