Diversity, equity, and inclusion are central themes at St. Francis, woven into our values, philosophy, and everyday life.
Our official Diversity Statement reads: At St. Francis, we believe there is an inherent strength in a community, a city, and a world in which members exhibit a breadth of talent, skills, and attributes. We define diversity as differences embodied in (but not limited to) age, ethnicity, race, family composition, gender, gender identity and expression, geographic origin, learning styles, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economics, and ideologies. We seek to prepare students to live in and contribute to their world by acknowledging and celebrating who they are and who they wish to become. In addition, given the fact of profound inequalities of opportunity that still exist in our world, we strive to foster a respectful and welcoming school community for us all as a model for the challenges that face us each day as global citizens.
Our work around diversity, equity, and inclusion takes various forms at the High School, starting with student groups. Under the leadership of a Director of Diversity and a number of other faculty members, organizations such as the Black Students Association (BSA), Afro-Americans Fighting Racism and Oppression (AFRO), the Muticultural Students Association (MSA), the Queer Students Association (QSA), Q-Club, and the Gender Rights and Equity Initiative (GRE) meet regularly to discuss topics, invite speakers, and plan events. AFRO and Q-Club are affinity groups; BSA, MSA, QSA, and GRE are open to all. In non-pandemic years, Diversity Week, Soul Week, and Gender Week are popular annual happenings planned by these groups, with events ranging from fun and food (Diversity Potluck, BSA Feast, Gender Week Ice Cream Social) to more education-focused panels and film screenings. This year, the groups have focused on virtual events, such as hosting online outside speakers and sending representatives to the Student Diversity Leadership Conference through the National Association of Independent Schools.
Two years ago, we began conducting an annual survey to ensure that we as a faculty and administration understand what our students think and how they feel about DEI issues and the work the School is doing around them. Our administratively-led DEI work then can respond to the needs elucidated through the feedback in the programming we create for students. One cherished annual tradition (unfortunately lost to the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, but hopefully returning in 2022) is our Women’s Retreat. Begun 20 years ago and held annually, this Retreat provides an opportunity for the adults and students of the School to go away overnight and discuss various topics relevant to being a young woman in today’s world.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion can also be found throughout our curriculum and classes, as a major goal at SFS is to provide students with a broad worldview and expose them to a diversity of voices, particularly underrepresented voices. In addition, elective classes often encompass diversity, equity, and inclusion as central themes; for example, Black Women in America, History of Racist Ideas in America, Gender & Popular Music, and History of US Feminisms. (Gender Studies electives have been offered every year at the High School for over two decades.) Other times, these themes are discussed in relation to novels, plays, or poems read in English classes; the original texts of the major world religions that students read to learn about the development of these religions and their impact on cultures in the two-year Culture & Civilization history sequence; novels and primary sources that help elucidate these themes in many facets of American history; and even in math or science classes, where teachers will take the time to point out to students the accomplishments of a great, but largely unknown, mathematician/scientist. And, of course, in our World Language classes, examination of racial/ethnic identities is front and center, along with learning about the history, culture, and present-day reality of various peoples. The faculty periodically conducts audits of the curriculum to discuss and document how diversity, equity, and inclusion manifest in the curriculum and pedagogy within each department in order to ensure that we are constantly examining and evolving our practices in this area.
This re-examination and evolution is also facilitated by faculty professional development. For the past several years, we have been sending teachers from both campuses to the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference. Our faculty summer reading always involves DEI work; last year, for instance, we curated a menu of offerings that included podcasts, articles, TED talks, films, and books from which faculty could choose to deepen their learning around race, gender, and bias. And, one of the Board of Trustees’ major strategic initiatives is to increase the diversity of all our major constituencies at the School, starting with a student body that reflects the ethnic and racial makeup of the Metro Louisville population.
At the High School, we continue to look for additional opportunities to understand our school climate and culture; make it as diverse, equitable, and inclusive as possible; and practice strategies for modeling and having conversations with students about these complex and sometimes difficult topics. Throughout every school day, from poems in Morning Meeting to numerous student organization meetings to the discussions in each classroom, we engage in continuous work to ensure that all voices are heard and affirmed, thereby truly living diversity, equity, and inclusion.