Branksome Hall commits to diversity, equity and inclusion and to eliminating systemic racism
Over the course of the summer, Dr. Mira Gambhir, Branksome Hall’s new Head, Research, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, has led foundational work in support of the strategic priority of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at the school. Many initiatives will be in place this fall and longer-term work is underway to support anti-discrimination and anti-racism, beginning with a focus on anti-Black racism. This important work will permeate the school’s culture, guide actions and be reflected in students’ and employees' lived experiences.
“We have all learned a great deal—and I am very grateful to everyone who shared their stories. We understand that systemic racism at Branksome Hall has caused pain,” says Principal Karen Jurjevich in a video address to the community. “For this, I most sincerely apologize. We have heard you and we are committed to taking action.”
This involves supporting every member of the Branksome community and working together to eliminate anti-Black systemic racism and to increase equity and inclusion for all Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC). As Dr. Gambhir, who was appointed in July, notes, “We recognize that we need greater diversity in our community and want to move quickly, but we also want to have all the information necessary to make informed decisions and build effective action plans. The objective is to focus attention on the BIPOC community in a more rigorous, intentional way, and to listen to the voices in our community. We need to better understand and raise awareness, as well as to build our capacity as a school to engage in conversations about inequity and our shared humanity.”
Curriculum Review, Equity Audit and Other Actions As an important immediate action, we are engaged in a curriculum review pilot in many subject areas, with a view to a full school-wide review, from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12. Key changes to address DEI and anti-Black racism within our curriculum will start this fall. Work has already begun on the English curriculum review for Grades 7, 9 and 11, a collaborative effort with students, alum, faculty and administration.
A second key action supports our commitment to increasing representation of the Black community at Branksome Hall. To establish the groundwork for constructive, clear recommendations and objectives to support this aim, an equity audit will be conducted this fall. An independent individual or organization—to be selected through open and transparent requests for proposal in the coming weeks—will guide a comprehensive review of Branksome Hall’s policies and processes. The review will include hiring of employees, recruitment of students, the appointment of senior leaders and volunteers, and communication practices. The audit will provide recommendations as well as ways to measure and track our progress. Critically, the work will serve to ensure the school has the most appropriate advocacy model in support of its BIPOC students, with specific focus on Black students.
Other actions taken over the summer include:
A new DEI resource website was launched to support the school in living these values and was created based on feedback shared at student forums, listening sessions and on social media.
Ongoing review of student and employee recruitment policies and practices, with inclusion of a DEI statement in job profiles.
Put in place Discrimination Report and Bullying Reporting Forms (anonymous).
Revised code of conduct and Boarding Handbook to include a section on anti-discrimination.
Appointed a student-life representative on the Diversity Council and identified other opportunities for related student leadership roles through 2020-21, including a commitment to respond to the student proposal for DEI work, submitted to senior leadership in June.
Developing a series of student sessions to address and support their lived experiences, and embed DEI within an upcoming student leadership conference.
Delivered DEI workshops on Branksome’s foundational work for new employees, student leaders, school leadership and all employees.
Developing the DEI Working Group whose ongoing role is to consult on policy development, advise on strategic priorities and review measures.
Regular updates and opportunities for engagement will be shared with the community, and updated on the DEI website, to support the school’s sustained focus on its DEI efforts and to inform and foster ongoing dialogue and action.
“We are stepping forward in this work, with purpose, determination and rigour,” says Jurjevich. “We are listening deeply and actively, and our commitment is sincere and wholehearted. We stand behind the elimination of anti-Black systemic racism, and we are committed to increasing equity and inclusion for all Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. We invite, welcome and require our entire community's engagement and support as we continue this important dialogue and work. I am confident that when we work together we can make real and lasting change at Branksome Hall.”