As I mentioned last month, I will use this space to address six major questions the faculty and staff considered in the course of our 18-month reaccreditation self-study. I will begin those reports after we process the ISACS visiting team's recommendations later this fall.
One of the six areas faculty and staff addressed was what we should do as a school community to increase the cultural competency of our students, faculty and staff. Last week, I began this discussion with students as part of my annual review of major school rules. I stressed that while there are things we don't allow, what is much more important are the things that we not only allow, but value — the things that are vital to the community of the school. Here are excerpts from my assembly remarks:
"We have rules at Burroughs, and then we have customs. Today, I want to focus on some of the customs:
- Being kind to one another
- Holding doors for people as they come in and out
- Thanking your teacher after class … particularly if it was engaging
- Acknowledging people in the hall as you walk by … looking them in the eye and saying hello …
Students are not 'in trouble' when they don’t do these things. It’s just that the whole school is a better place when they do them.
"When students are in the Commons talking with four or five people and one turns to whisper something to the person sitting next to her, she doesn’t get in trouble for that. But it is rude; it’s something that has a negative impact on the community. These are principles that we should all live by, and I think that these principles are the pillars that hold up our work around diversity and inclusivity at Burroughs.
"You have heard me say that St. Louis is one of the most segregated cities in America — by race, by religion, by socioeconomics. Chances are if you are white, most of your neighbors are white; if you are Catholic, most of your neighbors are Catholic; if you are wealthy or poor, most of your neighbors are the same as you. That makes us all at risk for adopting stereotypes: people from the county are this way, people from Kirkwood are this way, people from the Central West End are this way. So we have to be more intentional as citizens of St. Louis to fight those stereotypes.
"Every day we come to this school which is one of the most diverse in the country — and we are so intentionally. On the one hand it’s a challenge. If you were at an all-white school or an all-black school or an all-Catholic school or an all-Jewish school, you would have a lower chance for conflict around differences. But you also wouldn’t have the chance to overcome those differences. All of us need to see this as an opportunity.
"One big example of this you may have just begun to hear about is gender identity. I think that it is important that we as a community be ready and for this school to be an environment that is comfortable for everyone. In my mind there are two potential road blocks — psychological and practical — and we have tried to address them both.
"If a student is having questions about gender identity, please know our counseling department, Mr. Harris (Daniel Harris, director of diversity and multicultural education) and the members of the diversity team, and all of the principals and administrators have received training. In fact, this week, the entire faculty and staff received training in working with students who want to discuss gender-related issues or who are questioning their gender. Students and parents can come to any of us and should come to the person or people who they feel they can trust. There are people here ready to give them the support they need.
"We are also working very hard to minimize practical obstacles. Next week, we will install new signage on all of our single-stall restrooms and label them as 'All-Gender' — meaning that any person may use any of those restrooms. There are 11 around campus, in just about every building. All of our locker rooms have private changing areas, and showers with curtains, so no one should ever have to change in front of folks if they are uncomfortable. Of course, students can also change in an all-gender restroom if they'd prefer ... anyone can.
"The bottom line is that we want students to be able to navigate Burroughs as they identify. And I want all of us to weave this into all of our customs as well. All of us need to make it part of our custom to make it comfortable for people to bring their full selves to school with them each day!"