Dear Sewickley Academy Community,
The events of the last week have really brought to light some of the emotions being felt by our students, faculty, and staff. Over the past several days, I have heard from many of you about your concerns around the current state of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Sewickley Academy.
At SA, we are privileged to be able to engage in conversations that would not be available at other schools. However, to be meaningful and effective, these conversations must take place in a productive and respectful manner.
In my capacity as Interim Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, I believe our number one goal continues to be rebuilding a community of acceptance, support, and awareness amongst our students, faculty, and all stakeholders. While some are aware of the efforts underway, many might not be. I’d like to share our school-wide efforts so far this year to educate each division about the pillars of diversity in an age-appropriate way.
To date, some of the initiatives are:
In our Lower School, we have used assemblies and curriculum to encourage our youngest minds to appreciate our differences and celebrate each other's identities. As a part of the Responsive Classroom model, students learn how to engage with each other to build their own small community within each homeroom. Along with creating community, Responsive Classroom helps to support students' social-emotional learning, crucial to broadening their understanding of DEI concepts. In the Marion Hutchins Library, each student is able to find representation throughout the catalog to help grow their understanding of others' culture and sense of belonging.
In the Middle School, students have engaged in a number of workshops centered around inclusivity. Through these workshops, students have learned how to be advocates throughout their everyday interactions by using empowering language when confronting peers. Students have also been given different affirming phrases to help champion their peers. Recently, students discussed what empathy means to them, what empathy looks like and sounds like, and how they use empathy when celebrating each other's differences. The teachers have seamlessly woven topics of diversity into the classroom curriculum, making sure to touch on the pillars of diversity, such as ethnicity, socio-economic status, neurodivergence, and religious ideals.
Senior School students learn to use their voices to speak for causes that they are passionate about. As self-directed learners, these students engage in conversation and learning directed by their peers. Our Student Diversity Leadership Club (SDLC) continues to lead the charge in bringing diverse topics to our students, such as offering opt-ins on topics ranging from Race in Media Spaces and Ableism. Our culture clubs continue to provide a space for our students of color to be their authentic selves and discuss matters that closely impact their daily lives. Along with providing these spaces, students have brought heightened awareness to SA on topics ranging from celebrating and destigmatizing notions of Black hair to the Asian traditions of Moon Festival and the Lunar New Year. The Senior School offers spaces for all of our students to find commonalities with each other and elicit dialogue for greater understanding of a globally diverse society.
As previously announced, we have partnered with Mattingly Solutions to identify the strengths in our programming and identify the areas that we can focus on next. The team from Mattingly Solutions provided a brief update via email Sunday evening regarding their activities over the past two months, and they are on campus this week, offering insight this Thursday on the data they have collected to date. They will then engage with the greater SA community to ensure that the DEI plan is meeting the needs of all members of SA.
Having difficult conversations is a sign of change. We appreciate the passion of our students, teachers, and parents who care so much about SA. As we come out of a challenging week for our community, I remind you that Michael Thornhill, a DEI Consultant with expertise in trauma-informed DEI care, is available for students, faculty, and staff three days this week. Please see me to sign up if you’d like to schedule a one-on-one with Michael.
As we move forward, we must continue to engage in respectful dialogue around challenging and uncomfortable topics. As educators, we must prepare globally-minded students to lead with empathy and to make an impact in greater society. I speak for Sewickley Academy in saying that we are committed to fostering a safe, inclusive, and transparent environment for all to share their lived experiences. Through creating spaces to engage in civic and intellectual discourse, we can build an SA community that values diversity and acceptance in all forms.
Derek Chimner ‘04
Interim Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion