By Rev. Kristin Elliott, Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
The work of diversity, equity, and inclusion is heart work. It is a journey of becoming that when done well, involves self-reflection, personal and collective challenges, love, celebration, empathy, vulnerability, and the courage to lean into discomfort. Most importantly, however, it requires a communal effort. The goal of this heart work is to create an atmosphere that nourishes the soul of everyone in the community, engendering a sense of belonging. There is no endpoint or finish line to this work. Rather, it is an ongoing journey of becoming more and more aware of how we show up in the world and in each other’s lives. It is taking the time to truly see someone else and to let them see you. It is vulnerable work.
Building upon our theme for the school year, Embracing Community: Unity in Diversity, the St. Albans community pulled together to do this heart work. We began the year discussing our shared summer reading text, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, a book of poetry by Joy Harjo. Forms I–VI engaged with the text in advisory and in some classes. As we began returning in waves to our regular community gatherings of assemblies, chapel services, and family-style lunch, opportunities for cultural celebrations re-emerged.
In the Upper School, affinity groups continued to flourish. Meeting on Mondays, these groups hosted Upper School assemblies and some events with NCS. With student coordination, we celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month; Lunar New Year; Black History Month; Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander Month; and Holi. The Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) invited Rev. Peter Thompson ’08 to share his journey as a student at STA, being among the first students to come out to his teachers and classmates. Jordan Clark ’10 offered an assembly about leaning into your talents and dreams as he shared his experience of collaboration and music as a founding member of the band Bid Adieu. The Cultural Awareness Association hosted an assembly with Samantha Powers, STA parent and administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. She discussed the war in Ukraine, providing a deep look into the precipitating factors and the onslaught, in addition to sharing her on-the-ground interaction with refugees.
In the Lower School, Forms I and II continued to engage in affinity groups, and the entire Lower School community coordinated cultural celebrations and learning opportunities. Beginning with Hispanic Heritage Month, the Lower School hosted Mariachi Los Caciques, a mariachi band from Lakeview High School in San Angelo, Texas. Coordinated by Ms. Shirley Moore, director of Forms C, B & A music, the talented high school performers offered an assembly to the Lower School and played at Upper School lunch. As a special treat, our very own Anthony Robles ’23, a former member of the band, joined in to play for the Upper School. The Lower School, together with NCS’s Middle School, celebrated the Lunar New Year with a Cathedral chapel that featured a dramatic presentation of the Lunar New Year story; special prayers; music by Judy Chen and Feng Li on the Guzheng, an ancient Chinese string instrument also known as a Chinese zither; and a lion dance by the Choy Wun Lion Dance Troupe.
As part of the Lunar New Year celebration, students in the AAAPI Affinity Group, families, faculty, and staff decorated the school and provided a special Chinese lunch for the school. Parent volunteers passed out chocolate coins and a note about the Lunar New Year written by Kevin Xu ’22. As a special touch to celebrate the Year of the Tiger, Ms. Melissa Guinness created a life-size paper craft tiger, in a process similar to origami, that toured the Close. With the coordinated effort of Mrs. Weihong Leyden, Kevin Xu, and the DEI team, we hosted a special Lunar New Year dinner for our dorm students.
In celebration of the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. we coordinated with NCS, Beauvoir, and the Cathedral for an historic service in which Miss Yolanda Renee King, the 13-year-old granddaughter of Dr. King, took the steps of the Canterbury Pulpit to stand where her grandfather preached his last Sunday sermon. There, Miss King reminded us of Dr. King’s dream and the need for us to continue the work that he began. Following the service, the Upper School attended an assembly in which Professor Frank Snowden ’64 discussed his experience as the first African American student to graduate from St. Albans.
Continuing with our theme of Embracing Community, the Lower and Upper Schools participated in their respective chapels honoring diversity within the St. Albans community. These services included topics such as celebrating religious diversity, Ramadan, Christmas traditions, Yom Kippur, Diwali, transracial adoption, Hanukkah, Lunar New Year celebrations, Black History Month and gospel music, honoring the Holocaust Day of Remembrance, living Black History, Nowruz, Passover, Holi, and a litany of others.
With a grand team effort of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents, we observed our Diversity Forum, in which students attended keynote address and workshops on various topics aligned with our theme of Embracing Community: Unity in Diversity. In addition to attending workshops, the Lower School attended a keynote with Dr. Naomi Rowe-Gurney, postdoctoral researcher with the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center employed by Howard University. Dr. Rowe-Gurney shared her journey as the only Black woman and often the only person of color in the spaces in which she has learned and worked. Her message was one of determination and tenacity to face and overcome obstacles. The Upper School listened as Professor Mark Niles ’84 of Hofstra University gave a keynote on Critical Race Theory: What Is It and Why is Everyone Talking About It? Professor Niles gave a very objective look at a topic that has become so polarizing in our nation. Following the keynote, the Upper School met in student-led breakout sessions to discuss the topic further.
This year St. Albans also engaged in collective self-reflection as we worked with The Glasgow Group to conduct a diversity assessment of our school community. Students, alumni, faculty, staff, current parents, and parents of recent alumni were invited to take part in a survey and focus groups. As a school, we took a hard, long look at ourselves to learn about our strengths and areas for improvement regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion. The feedback from the assessment varied greatly, but one theme that emerged throughout every constituency group was the deep love that our community has for St. Albans.