Action Steps Furthering Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Blair
Chris Fortunato

Dear Blair Community,

Now, more than ever, Blair must and will move forward with critical action steps in furtherance of the diversity, equity and inclusion priorities laid out in our 2018-2025 Strategic Plan. We are all committed to more fully ensure that we are an inclusive, safe and welcoming community for every student and every adult.

Over the last several weeks, I have listened to and read stories of pain and struggle among Black students and alumni/ae in the Blair community. During my recent parent Town Hall, I shared that our students and extended Blair family must and will hear from us that Black Lives Matter. They must and will hear from us that teaching about race and social justice will be a meaningful part of our lives and curriculum at Blair. They must and will hear from us that Blair is committed to doing and being better. That is why we embarked on our Strategic Plan. That’s why we will listen and act with determination, humility and grace. When we say “Ever, Always,” that is our oath to honor the best of who we are and to make Blair the School our students and families need it to be now. We are committed to engaging in a dialogue with all stakeholders in our community about race, starting in the small-group forums we are hosting this summer. As we move forward into the next school year, we will remain committed to listening, learning and ensuring Blair is an institution in which every student feels included, supported and cared for.

Our actions are and will be grounded in our mission—to know our students and to prepare them to thrive in a diverse and complex world that we believe they will make better. As a School, we’ve endeavored to be thoughtful and deliberate so that our actions are meaningful and based on good advice, real data and our community’s lived experiences and truths. Yet, we are also compelled by the fierce urgency of now to accelerate work that will immediately impact the Blair experience and that is responsive to the needs of our community. We must demonstrate our commitment to practicing our mission every day and more fully realizing a culture that allows students to be and express their authentic selves, that is anti-racist, that fosters meaningful understanding and deep relationships and that, in reality, as opposed to just words, feels truly “all in” and “all together.”

I include here important steps we are and will be taking immediately in furtherance of key priority initiatives from our Strategic Plan, understanding that our work and future steps will continue to evolve as we evaluate what is most effective and listen to our community’s experiences, stories and ideas, not just in the coming weeks and months, but throughout the School’s future.

1.   FACULTY TRAINING

Sustained and effective faculty training is crucial to Blair’s nurturing a campus climate that fosters inclusion and equity. Building on recent professional development efforts, Blair has retained an expert diversity practitioner to inform and partner with our academic office and Inclusivity Committee to implement targeted training plans based on best practices for faculty. This effort will start this summer and continue throughout the school year. Moreover, we will substantially expand faculty participation in known, meaningful professional development programs, particularly the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference and the National Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) Project in the 2020-2021 school year.  

2.   CURRICULUM

As per our Strategic Plan, our Curriculum Committee, working with the academic office and our department heads, will conduct a comprehensive audit of our academic course offerings and provide recommendations that will be published for our entire community in late spring of 2021 as to how Blair’s curriculum across disciplines can better reflect the diversity of identity, thought, experience and background critical to providing a world-class education to all of our students. This will allow Blair to develop a thoughtful and comprehensive plan that builds upon what we are doing well and embraces opportunities for growth and improvement in our programs.

Over the course of the coming school year, Blair will be revising its current curricular offerings, including developing a new course that all students must take on the historical and modern realities of racism, intolerance, empathy and understanding. This class will launch in the fall of 2021 and build on other course offerings, seminars, discussion groups and speakers that we have developed over recent years and will continue to offer in the coming school year.

3.   FACULTY, STAFF & BOARD DIVERSITY

We will continue to expand our online and in-person faculty recruitment efforts and tools, including participation in diversity hiring fairs, targeted outreach to colleges/universities, including HBCUs, continuing our winter internship program for aspiring teachers, outreach to alumni/ae for hiring referrals and on-campus recruitment opportunities. While we have made progress, we will build on those efforts in the coming weeks and months and expand our capacity to do this work. Toward that end, this winter, we appointed veteran faculty member Leucretia Shaw to the School’s senior leadership team in the role of Dean of Strategic Initiatives, effective July 1, 2020. Leucretia has already partnered with me, Dean of Faculty Lorry Perry and others to recruit, retain and support exceptional faculty of color to join our community and to provide mentorship to all of our teachers. She will be seeking the input and help of our extended Blair community to do so.  

To make important strides on this front, we will accelerate our plans to create a teaching fellowship program that will enable Blair to tap into a diverse range of aspiring graduate students/early career teachers, with plans to bring on our first teaching fellow(s) at the start of the 2021-2022 school year. We are in the process of raising more endowed funds to support this initiative, which we know works to enhance faculty diversity in other schools.        

Blair’s Board of Trustees has reaffirmed its commitment to more fully reflect the diversity of race/ethnicity, background and experience of our students, alumni/ae and families. A standing Inclusivity Committee has now been established at the Board level, and its Chair will serve on our Board’s Executive Committee and provide Trustee oversight of Blair’s campus climate and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

4.   ENGAGEMENT & TRANSPARENCY 

We have much to learn and must continue to listen to all members of our community to inform our work on identifying, addressing and educating around issues of bias in order to better create a more inclusive community. This past school year, we conducted the NAIS Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism, a survey instrument sent to students, faculty, staff, Trustees, parents and alumni/ae. We were in the process of analyzing those results when we had to transition to distance learning in March, and we will share that data with the full community as we return to campus this fall. 

I am further asking our Inclusivity Committee to engage the broader Blair community through outreach, open meetings and regular updates in order to make recommendations to the School on staffing, programming and student support needs. We also will be sharing plans for regularly auditing our discipline process and responding to issues of bias and intolerance on our campus in ways that are consistent, appropriately transparent and honor the dignity, privacy and humanity of all involved.  

In addition to investing in these areas, we remain committed to assembling a diverse group of talented students from across the United States and around the world on our campus. That’s why increasing endowed financial aid funds is among our Strategic Plan’s priorities and our admission office will continue to partner closely with organizations and foundations that promote access and opportunities to schools like Blair.   

Blair stands first and foremost for its students. Because of that, whenever our students (past or present) are hurting and need to be heard, it is our responsibility to listen, acknowledge and honor what they’ve told us, to investigate concerns thoroughly to better understand what happened and to do better. Then we must go ahead and do that work thoughtfully and decisively and provide a safe space for our students, parents and alumni to learn from each other, evolve and support one another. That is my promise to you. That is Blair’s promise to you as we map our path forward. We should expect to be held accountable for fulfilling that promise. I thank those of you who have reached out to share your thoughts and experiences and offered to partner with us as we assume that responsibility and do the work. 

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