The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor last year sparked national protests over systemic racism. At NCS, they also sparked conversations about how our school can work toward an anti-racist, more inclusive environment.
Over the summer, the NCS Administrative Team and Governing Board sent a letter to the community, outlined below, detailing how the school will continue vital work centered on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). NCS’s mission is rooted in the Episcopal tradition. The school draws on its core tenets, to “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being” (Book of Common Prayer). We want to shine a light on ways our school can be more inclusive, work diligently to integrate positive change, and implement prioritized action steps with thoughtfulness, timeliness, and accountability.
NCS’s Strategic Plan, approved by the Governing Board in 2018, includes the mandate to “Advance an Inclusive Educational Environment.” The three components of this strategic priority are: 1) Live Our Values as an Inclusive Community; 2) Educate for a Diverse and Global Community; and 3) Advocate the Philosophy of an Inclusive Education. Our school has been and will continue to be focused on this important priority, and we are integrating related action steps into the fabric of everything we are and do as a school community.
“We believe in the power of young women.” Our school’s mission begins with this commitment to each of our students—which includes helping every student to find and use her unique voice to make a difference. One of our students stated, “Just ask us; we will tell you what would make a difference.” Following up on this suggestion, we had conversations this summer and fall with students, faculty, staff, and alumnae to discuss race, systemic and institutional racism, microaggressions, and steps that will move us toward being a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive school community. These discussions have been invaluable in illuminating the work we need to do.
NCS is a 120-year-old educational institution, and our community is reflecting on our history, acknowledging our mistakes—what we have done or left undone—and considering how best to advance in meaningful, productive, and supportive ways. We deeply regret any pain, indignities, and/or suffering experienced by members of our school community due to school practices or the actions or words of other community members. We recognize and are dedicated to the critical importance of this ongoing, persistent, and diligent work, and want to share with you several updates and action steps we are taking.
First, we welcome Jessica North Macie and Tamara Riquelme-Manzoni as interim co-coordinators of DEI. Both faculty members have had extensive training in DEI work and have been members of the NCS community for many years. Additionally, members of the Glasgow Group, a consortium of consultants that provides skills, tools, and experiences through a lens of DEI, will support us in our work.
1. Since the start of the school year, NCS has provided more time and space in the school schedule for all students, faculty, and staff to engage in critical conversations around topics of race, anti-racism, social justice, and inclusion. These discussions—in town hall meetings, affinity groups, homerooms, advisor groups, and small-group dialogues—allow us to continually listen, learn, and change in more timely ways. We also will continue the important work of our Center for Ethical Leadership and Service, established in 2013, which engages our students in applying ethical principles to all aspects of their lives. Surveys and/or focus groups will also be utilized as needed as we set specific, measurable goals.
2. The diverse and inclusive curriculum at NCS is at the heart of a superb and meaningful academic experience for our students. We often introduce new courses and revise course content in ways that will inspire students to delve deeply and comprehensively across a diversity of topics, authors, and historical perspectives. For example, in the English department, new Upper School electives this year include Asian-American Voices, Native American Literature, and Black Lives in Literature. Last year, a cohort of teachers from St. Albans and NCS worked to redesign the fully-coordinate, required junior-year course American Literary Traditions; texts selected for this course now enhance the diversity of American literary voices in the “long nineteenth century.” In the Middle School, a new class, Courageous Dialogues, is meeting regularly. Academic departments must continue to review their courses to consider diverse content, as well as the accessibility of our courses for all students.
3. We will continue to expand ways to interview, hire, and retain diverse faculty and staff. We look to expand our network of hiring resources to attract a diverse pool of candidates. We believe it is important for all students to see themselves reflected in the adults on campus. In addition, we are in the process of finalizing updated hiring protocols, as a result of our anti-bias work.
We also will continue to welcome a wide array of guest speakers, many of whom have already generously offered to share their leadership stories with our students.
4. We will continue to expand ways to attract, retain, and connect diverse students. The Admission and Financial Aid office will continue to build on the diverse and inclusive parent and student ambassador program, ensuring that our outreach strategy casts a far and genuine reach. Our robust Financial Aid program helps to ensure that every admitted student has the opportunity to attend NCS, regardless of the family’s financial circumstance. That financial commitment continues to ensure that enrolled students can be included and enjoy the full NCS experience. For 2020-2021, 46 percent of students identify as students of color (up from 35 percent in 2011-2012), as we continue the work to have NCS better reflect the demographics of our city and region.
5. Our core value of courage necessitates that we provide a safe environment to encourage and support everyone to speak up and invite, not fear, discomfort. This fall, stories shared on @blackatncs on Instagram offered a clear picture of deep pain and frustration. We told those community members who shared their truths that we are listening, that they belong here, and that this is their school. Our school believes in the power of young women, and we honor and admire those who are using that power to keep us accountable and to bring about change. As we hold conversations around honoring each
student’s identity, history, and experiences, discomfort helps us to stretch and grow. Learning how to engage in difficult conversations, to listen respectfully, and to consider multiple perspectives are vital to
building a strong educational community and preparing our students for future academic, community, and professional engagement and leadership. We will continue to teach the skills students need both to be confident to stand up for what they believe in and to work collaboratively to make a difference. Faculty and staff are engaging in conversations to become more intentional about how to identify microaggressions, to convey that disrespect is not tolerated in any circumstance, to teach that misinformation and assumptions breed misunderstanding and misinformation, and to address these situations as immediately as possible.
6. We are reviewing our student handbook and the policies therein with a lens toward fairness, equity, inclusion, and providing a safe and respectful environment for all community members. We want age-appropriate responses to educate and hold students accountable for actions that harm members of the community. We also want to clearly communicate various resources to students, such as where to go when something happens and whom they can speak to when something worries them or they want to talk.
7. Diversity training is required for all our faculty and staff. Many employees have already completed this, gaining competence in facilitating safe conversations around difficult topics and addressing issues as they arise. Professional development opportunities will continue to be offered to and encouraged for our faculty and staff. We will continue to include learning experiences for students as well, in various venues on campus, in the community at large, and at conferences. These opportunities include academic course work, as well as co-curricular opportunities through the Center for Ethical Leadership and Service, health and wellness initiatives, and during school gatherings and assemblies. The topics of our chapel and Cathedral services will also reflect our faith tradition and our school’s ongoing commitment to DEI.
8. We will continue our name project, an initiative in which every name of an NCS student, faculty, and staff member is personally recorded on audio and every community member can access the recording in order to learn the proper pronunciation of each person’s name. We value the correct pronunciation of each person’s name.
9. We are continuing to broaden the conversation around DEI to include parents and alumnae. In the spring, educator and writer Debby Irving gave a thoughtful parent presentation and held a diversity parent conversation over Zoom. We would like to continue to offer opportunities like these to our parents. We strongly believe in the importance of the partnership we have with our families at NCS. Alumnae are participating in a year-long series of four “Diversity 101” events, hosted by NCS Alumnae Relations and led by diversity trainer and consultant, Jessy Molina. We also consider our graduates as “NCSers” for life!
10. And finally, members of our school community engaged in summer reading as usual. We read the following books with DEI content: We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be by Cornelius Minor, Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension by Sarah K. Ahmed, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, and Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms by Joe Feldman.
As we progress toward these goals, immediate action steps, and a continuing vision for DEI work at NCS, we will continue to keep our community updated and part of the conversation. We are thankful for all of the ways in which our community has supported this work and encouraged us to do more.
This story originally appeared in the Winter 2020 edition of the NCS Magazine.