Diversity, Community, and Inclusion Update

February 18, 2021
Dear Saints Community,
 
In early June of 2020, in the midst of our nation’s confrontation of long-simmering issues of justice, equal treatment, and the pernicious legacy of slavery, I offered a letter to our community, summarizing my feelings in that moment and our school’s institutional commitment to address those matters brought into spotlight in Richmond and throughout the world this summer. 
 
While more than eight months have passed since I wrote that letter, and while we have focused much of our energy this school year on preparing for and maintaining safe on-campus teaching and learning amidst the ongoing COVID pandemic, I write today to share that our faculty, staff, and I, as well as our Board of Governors, remain committed to the important work of advancing diversity, community, and inclusion in the St. Christopher’s community and, by extension, the greater Richmond community. 
 
I hope that you have had the opportunity to review our new strategic plan, Momentum 2025. In it, you will find the School’s equal and fervent commitment to four core priorities that will guide our work over the next five years. One of the four priorities is to “continue to build a community that fosters diversity and belonging as we teach every boy to listen with care, patience, and empathy, and to communicate with civility.”
 
At St. Christopher’s, we are committed to the notion that an educational institution can and should be firmly committed to the ideals of diversity and inclusion and also civil and free discourse. There should be no mutual exclusivity between those concepts. As an Episcopal school, we turn to the Baptismal Covenant, which calls us to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.”
 
Over these past eight months, through an intense presidential election, continued national partisanship, and the recent historic events in Washington, DC, all of us, including the boys of St. Christopher’s, have witnessed what happens when a nation is locked in tension, when adults speak more than they listen, and when we fail to empathize and walk a proverbial mile in one another’s shoes.
 
Last week I received a phone call from an alumnus from the Class of 1949. He commented to me that he viewed all of these historic events of late as “teachable moments” and that he hoped we were not shying away from them at St. Christopher’s, but rather using them as a platform to engage our boys in reflection and civil discussion. I was proud to tell him that we have and that we will.
 
As we focus on the dual and essential goals of enhancing diversity, community, inclusion, and equity at St. Christopher’s and ensuring that our community is one in which varied political, social, and intellectual perspectives are welcomed with grace and civility, I am pleased to share the following:
 
  • We have formally launched an “Inclusive Curriculum Audit” at St. Christopher’s, led by our division and department heads and curriculum and instructional specialists, with the stated goal of ensuring that “Saints of the 2020s and beyond enter the world with a broad perspective of history, culture, literature, and beliefs.” This curriculum audit is being conducted in a thoughtful and deliberate manner, over what will likely be a two-year period, beginning with faculty review and introspection of their current course content, programming, and pedagogy, and examining what diverse perspectives and approaches are currently being offered throughout our JK-12 continuum. While different divisions and departments have conducted similar curriculum audits at various points over the past 30+ years, we believe this is the first such JK-12 audit in St. Christopher’s history. 
 
  • Beginning this past summer, our outstanding Director of Community and Inclusion Ed Cowell has conducted several in-person discussions and numerous Zoom conversations individually and in small groups with St. Christopher’s alumni of color. The conversations have been rich and revealing, offering affirmation of these alumni’s abiding respect and appreciation for their St. Christopher’s experience, along with examples of ways in which we can better serve both students of color and all St. Christopher’s students today and into the future.
 
  • Recognizing the important role our parents play as partners in preparing our boys for a global world, Mr. Cowell also hosted nearly a dozen Courageous Conversation sessions for St. Christopher’s parents. These discussions were value-based discussions that also raised important questions about individual and collective biases we may hold. With well over a hundred parents participating in these sessions, it provided further demonstration of our commitment to achieving a diverse and inclusive school community. 
 
  • Working in partnership with our Alumni Association, we are in the early stages of creating a new Black Alumni Network–an opportunity for our Black Alumni to regularly connect with one another and with current students, in person and online, providing personal and professional support and mentorship. We are open to offering similar networking groups for other alumni, as well.  
 
  • Our Board of Governors, in partnership with the St. Catherine’s Board of Governors, is preparing for an afternoon of professional development and conversations on the topic of diversity, community, and inclusion in the Saints community, to occur this spring. 
 
  • When COVID restrictions are lifted, we are committed to offering an in-person forum on the topic of race and inclusion in Richmond and in the Saints community. This will be a forum open to all members of the Saints community and one in which a variety of perspectives are welcomed. 
 
  • Acknowledging this important work as a marathon and not a sprint, we continue to provide professional development training for our faculty and staff. We are also beginning to introduce a range of age-appropriate opportunities to help broaden perspectives for our students, and in doing so, created a St. Christopher’s Civility Statement found in all Student/Family Handbooks to help frame the responsibility each of us has in listening and speaking with respect and dignity toward others.
 
I will close by noting that this month the Saints community mourns the death of Walter D. Lindsey ’75, the first Black graduate of St. Christopher’s School. We honor Mr. Lindsey, his legacy and impact, recognizing the growth of our community in the 45 years since his graduation and the important work still to come.
 
Thank you for your continued support of St. Christopher’s, particularly at this most extraordinary moment in our school’s and country’s history. Should you have any questions or suggestions on any of these topics, feel free to contact me.
 
Sincerely,
 
Mason Lecky
Headmaster
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