By Sophie Schreiweis, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Social Media and Web Page Student Advisor
Branksome Hall’s Diversity Council has been a catalyst for change since its creation last November, following the Pollyanna Conference at St. Clement’s School, a day-long exploration of diversity issues focusing on themes of race, privilege and community.
We started off as a small club where students and teachers could meet and discuss issues within our community. In the following weeks, we started reading a book called Deep Diversity by Shakil Choudhury, a memoir that gives new perspectives on racism and systemic discrimination. When the 2019-20 school year ended, we were uncertain whether we would continue this year, as most student participants were graduating.
Luckily, our Diversity Council Supervisor Christie DesRoches and our newly appointed Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), Dr. Mira Gambhir, were committed to supporting students as they further pursued the council’s purpose. With their help, we kept meeting over the summer and eventually came up with a plan that included our meeting structure and our goals.
In September we had our first meeting of the new school year, with a successful outcome despite being on Zoom. We talked about privilege and intersectionality, and what we can do to promote allyship. After some very personal break-out room conversations, we started discussing our next steps.
This is the format of our meetings, which are fully designed and planned by the student executive and held every month; first we have an education piece; then we have group discussions; and lastly we discuss future action. So far we have also addressed topics such as the importance of pronouncing names correctly, the impact of cultural appropriation, and Indigenous issues such as the attack on Mi’kmaq fishermen in Nova Scotia.
However, the most vital part of the council is the change we have contributed to, and intend to make. Currently, we are collaborating with administrators, along with many other stakeholders in the school. We are contributing to their shared work to develop an Indigenous-relations partnership, implement a name-coach pronunciation software for employees and students, share our perspectives on student experience that will support DEI teacher training, and include other club heads in our meetings.
For example, if we were to invite the American Sign Language (ASL) Club, they could provide resources to learn more about ableism, educate further on the basics of ASL and deaf culture and history, and recommend what we could do to promote allyship for the community.
We are also trying to diversify the members on the council to elicit input, i.e. Junior and Middle School students, parents and experts, to have the most diverse voices represented on the council.
After all, the Diversity Council’s goal is to make everyone feel welcome and respected in our school and we can only do this if everyone’s voice is heard. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or feedback at email@example.com.