Taking action on diversity, equity, and inclusion

As a historian, I know that watershed moments are often recognized only in hindsight, but not always in the present moment. I think we all know that we are living in a time of great difficulty, upheaval, and change. We are witnessing the confluence of a global pandemic and a glaring schism over racial injustice.

I write to share my thoughts and reflections about this moment in history, and what I believe this moment calls upon Colorado Academy to do. You can also read a letter of support and commitment from the members of the Colorado Academy Board of Trustees.

Listening to understand

 In the last six months, we have witnessed the ongoing and devastating impact of COVID-19, its impact often worse in communities of color. At the same time, there has been a reckoning of the injustices felled upon Black Americans and the deaths of several people in cities across this country. The killing of George Floyd forced a reexamination of the role we can take on to combat racism. Americans have stood up to protest peacefully in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., and others have used this moment to further destroy and divide.

This summer, I heard from alumni who shared their desire to see Colorado Academy do more to educate students and prepare them for a multicultural world. I listened to the voices of alumni of color as they shared their experiences. I heard heartbreaking stories —some posted online and some shared with me directly —about times when our community did not live up to its values. Parents from all ethnicities and races asked me that the school do more to educate their children and prepare them for an ever-increasing multi-cultural society.

Just this past week, I sat in on a virtual meeting with Upper School students of color who eloquently expressed what it is like to attend a predominantly white institution and what is required of them to navigate life at CA. They shared times when they heard racist jokes told by their friends or times when they felt they could not fully be themselves. They bear a burden of advocating for equality or trying to explain to their white peers the issues they face both outside and inside of school. I am humbled by the fact that these students have a desire to lean in and make the school better. These were constructive, forward-thinking voices. These are students who care and represent the best of CA. I want to honor their desire to improve our culture. I believe that our school community can rise to this moment in history for all of our students.

Work is underway

With the leadership of CA’s Director of Inclusivity, Sarah Wright, the school is building on the foundation created in previous years by CA’s first Director of Inclusivity, Adrian Michael Green ’05, who introduced key events and programs when he was hired in 2014. He was preceded by other strong voices and supporters of this work, such as Darnell Slaughter Castleman, Paul Kim, and Carolyn Cunningham Ash ’87.

Sarah has been a guiding voice, supporting students, parents, and faculty and staff as they navigate difficult conversations, questions, and emotions. She has worked to create a space for students and teachers to explore and express what it means to be defined in our society as “other.” She has created greater opportunities and programming for this work in every division over the past year, and we have expanded our outreach to current and prospective families.

CA is more diverse than at any other time in our history, with 26 percent of our students identifying as being from multicultural backgrounds. Of our 105 faculty members, 17 percent are faculty from multicultural backgrounds. (In my first year, there were  fewer than 9 percent.) In the past few years, CA has increased faculty and staff training around issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity. Our families are engaged in programming and community events that celebrate our diversity. All of this is not to say there haven’t been times when we’ve fallen short.

My commitment is to ensure that CA deepens its work toward the creation of a culture in which ALL students— no matter their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability — feel equal and respected. We must foster empathy in our students and teach better understanding of the complexities of this world. Our goal is to create critical, independent thinkers.  We must work together with foresight and the hindsight of all that has come before this watershed moment; this is our opportunity and our calling to do more and to do better.

Last year, CA enthusiastically adopted a new mission statement and affirmed our values as a school community. It includes encouraging understanding, embracing inclusivity, and being responsive to students’ needs. These values guided us and affirmed our response as society called upon institutions to address systemic issues of racism, discrimination, and inequality. The Board of Trustees and the CA Administrative Team are working to ensure that we are reflecting that commitment in all of our operations and throughout our academic program. We also are committed to equity work that includes all identities: race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, national origin, and disability.

Taking action

To that end, the Board, our leadership team, and I have jointly committed to the following actions:

  • Create the CA Office of Inclusivity, expanding the allocation of resources to DEI work at CA.
    • Under the direction of the Director of Inclusivity, the office will expand with additional staff members, allowing greater focus externally to improve community connections and expand recruitment efforts of faculty and students in under-represented populations.
    • The office will work with faculty to develop a required Upper School course so students have a better understanding of race relations and cultural conversations in America, improving our students’ competency in a multicultural and multiracial world.
  • Audit programs to identify where students have uneven experiences at CA and address equity gaps in existing programs to ensure all students have an opportunity to have full, equitable CA experiences.
  • Conduct a DEI audit of the Pre-K-12 curriculum to examine the strengths and weaknesses of our academic program.
  • Embrace DEI principles in Board governance, including:
    • Recruiting diverse members to the Board of Trustees;
    • Learning more about systemic racism and innovative DEI practices in the independent school environment;
    • Engaging school administration in discussions of identifiable gains in CA’s DEI commitments; and
    • Board of Trustees committees identifying and working toward DEI goals in the coming year.
  • Develop and cultivate student, family, and alumni affinity and ally groups.
  • Create advancement opportunities within the CA Fund, so donors can specifically support this DEI work.
  • Expand Admission Office contact with families of diverse backgrounds and explore marketing opportunities to further connect with prospective students of diverse backgrounds.

We are confident that our CA community can engage in meaningful conversations on this work—conversations grounded in trust and relationship building — so that each of us has a better understanding of the issues and one another. Head of School Mike Davis and Board Chair Erika Hollis welcome your comments. Email them at mike.davis@coloradoacademy.org and/or erika.hollis@coloradoacademy.org.

Thank you for your engagement with this work. We look forward to traveling this road together.