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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Progress Update • October 15, 2020

Dear Westminster Community,

We began the 2020-21 school year with renewed determination to create a school community that offers all members, of all identities and backgrounds, a powerful sense of belonging. The courageous voices of students, parents, and alumni that we heard over the summer—and continue to hear—serve as a call to action to fight racism and discrimination whether on our campus or in our nation. This imperative became only more resonant, more urgent, and more inspiring as summer turned to fall and we reunited our campus community after a long hiatus. It is a calling that belongs to us all and as it lives in our hearts and minds, we are taking longer, faster strides on a journey that we began years ago.

What follows provides an interim progress report of our community's ongoing work. This report was promised in a June message from Board Chair Joel Murphy '76 and me where we provided details about the initial action steps we would take toward more fully realizing the promise of Westminster for all members of our community. It reflects the efforts of a wide range of trustees, alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and students, each of whom has engaged in this important work with clear purpose and abiding love for the Westminster community.

This update does not reflect any sense of finality or make any claim of ultimate success. We know that creating a more equitable and inclusive community is a long-term commitment that will, in time, make Westminster a more powerful force for good in the world. It is offered with humility, recognizing that we have a lot to learn. We seek nothing short of a transformation in our school culture that will deepen our mutual respect and elevate our understanding of ourselves and others. This interim report describes important but early steps toward that destination. We will continue to communicate about this work in future updates, including a year-end progress report at the close of the 2020-21 school year.

On a note of gratitude: First, thank you to our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion coordinators and their colleagues on the faculty and staff who have provided thoughtful leadership in our campus community. To the many students, parents, and alumni who have either answered the call to help or taken the initiative themselves, thank you. Likewise, thank you to our Board of Trustees and Leadership Team whose strategic guidance and unwavering support will continue to make a critical difference for Westminster.

Finally, I am grateful for the heartfelt words of encouragement and counsel that have come from every corner of the Westminster community. While we will not always agree, adopt the right pace for change, or avoid mistakes that feel like obstacles to our progress, we are in this quest for a more just community together, and that makes all the difference.

Onward,

Keith Evans, President

The series of action steps we committed to in June fall under five categories:

  1. Developing Strong Institutional Leadership
  2. Making an Immediate Impact on Our Climate and Program
  3. Ensuring Our School Community Reflects Our City and Nation
  4. Holding Ourselves Accountable to Our School Community
  5. Ensuring Financial Resources are Dedicated to Long-term Change

Below, you will find examples of the ways these commitments are impacting the student experience and creating cultural shifts. This update provides only a sample of the work our community has undertaken to ensure that our School is a place where every community member is seen, celebrated, and respected.

Developing Strong Institutional Leadership

Our Board of Trustees' Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee

Westminster's Board of Trustees unanimously approved the creation of this standing committee on June 17, 2020. The 19-person committee is committed to providing strategic oversight and direction for the School’s diversity, equity, and inclusion work to ensure it can continue long-term. Their first initiative is to retain an outside consultant to conduct a comprehensive and objective assessment of Westminster's climate, policies, and programs.

The entire Board of Trustees is planning to complete anti-bias training as part of their active support for and participation in this work.

  • Dana Ugwonali T, P '23, ’25, ’27 Committee Chair
  • Joel Murphy '76 T, P '06, '08, '13 Board of Trustees Chair
  • Liz Blake T, GP Board of Trustees Vice Chair
  • Roz Brewer T, P '13, '21
  • Frank Brown '04
  • Javan Bunch '81
  • Rayford Davis '93, P '28, '31
  • Rand Hagen '95, FT, P '26, '31
  • Jack Halpern '67 T
  • Dominique Holloman '97
  • Angela Hsu, P '27
  • Tiffany Moody P '23, '31
  • Alison Moran '86 T, P '15, '17
  • Maria-Claudia Palacios P '18, '20, '26
  • Gevin Reynolds '15
  • Jeff Small '85 T, P '15
  • Scott Weimer T, P '02, '05
  • Keith Evans President
  • Marjorie Mitchell '82 P '08, '11, '14 Director of Enrollment Management
Westminster is a special place fueled by the ideals of our mission and our potential to realize greater excellence through this work. We recognize that by creating an inclusive culture and experience in which all are empowered to bring their full authentic selves, we can make an immeasurable impact in the development of every member of our community. The DEI work embraced by the entire Board and this committee assures our future accountability to bring positive change to our School community, our city, and the world. Our committee is intentionally comprised of diverse members that represent the myriad perspectives present in our broader community, across race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, and connection to the School. I am grateful to each of them for their insight and leadership in this vital work."

–Dana Weeks Ugwonali T, P '23, '25, '27, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee Chair

School Releases Request for Proposals

Westminster issued a Request for Proposals to 40 firms specializing in DEI work in search of a consulting partner who will be able to conduct a comprehensive, objective assessment of the School’s climate— our policies, practices, programs, and people—and our ability to deliver on our vision and mission for all community members.

In partnering with a consulting firm, the School seeks to engage fresh perspectives in reviewing our school culture. It is our hope that the discovery process will reveal themes and insights necessary to build the systemic structure and support of DEI initiatives that will enable the rich and important work of equity and inclusion to be fully realized and rooted in our culture. Additionally, the School is seeking counsel to help us identify, prioritize, and focus on opportunities for improvement, while creating ways to unify our community and foster systemic change.

One important aspect of this assessment will be to shape the job description for a new member of the Leadership Team who will report directly to President Keith Evans and will provide leadership, coordination, and community accountability for equity and inclusion initiatives across the whole school.

Thirteen firms responded to the School's request, and their submissions are being reviewed.

The Request for Proposals communicates the complexity and the importance of this initiative. We acknowledge the gravitas of this work, which is also reflected in each submission from every consulting practice. We very much want to conform to the extremely high standards set by Westminster in all that it does. The work to identify potential consulting partners has been disciplined and rigorous. We have approached the largest global firms as well as highly specialized boutique practices."

–Javan Bunch '81, DEI Board Committee Member

Black Alumni Council Begins Its Work

In partnership with Alumni Governing Board, the Black Alumni Council was formed this summer to help meet the needs of Westminster's 500+ Black alumni. The council meets monthly and has held two meetings so far. Their early work is focused on creating a mission and strategic goals that express the ways the group plans to support alumni and students.

  • Dominique Holloman ’97 Chair
  • Corliss Blount Denman ’73
  • Vic Bolton ’76
  • Ira Jackson ’83
  • Maria Elmore Harleston ’84
  • Idara Bassey ’87
  • Thomas Morse ’93
  • Andre Sulmers ’95
  • Bobby Rashad Jones ’97
  • Lauren Duncan Griffey ’97
  • Wade Rakes ’98
  • Jae Scarborough ’99
  • Matt Bland ’01
  • Ryland McClendon ’03
  • Samiyyah Ali ’06
  • Michael Russell ’12
  • Julian Mason ’18
  • Zoë-Grace Hargrove ’19

Making an Immediate Impact on Our Climate and Program

Our students, faculty, staff, and parents have begun the year with great enthusiasm for furthering the School's work in diversity, equity, and inclusion through division-wide and school-wide initiatives. The School's strategy of offering DEI conversations during advisement meetings, assemblies, and other familiar gatherings means all students are included without having to opt in or find time to attend events before or after school.

Our DEI coordinators in Lower, Middle, and Upper School have developed strong networks of faculty members, student leaders, and dedicated parents over many years, enabling all of them to be community leaders who are able to facilitate discussions and experiences with confidence and sensitivity.

Upper School: An Anti-Discrimination Pledge

An idea that surfaced during this summer's virtual Community Conversations resonated among Upper School leadership: an agreement similar to the School's longstanding Honor Code that would address behavior that can either help or hinder in building community across boundaries.

Administrators, senior class officers, and the Discipline Council worked together to create and refine an anti-discrimination pledge for all students. In advisement groups, Upper School students were introduced to the pledge in September; the Discipline Council plans to facilitate further conversation about the pledge based on student questions. All Upper School students will be asked to sign the pledge in future advisement sessions this fall. Once this work is complete, we look forward to sharing the pledge and complementary resources on the Wildcats for Equity page.

A pledge is a beginning idea that evolves into a healthy practice that requires intentional education, facilitation, and participation by not just students but everyone in the community. Having a pledge speaks to the ideas of equality, equity, and safety, in addition to an awareness that developing racial and cultural competencies will help young people grow and thrive in ways that extend well beyond just academic success—ways that will shape them into change agents with global impact."

–Judy Osborne, Upper School Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Coordinator

Middle School: Cultivating Community

The Middle School’s Community Council, a student leadership group, is leading the way toward the division earning distinction as a "No Place for Hate" school. No Place for Hate is a longstanding program of the Anti-Defamation League that promotes inclusive communities where bullying and bias have no place. Students will lead peers in a pledge and sponsor anti-bullying and anti-bias programming throughout the year.

In conjunction, the Middle School Equity and Inclusion team has launched "Think About It Thursdays," short video lessons to promote dialogue in each homeroom about race, identity, and inclusion. Topics in October include the importance of learning to correctly pronounce names and the reasons to avoid Halloween costumes that promote cultural stereotypes.

With Middle Schoolers, we know that 60 one-minute conversations are better than one 60-minute conversation. Students need practice in having conversations about race and identity. They need to develop the necessary skills for building and sustaining inclusive culture. Students are a part of leading this work because they are most effective and influential in making our community more inclusive."

–Jennifer Veatch, Middle School Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Coordinator

Lower School: CARE-ing for One Another

With the new CARE curriculum—Conversations Around Race and Equity—diversity, equity, and inclusion are now part of every Love Hall student's regular academic schedule. CARE, introduced in September, is part of the seven-day rotation of classes like art, music, Design Thinking, language, Bible values, and physical education.

The CARE curriculum is based on a combination of the Lower School's existing social-emotional learning program and the Anti-Defamation League's Anti-Bias Building Blocks. The lessons are designed so students learn about their own identities and about how to recognize, avoid, and speak up against prejudice, discrimination, and racism.

As adults, we often assume our children are too young to have conversations around different aspects of identity; however, the research—and our experience in Love Hall—has shown that children are more aware of race, class, religious, and other differences than we realize. If we avoid engaging our students in these conversations, we don't stop them from talking about issues of identity, but teach them to be silent about them around adults, leaving them to make sense of the world without our guidance. Students of all ages can engage in rich and meaningful dialogue about identity. These early conversations help form their ability to recognize unfairness in the world and act justly in response."

–Kevin Soltau, Lower School Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Coordinator

Pictured: First graders worked on self portraits in art classes, taking care to represent their physical appearances before later adding thought bubbles filled with images of things important to them. Students used Crayola's new "Colors of the World" crayons with an increased number of skin-tone options and were encouraged to blend to find just the right shades.

Examining Our Curriculum

Our faculty members continually refine their teaching, and our renewed dedication to equity and inclusion provides an opportunity to research and implement ways to better infuse DEI best practices in classrooms. Through department meetings, professional learning communities, and curriculum committees, each division is working to ensure that students see positive representation of a broad range of cultures and have opportunities to develop cultural competency through their academic studies.

If literature is our lens into humanity in all of its messiness, injustice, beauty, and hope for our own humanity, then it is critical that we provide a lens that allows students to see the diversity that our world includes. All students need to see themselves in the stories we read, and they also need to see those outside of themselves. Stories can help us understand the motivations of ourselves and others; once we have a better understanding of that, we can also be more empathetic to the injustices that others encounter."

–Tyree Churchill Simon '92, Middle School English faculty

Faculty and Staff Form Race Inquiry Groups

Every member of our faculty and staff is exploring questions about race in Race Inquiry Groups this year, led by our longtime partner consultant Ali Michael, co-founder of the Race Institute for K-12 Educators. The groups are designed to create space for faculty and staff to meet in small group settings and engage in courageous conversations, further develop their own racial identity, and support one another in our work to support and empower students in bringing their full selves to campus. An entire day of Faculty Forum leading up to the beginning of the academic year was spent with Ali Michael (virtually) and in these groups.

Faculty and staff members will meet in small discussion groups a total of five times during the 2020-21 school year; these groups are completing their second meetings in the month of October. Between group sessions, each faculty and staff member completes individual work and reflection meant to deepen their understanding of race and racial identity.

Westminster will also welcome Dr. Howard Stevenson to campus in February. A nationally recognized expert on racial literacy and the effects of racial stress and trauma, Dr. Stevenson holds the Constance Clayton Professorship of Urban Education at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School for Education. The Diversity, Equity & Inclusion team is working with Dr. Stevenson to craft meaningful opportunities for faculty and staff to engage in learning and conversation throughout his daylong visit. Watch his TED talk about resolving racially stressful situations here.

Dr. Howard Stevenson

Pictured: Our teams of DEI coordinators across the School, including the Lower School team here, are instrumental in helping everyone at Westminster carry forward the work of ensuring students and adults across our community, of any background, are valued and celebrated.

Affinity and Anti-Racist Groups Create Space for Conversation

Westminster's affinity and anti-racist groups for students, parents, and faculty and staff allow small groups of people with a common connection—race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality, family structure—to discuss relevant issues and process their experiences in a safe space. Student groups offer meetings times both during and outside of school hours.

PAWS Engages Parent Body

In addition to parent volunteers who lead affinity groups for other parents and families, PAWS has offered several opportunities this year for parents to celebrate the myriad cultures in our community and learn more about how to act against racism.

Common Ground, a longstanding PAWS committee, hosts events and conversations for parents that explore and celebrate the diversity of cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives that help shape our community. The group has offered two sessions regarding racial and social identity so far this year.

PAWS in the Lower School launched its first two "White Parents Confronting Racism" study groups for white parents to learn more about their own racial identity and how to play a role in anti-racism. Additionally, PAWS in the Lower School hosted outside counselor Dr. Chinwé Williams for a discussion about "How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Race" at the year's first virtual Coffee & Conversation event.

Ensuring Our School Community Reflects Our City and Nation

Admissions Office Develops Outreach Team

Our admissions team is focused on researching, planning, and implementing outreach activities to increase the number of Black and historically underrepresented students who enroll in all three divisions. While our admissions staff has worked diligently to find best-fit students from a variety of races, backgrounds, and neighborhoods over many years, our student makeup in these specific areas is not reflective of the City of Atlanta itself or the metro area.

The admissions team's preliminary Diversity Outreach Plan is guiding the implementation of new initiatives, including a targeted parent ambassador program that connects prospective families with current Westminster families. This team's research and collaboration with others within and outside of our School community is ongoing as they work through the admissions process—from family inquiries all the way through enrollment.

The Admissions Outreach Team
As Westminster is 'of Atlanta and for Atlanta,' we want our school community to reflect the incredible growing diversity of the metro Atlanta area to ensure that our students experience the richness of that diversity and develop into leaders of conscience in our increasingly interconnected world."

–Claire Strowd, Director of Admissions

Seeking a Diverse Pool of Faculty Candidates

Guided by the aim of better reflecting our student body, the percentage of faculty of color working at Westminster has increased from 12% to 21% in the last decade. Year-round recruitment efforts include reviewing more than 1,500 resumes and conducting more than 300 interviews each year, allowing the School to consider numerous factors and candidates for each open position.

In preparation for the upcoming hiring season, School leaders are further training in avoiding unconscious hiring bias through the NeuroLeadership Institute.

Measuring Our Progress

Community involvement is essential for Westminster to create and continue meaningful opportunities for our students and all our stakeholders—it also holds us accountable to the goals we've set. We value the ideas and stories we heard during our series of Community Conversations in June, as well as those submitted online and through personal connections.

Over the course of the summer and opening months of school, we met with hundreds of parents, alumni, and students to hear the concerns and desires of our school community. We heard five main themes: the pain of students and former students who didn’t feel honored, fully accepted, and included during their time here; the understanding that to acknowledge and lean into this pain will help us grow stronger together; the belief that our future needs leaders who embrace each other and our differences for the good of all; the high expectations of Westminster as a community and national leader; and in true Wildcat spirit, numerous offers of support and a wealth of ideas to navigate this important journey."

–Marjorie Mitchell '82, P '08, '11, '14, Director of Enrollment Management

Making Connections Through Social Media

Every day, we share news and stories about the School and our students on our social media platforms—including the ways our community celebrates the cultures, races, and identities each member brings to the table.

Strategic Measurement

Seeking community feedback is also essential as we strive to make decisions that reflect our community's needs. As outlined in the Request for Proposals, our consulting partner will work to develop and implement a strategy for gathering comprehensive community data and will also recommend benchmarks and key performance indicators so we can track our progress in a metrics-informed way.

Ensuring Financial Resources are Dedicated to Long-term Change

The Board of Trustees has designated $5 million for an endowed fund to permanently support DEI initiatives. This fund is providing financial resources for student programming, faculty development, and our efforts to create a whole-school culture with equity and inclusivity at the forefront.

Philanthropy plays a critical role in the life of the School and throughout our society. I was reminded recently by a mentor that 'people don't give to you, they give through you.' By supporting our efforts to ensure that Westminster is a place that creates a powerful sense of belonging for everyone on campus and beyond, we all have the ability to affect meaningful change. Together, we will build a world that is more kind, more just—better. For everyone."

–Emilie Henry, Vice President for Institutional Advancement

We are committed to keeping the conversation going!

The Wildcats for Equity page on our website is your home for news and updates about DEI work at Westminster. The page also includes an updated form where you are invited to continue submitting your ideas. You are also invited to email wildcatsforequity@westminster.net to share ideas and feedback.

We are also excited to highlight different aspects of our DEI work every other week via the Weekly Parent Update beginning October 29 and continuing through the remainder of the fall semester. These updates will also appear in Wildcat Wire (our digital newsletter for alumni and past parents) and on the Wildcats for Equity webpage. We will provide another comprehensive update regarding our DEI progress at the conclusion of the 2020-21 school year.