Head’s Message: An Update on Our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

Head’s Message: An Update on Our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

September 15, 2020

Dear Parents,

Last spring, the faculty and I pledged that the 2020-21 school year would be a year of healing—in body, mind, and spirit. While our plans to reopen the school for in-person learning was a significant focus of the summer, it was not our only major endeavor. We renewed our commitment to the cause of racial justice and our school’s mission to recognize the sacred nature of every member of our community. St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leadership (DEIL) team, which we introduced to the community in a letter sent in August of 2019, has led our efforts in this area, working closely with members of the administration, faculty, and Board of Trustees throughout last year and this summer too. This letter outlines the work of the DEIL team to date, as well as some of the initiatives the school has planned for the coming year and beyond.

Curriculum Audit & ”Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain“
The first official school-wide project the DEIL team facilitated was in the summer of 2019, an all-faculty reading of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, by Zaretta Hammond. During Faculty Week last September, we discussed the book and its applications to our teaching. We referred to it throughout the year and returned to it in depth during our professional development day in March.

With this common foundation, DEIL introduced its Curriculum Self-Audit for Faculty to help teachers understand the lens from which they teach; to inform their teaching choices; and to guide them in continually setting new goals toward creating more culturally relevant and responsive curricula. The audit asked faculty to assess their work in these four critical domains:

  • Content and Materials
  • Instructional Techniques and Practices
  • Assessments
  • Classroom Culture and Community
  • The curriculum audit has been an ongoing and collaborative process, meant to be both reflective and action-oriented, and the DEIL team encourages the faculty to discuss their findings and brainstorm new ideas with one another.

Music Curriculum Review Process
One curricular initiative that rose directly from the faculty audit was the work of music teachers Beth Soleimany and Jude Olney, who researched and identified songs, games, and other materials that have deliberately racist or harmful origins and that were used historically to continue racist and oppressive traditions. Ms. Soleimany and Mr. Olney shared their findings with the entire faculty and also provided additional materials teachers could employ in place of the problematic materials. Here you will find a list of songs and poems that were found to have racist, sexist, or derogatory origins or connections; please contact the DEIL team if you would like to discuss this project in more depth.

Ongoing Consultation with Faculty and Parents
The DEIL team divided the faculty into four cohorts, and each DEIL member consulted individually with the members of their cohort throughout the year. Using the results of the audit, faculty members chose areas on which to focus and created professional goals based on what was discovered during the audit process.

The DEIL team provided formal weekly office hours and were also available to meet by appointments when requested. This year DEIL continues to offer Google Meet sessions to assist and collaborate with faculty and parents, upon request.

Faculty and Parent SEED
SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) has been a staple of St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s DEI work for nearly a decade. Part of the National SEED Project, last year we offered Faculty SEED for the eighth year and Parent SEED for the fifth year, both facilitated by the DEIL team. SEED meetings include learning history and scholarship of peoples with various identifiers (race, gender, socio-economic status, religion, age, ability, sexual orientation), personal reflection and testimony from within those identities, listening to one another’s experiences, and coming to clearer understanding of others in the context of each participant’s intersecting identities. SEED encourages faculty participants to make connections between their own experiences of identity and the work they do in the classroom. Additionally, SEED asks teachers to seek a deeper understanding of how their own identities impact their relationships with students.

Due to the pandemic, and the intimate nature and proximal necessity of SEED, this year, we as a school will take a temporary hiatus from formal SEED cohorts and pursue new DEI initiatives that include parent community support, scholarship, affinity spaces, and virtual dialogue across identity groups. We are not abandoning the SEED project; as the creators of the National SEED Project originally intended, the many faculty and parents who have been part of SEED at St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s will be vital to the ongoing equity and inclusion work taking place here and in the wider world.

Last Spring: Responding to Racial Injustice
Near the end of the school year, the nation's epidemic of often deadly violence against Black people, and the systems of power that perpetuate it, emerged vividly for a growing audience of Americans, and parents and faculty responded. DEIL helped the parent and faculty communities process all that was being experienced or witnessed by providing critical racial affinity spaces for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) parents, faculty, and students, as well racial learning spaces for white parents, faculty, students, and others who want to work for greater racial equity. The parent and faculty communities came together at a larger session, sharing their feelings, concerns, needs, and commitments to one another as fellow parents, teachers, friends, and colleagues. These conversations will continue this year; more information about this can be found below.

Alumni Engagement
Throughout the spring I talked with alumni, as did members of the DEIL team, about their experiences of equity and inclusion during their time at St. Hilda's & St. Hugh's. I have been truly grateful for their insights. Additionally, DEIL and the alumni office are collaborating on a vehicle through which BIPOC or LGBTQ alumni can build relationships with current students who share the same identities. We will share more information about that going forward, and we will also reach out separately to the alumni community to share the school's plans and how they can be involved.

New Initiatives
Upper Division English Curriculum
This summer, the entire upper division English department collaborated with members of the DEIL team, Upper Division Director Katie Rocker, and Librarian Angela Perna, to examine the division’s chosen English texts. The team read and discussed several books for each grade level to work toward ensuring that the literature students are reading provides a well-rounded and complete portrayal of children and families of all identities, and that students encounter ideas, belief systems, and experiences that will prepare them to be productive and empathic members of a multicultural, interracial, diverse community. The new list of book selections will be shared with families soon.

Collaboration with the Parents’ Association
After our community calls in the spring, several parents reached out to DEIL to learn more about how interested parents might lend their skills and time toward DEI work for our community. As an organization, the Parents’ Association has reaffirmed the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their agenda for the coming year. DEIL will offer support and guidance to the PA and other parents engaging in this work. Please stay tuned for communication from the PA with more information about these initiatives.

Affinity Spaces
Continuing our progress from this past spring, St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s will offer virtual affinity spaces for BIPOC and those who identify as members of the LGBTQ community, as well as spaces for white people who would like to examine their own racial identities and what whiteness can mean as our community works for greater equity. DEIL will provide these spaces for parents and faculty, and we are currently exploring what we can make possible for our students.

Additionally, we will create a forum for the entire community to come together again to share our progress, commitments, and goals for a truly equitable community. Please stay tuned for dates, times, and Google Meet Links.

Anti-Racist Allies Reading Group
Members of the faculty have set personal goals as antiracist educators. One such example includes a group of white, female teachers and administrators who formed an anti-racist allies group this summer. Guided by DEIL, they read and researched a variety of historical and sociological sources and met weekly to explore this scholarship, their experiences as white women, and the history of racism and whiteness in America. These meetings will continue in the coming year and are one example of individuals on the faculty working independently to expand their knowledge and work as anti-racist educators.

“Living History” Program with Dr. Anne C. Bailey, ’82
I have enlisted Dr. Anne C. Bailey, an alumna and former trustee of St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s, to work with faculty and parents throughout the year. Dr. Bailey is a well-published professor of history and Africana studies at SUNY Binghamton; her work was featured in the 1619 Project. Her scholarship connects events of the past to current and contemporary issues, and she is also concerned with the reconciliation of communities after conflicts like slavery, war, and genocide. Dr. Bailey was a student of our founder, Mother Ruth; her knowledge of our mission paired with her impressive scholarship should lead to important discoveries for all of us.

I want to thank everyone who has been a part of this ongoing work, which has its roots in the school’s founding mission and remains more vital to our program than ever. I acknowledge especially the work of the DEIL team, whose members include Valerie Morel, Paula Lee, and Eboni Washington. I also want to recognize Nicole Johnson, one of the founding members of DEIL. Nicole has temporarily stepped off the team as she adjusts to her new role as lower division director. The DEIL team worked throughout last year and the summer to support faculty, families, and students and to advance our school's institution goals, and we are extremely grateful for their considerable efforts.

If you have any questions about any of our programs or plans, I encourage you to reach out to DEIL via email (deil@sthildas.org) or to me directly.


Virginia Connor
Head of School