Catholic high school leaders from the Archdiocese of Chicago gathered at DePaul College Prep Oct. 14 to discuss their efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in their schools.
The meeting was the first in-person gathering of Catholic high school presidents and principals since the COVID-19 pandemic upended plans in early 2020, said John Glimco, chief of governance and policy for the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Schools, which organized the meeting. The topic is an important one, he said.
“It’s a big challenge,” Glimco said. “It’s a challenge we’re facing in the different contexts of all of our different schools.”
The meeting included presentations from faculty and administrators from DePaul College Prep, 3333 N. Rockwell St.; Nazareth Academy, La Grange Park; Regina Dominican High School, Wilmette; and St. Ignatius College Prep, 1076 W. Roosevelt Road.
Katie Hogan, an English teacher at DePaul College Prep and an instructor in educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said DePaul began looking for ways to improve its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in the summer of 2020, when racial justice protests took place across the United States in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, who was Black, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
“Our students came to us in the summer of 2020, because they saw things in the streets, they saw things on the news, and they wanted to get involved,” Hogan said. “That’s the mark of good education, when students come to us and ask, ‘How can we make the world a better place?’”
The students, she said, wanted authentic guidance.
“They did not want something artificial. They did not want something superficial. They wanted more than learning about holidays and cultural foods,” Hogan said.
That led to ongoing leadership training for faculty and staff, which began last year and is continuing with the help of Kendall Mallette, who started in July as the school’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Faculty members were overwhelmingly in support of learning how to handle discussions that might become difficult or incidents that might happen, such as students making insensitive or offensive comments in a class situation.
“There was a little bit of fear,” Hogan said. “They said, ‘I’m afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing.’”
Offering training has helped teachers feel prepared, she said.
“So often, we wait for an incident to happen in our schools instead of being proactive,” she said.
Starting last year, the school began using colloquiums — three-hour classes held every two weeks that students choose based on interest areas rather than academic ability, year in school or other categories — to build community. In the coming years, the school plans to have students help develop colloquiums.
Those classes create an environment that fosters genuine conversation among students who identify in different ways, Hogan said.
“That student voice is so important,” Mallette said. “We want every classroom, every athletic team, every artistic endeavor to be a safe space for our students. If we skip over what our students are expressing to us that they need, we are missing the target.”
Therese Hawkins, principal of Nazareth Academy, said that her school has listened to students who have requested affinity groups. The groups are for students who share a particular identity that “shapes the way they move through the world,” Hawkins said, while understanding that sharing an identity does not mean they all have the same experiences.
Members of affinity groups support and learn from one another, educate the wider Nazareth community and do advocacy, Hawkins said. Because they are driven by student interest, some are more active than others. This year, she said, the group for Latino and Latina students, LatiNaz, has been active, as have the groups for girls and for LGBTQ students and allies.
“The goal is to facilitate positive identity exploration and development with the purpose of creating an inclusive and thriving learning community,” Hawkins said.
At Regina Dominican, where most faculty and staff members are white, the school worked with a consultant to help them understand systemic racism, as well learn about the need to de-center their own experiences when working with students.
The school held a “Get curious” day with the same consultant to help students think through and understand that not everybody had the same experiences, and, indeed, different people can experience the same event in different ways.
Teachers at Regina were especially interested in learning to respond to and interrupt inequities as they occur, Hawkins said, noting that research has shown that even when teachers believe they are intervening in every incident of bullying or harassment they see, students say most of it goes unaddressed.
John Igwebuike, director of school culture and diversity, equity and inclusion at St. Ignatius College Prep, said schools have to make sure everything — people, policies, processes, programs, professional development — works together to foster an equitable and inclusive school culture.
A key part of that is making sure that faculty, staff and students know how to listen effectively to one another, Igwebuike said, noting that only two out of a hundred people report any formal training in how to listen.
“We want to be intentional about that with our faculty and staff,” he said. “Effective listening is a way to build community.”
Megan Stanton-Anderson, principal of DePaul College Prep, said meetings like the one held Oct. 14 are valuable because they offer educational leaders an opportunity to learn from one another, in this case about topics that have come to the forefront in wider society.
“Schools are at the heart of society in a lot of ways,” Stanton-Anderson said. “I hope we all walk away with some nuggets and some ideas.”