Belonging at Blair 

By members of the Inclusivity Committee

In this essay, three members of Blair’s Inclusivity Committee—history teacher Dr. Hannah Higgin, language department chair Joyce Lang and Dean of Strategic Initiatives Leucretia Shaw—share how the Committee is working to expand Blair’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion work.

This time things will be different, right? That’s the question May 25, 2020 inspired as the Black Lives Matter movement resurged with fervor, with the coronavirus pandemic in the backdrop, and backed by more than just the care and concern of Black people. On that horrific day, even though there had been so many others like it, the killing of another unarmed Black man in America by law enforcement appeared to become just too much. Many took to the streets to stand up for justice for George Floyd, for countless others and the whole Black community, which has been dehumanized for centuries in this country and around the world. Taking notice and moving out of a state of neutrality or denial became imperative. We all had to take stock of the racism that has plagued society and come to grips with our own part in a very flawed system. Blair was no exception.

Compelled by the global movement for improving and protecting Black lives and in response to community feedback, the Blair Academy Inclusivity Committee, at work since its inception four years ago, has a renewed sense of urgency to expand the School’s diversity, equity and inclusion work. In building a foundation for active and radical kindness that engages with the realities around us, as a School, we knew we had work to do.

Providing a clear public statement to the entire Blair community acknowledging the racism that exists on our campus was the necessary first step to approaching things differently. Since that time, throughout the summer and into the start of the school year, faculty, staff and students have engaged in thinking and training about diversity, equity and inclusion, particularly along lines of race. Between the discussion forums and conversations in which we heard from alumni, parents and students and read the stories shared on social media, self education and professional training have stood out as key areas for Blair on the journey of improvement.

In that vein, various members of the faculty took up Dr. Eddie Moore’s 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge, engaged in group study of Ibram Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, and ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion training for faculty and staff began. We will also continue participating in diversity, equity and inclusion–related conferences and offering the yearlong Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) seminar professional-development program. Many of the courses Blair is planning for the all-remote academic session in January 2021 will have a social-justice focus, and Martin Luther King Jr. seminars will now be Black History Month seminars. In assessing policies and programs, language in our student handbook has been updated and a statement on diversity, equity and inclusion has been added. School rules and the expectations for reporting on incidents of bias have been adjusted and made more clear as well.

Right at the outset of the 2020-2021 school year, all students were reminded of Blair’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion work during orientation in the form of large-group presentations and small-group discussions. We look forward to our curriculum audit and ensuring that students have exposure to and facility with diversity, equity and inclusion matters, inside and outside of the classroom. Diversity, equity and inclusion are as essential as the academic courses we teach in preparing our students to operate in the world effectively, compassionately and successfully. As an educational community, we are obligated to provide students with knowledge, skill and understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion topics. Competencies related to identity, human dignity and difference are and will continue to be as core as those in math, history, English, language and science.

As classes resume, the weather cools, and the realities of adapting to life during a global health crisis set in, the Inclusivity Committee promises to continually recenter diversity, equity and inclusion work in all of the School’s endeavors. Engaging our 500-plus member campus in establishing community norms to adhere to and hold one another accountable for has been a gratifying exercise in making sure we conduct ourselves in ways that we, as members of the Blair community, are capable of being on our best days. At the end of the day, diversity, equity and inclusion are interwoven into the fabric of every system, including the Blair system, because it is about treating people right—with respect, care and empathy.

Neutrality, inertia or lack of awareness around the realities of racism, ongoing dehumanization and injustice have no place in an educational environment. Regardless of the other pulls and necessities that come our way, the Inclusivity Committee will remain steadfast in making sure Blair is part of making things different this time. This must be the case if we are going to honor and do right by the Black students, alumni/ae and parents who reported stories that have spotlighted times when Blair has fallen short while we also stand in solidarity with those beyond Blair who suffer at the hands of injustice. Things have to be different if we want to live up to the critical responsibility of educating and empowering our students to lead in and mold a better world. So, are we all in, all together? ■

About the Inclusivity Committee

Charged, in part, with the execution of the diversity, equity and inclusion–focused strategic priorities of Blair’s 2018-2025 Strategic Plan, the Committee comprises 12 members, including School administrators, faculty and Trustees. The Committee exists to promote a sense of belonging in the community, build on the momentum of diversity, equity and inclusion work around campus, and serve as a resource to adults and students for that work.

Key responsibilities of the Committee include serving as a discussion forum and a planning and advocacy group for diversity, equity and inclusion matters. The Committee also supports the development, execution and steering of diversity, equity and inclusion programs and initiatives, including Black History Month seminars (formerly Martin Luther King Jr. seminars), invited speakers, diversity and sensitivity trainings, and evaluation of the campus climate. The Committee meets regularly with the Head of School and now also acts as a body with which members of the community can discuss any incidents of bias. The administrative team will also call on the group for input when considering official school responses to such incidents. Inclusivity Committee members include:

• Dave Facciani, International Student, Academic Monitor

• The Rev. David Harvey, Blair Trustee

• Hannah Higgin, PhD, History Teacher

• Joyce Lang, Language Department Chair

• Joe Mantegna, Associate Dean of College Counseling

• Sharon Merrifield, Mindfulness Teacher/Health & Wellness Teacher

• Nathan Molteni, Dean of Academics

• Ryan Pagotto, Associate Head of School

• Andee Ryerson, Associate Dean of Students

• Maria Savettiere, Blair Trustee

• Leucretia Shaw, Dean of Strategic Initiatives (Chair)

• Ally Thomas, Director of Counseling
 

News Headlines

Stock photo of book shelves

The all-school read provides the entire Blair community, from students to faculty and staff, an opportunity to engage with a single work of literature. The tradition, started in 2017, offers students the chance to interact with up-and-coming authors and thinkers, and it allows the entire community to have a collective conversation about important issues.

Read More about New & Noteworthy: The Boy with Two Hearts Is Blair’s 2021 All-School Read