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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Community Updates

COMMUNITY UPDATES

List of 6 items.

  • September 14 - Upcoming DEI Student Sessions on Wednesday and Thursday

    Dear Branksome Community,

    Principal Jurjevich and Mira Gambhir will be hosting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion student sessions on September 16th and 17th this week.

    This will be an opportunity to share with students and hear from them about their thoughts on our school’s action plan to support diversity, equity and inclusion. To encourage student voice, please note that we will only be hosting students in these sessions. We will be recording the two sessions and the videos will be shared with employees. We will also be providing an update at the upcoming Eastside Faculty Meeting.

    Sincerely,

    Kim Kniaz
    Head, Senior & Middle School
  • September 4 - 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.
    • Resourcing for employees’ anti-racist education, with book-club meetings throughout the 2020-21 academic year.
    • 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.”
  • September 3 - Branksome employees engage in book discussions as an opportunity for anti-Black racism education

    In the week of August 24, more than 160 Branksome Hall employees took part in the first session of five book clubs, designed to explore social justice issues and support anti-Black racism education at a systemic level.

    From a list of books submitted by Branksome employees, Joshua Watkis, a Canadian National Slam Poetry Champion, arts educator and spoken word artist who has worked at Branksome with Senior and Middle School English students for several years, curated his top five. 

    All employees selected one book to read over the summer and some volunteered to facilitate discussions. The texts were Between the World and Me by Ta'Nehisi Coates, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin, The Skin We're In by Desmond Cole, and Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum.

    In a short video for Branksome employees, Watkis said, “You may learn entirely new ways to engage with the world and the people you meet in it, including your peers and most importantly, your future students,” says Joshua Watkis. 

    “Each group’s facilitators are not supposed to be the ‘experts’ on the topic,” says Junior School Social Worker and facilitator Carolyn Mak. “The hope is that people will feel more at ease discussing their true and authentic feelings if they know that racism is about how we are raised—the air we breathe, the media we consume, what we choose to believe and how we choose to live.”

    Some of the suggested discussion questions provided by Mira Gambhir, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, who guides the initiative, include: What do the authors tell us about hope for improvement in race and ethnocultural relations in Canada, U.S. and beyond? (You may wish to discuss this in the context of the events of this summer, and in particular the Black Lives Matter movement.) 

    To support various comfort levels and build camaraderie, an anonymous poll allowed group participants to express their initial reticence or enthusiasm about discussing race and racism. “The goal is to use the texts as springboards for other explorations into seminal moments in Black history, further readings and guest speaker invitations,” says facilitator Allison Campbell-Rogers.

    There are bound to be many paradigm and perspective shifts as the sessions ensue. “This is a good opportunity to build the foundations and explore race, racism and our shared humanity,” says Gambhir. 

    As a point of entry with textual engagement, Watkis makes the important point that Black writers are to be seen as writers first. “Their Blackness is not an additive or even a factor, when we examine skill level. However, their Blackness must be considered when you fully understand the difficulty of living the subject matter they are writing about.”

    “Jimmy [Baldwin] once asked White America in an interview, ‘How much time do you want for your progress?’ At Branksome, I hope the answer will be, ‘No more time; it comes now.’”
  • July 13 - Dr. Mira Gambhir to lead Branksome Hall’s strategic focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

    Dear Branksome Community,

    Dr. Mira Gambhir has been appointed Branksome Hall's new Head, Research (Chandaria Research Centre) and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), effective Wednesday, July 1.
     
    In this new role, Dr. Gambhir will join the Senior Leadership Team and will lead the development and ongoing implementation of a strategic vision and plan for research and diversity, equity and inclusion at Branksome Hall. The appointment builds on the actions outlined in the long-term plan Principal Karen Jurjevich announced in the school’s Commitment to Action message on June 5. 

    “With this role’s creation, we are embracing a new and foundational strategic priority as an IB World Schoola commitment to effecting sustainable organizational action and change at Branksome Hall and beyond,” says Principal Karen Jurjevich. “Bringing together individuals from multiple backgrounds, perspectives and experiencesand ensuring that every person feels valued and welcomeis integral to achieving our mission and embodies our values of inclusiveness and sense of community.”

    In her role as Head, Dr. Gambhir will support and partner with the Diversity Council, Black Students’ Union, Gender Sexuality Alliance and other student-led groups to promote initiatives that complement the school’s research priorities, including applying an anti-discriminatory education lens to student, employee and community experiences, and advancing concrete strategies to make lasting organizational change. 

    Dr. Gambhir was the ideal choice for the role, says Jurjevich. A scholar and author in the fields of diversity education, international education and teacher education, Dr. Gambhir is well-known within the Branksome Hall community as the inaugural director of the Chandaria Research Centre (CRC). Opened in 2016, the CRC joined the ranks of a handful of school-based research centres in Canada and internationally. “In a short span of time under Mira’s leadership,” notes Jurjevich, “the Chandaria Research Centre has made a big impact throughout our community. Mira also played an important role on the Civil Discourse Working Group this past year. Now, with her leading this critically important work, which will build on these contributions, Branksome Hall is poised to make important and necessary change both within and beyond our halls.”

    Dr. Gambhir completed an award-winning doctoral dissertation on diversity education and has reviewed curriculum for the Ontario Ministry of Education and organizations internationally. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Education from the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, a Master of Arts in Education from OISE, and Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education degrees from the University of New Brunswick.

    “I am proud to be part of an organization that is willing to have difficult conversations, disrupt past practices and find ways to protect students,” says Dr. Gambhir. “The strategies and programs developed and embedded will have a transformative impact on every facet of school life. These include curriculum design and delivery, student engagement and education initiatives. I look forward to collaborating with stakeholders on systems and practices in admissions, human resources, communications and marketing, to integrate and strengthen efforts to support diversity, equity and inclusion at Branksome Hall.”

    Dr. Gambhir’s appointment is the latest in a series of recent responses, as Branksome Hall was called upon to address an organizational need for anti-racist education and action, galvanized by the global outcry in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis in early June. 

    In addition to this appointment, a number of measures have been taken to establish diversity, equity and inclusion as a strategic priority, building on existing strengths in this area: 
    • A report of recommendations has been compiled by the Civil Discourse Working Group and will soon be shared with the Senior Leadership Team;
    • conversations are underway with the Diversity Councilcomposed of students, faculty, staff and alumto continue shaping the Council’s mandate and to inform the school’s approach more broadly; 
    • inter-departmental dialogue has established implications for areas such as human resources policies; 
    • resources for employees have been allocated to support anti-racist education, including concepts such as racial prejudice and white privilege, and this work will continue prior to fall reopening;
    • a commitment to follow up on and respond to the student proposal for diversity, equity and inclusion at Branksome that was submitted in June to the Senior Leadership Team;
    • and opportunities for student leadership in the new academic year have also been identified. 

    To further uphold Branksome Hall’s commitment to taking long-term, meaningful action towards being a diverse, equitable and inclusive place to learn and to work, a new resource website has also been launched to support the school community in living these values. 

    Reflecting a diversity of voices and perspectives, the website was created based on feedback shared at student forums, listening sessions, on social media and through community consultation with members of the Diversity Council and other school colleagues. Featured resources include recommendations for anti-racism reading, well-being supports, as well as podcasts and videos for further learning. Regular updates regarding news, announcements and opportunities to engage in Branksome Hall’s DEI work will continue to be posted here. 

    An important part of this work is to develop a shared understanding of how racism and other forms of discrimination operate in elite independent schools. “The way to make change is to disrupt past narratives or the hidden assumptions that are happening within a community, and to take accountability for action,” says Dr. Gambhir. “This includes increasing awareness and taking responsibility for your learning about how discimination occurs, and then identifying personally and collectively what steps you are going to take.” 

    “There have been hard, honest and courageous conversations with students, employees, alum and parents, as we confront and address anti-Black racism and the need for anti-racist education and action,” said Deputy Principal Karrie Weinstock in her remarks at the Virtual Green Carpet Ceremony on June 11. “Students have questioned whether we will continue to listen and actually do this difficult, vulnerable work transparently. I want to tell you today that as an IB World School, we are committed to action and change and to modelling the IB Learner Profile attributes and our values. This is humbling and uplifting work.”

    To that end, a series of virtual student forums for Grades 7 through 11 were held June 10 and 12. An opportunity for open discussion and honest dialogue with the school’s senior leadership, students raised important questions about such themes as incorporating Black history in the curriculum; reviewing the diversity of board members, employees and students; increasing the opportunities for student collaboration on school-sponsored activism; and sustaining momentum on long-term employee anti-racist training. 

    Additionally, a series of listening sessions was also held mid-June with students, employees and alum. These were attended by the Senior Leadership Team and others, including the input of Joshua Watkis, a spoken word artist who has worked with Grade 8 students for the past four years. The purpose of these sessions was to listen and learn from lived experiences of discrimination and racism in order to understand and then work to eradicate them.

    “Schools are a microcosm of society and this is work we enter into with compassion,” says Jurjevich, “as we take responsibility for learning both how discrimination occurs and how we can work collectively to dismantle it.” 
  • June 5 - A Message from Principal Karen Jurjevich: Commitment to Action

    We’d like to share with you the address I gave to employees and students in grades 5 - 11 in three separate Zoom assemblies today. We feel it is important that our entire Branksome community is aware of this important message.

    **********************************************************************************************************

    There is no doubt that the last few months, the last few days in particular, have been challenging. 

    Events in the U.S. and Canada around anti-Black racism have impacted us all and forced all of us to face some very tough and painful truths. It has shone a spotlight on every organization, and Branksome Hall is by no means immune. 

    There isn’t an institution and organization out there that isn’t asking what more could we have done and what more can we do? 

    And truthfully, all of this feedback and input has helped me. Thank you for your passion, for your good ideas, for your care, and for your honesty and concern for this issue. 

    We have listened to each and every one of your messages, read through your thoughtful emails and even your raw comments on social media, which can feel like great outlets for expression but bring their own added pressures. Meaningful action and change does not happen on social media. It takes hard work and active listening from each other and from research and perspectives from reputable sources and experts to broaden our understanding. 

    This is a learning moment. 

    The importance of listening, and learning, to better understand how to implement meaningful action is critical. We do not have all the answers, but we are committed to doing the work required to identify and implement short and long-term actions. 

    We are not afraid to be proud of what we have done as a school. And, we are not afraid to admit where we have fallen short. 

    We have an excellent track record of following through on our commitments and strategic priorities. 

    For example, we have done a lot of remarkable work in a number of important areas, such as Innovation, Social and Emotional Learning, and Values. These are in our DNA now. This work has been life-altering for the school and has laid the groundwork for the work we are doing now. 

    I stand behind the commitments the Senior Leadership Team and I made in our public statement on Tuesday. 

    Like the rest of the world, we were shocked and outraged by the killing of George Floyd, and we recognize that in our own city and community, issues of racial equity and social justice need to be addressed. 

    These world events, such as the ones we are bearing witness to, cause confusion, anger, grief and hurt, and can leave us wondering how we can help both ourselves and each other. 

    It’s uncomfortable. It hurts. It’s personal. 

    But our school community is strong. We are resilient. 

    We have heard you. We are with you. There is a call for action and it is real and we support it. 

    We may not have all the expertise required to address the systemic challenges that we know exist. But we do have the commitment and the will. 

    We are taking this very seriously, and we must respond thoughtfully and in a meaningful way. 

    We welcome and indeed, require, our entire community's engagement and support in these efforts. We will be reaching out to students, colleagues, alum and external resources to create and mobilize an immediate set of actions and, most importantly, a longer-term and sustainable plan. 

    We know white privilege exists. We recognize our lack of diversity. There is no hiding behind it. We’re not hiding behind our history. We are looking at the future and moving forward. 

    This is hard work. These are complex and multi-layered issues, so we are taking the time needed to do this in the right way, the Branksome way. 

    We are on a beginner’s journey. Listening and learning are actions too, and are important elements in our plan to address structural and institutional racism. This will become Branksome Hall’s strategic priority over this coming year. 

    To this we are committed. 

    There will be a number of immediate and long-term actions Branksome will implement. As we listen and learn, more actions are to come; however, for today’s purposes I will highlight the following actions: 

    Our Commitments to Taking Action 
    • We will listen. Listening is an action. As a result, we will be hosting listening sessions for our community to learn about the lived experiences of our students, employees and alum. 
    • Branksome Hall will immediately begin Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training for all employees. Resources have been made available and we will engage in summer reading on this topic. We will take the time to access expert external resources to enable onsite training for all employees when school re-opens. This will not be a one-off. We will commit to continue to expand our learning and make this a requirement for all Branksome Hall employees who will, in turn, expand and share their learnings with students.
    • We will immediately institute an employee drive to raise funds to support advocacy and action for several causes focused on addressing anti-Black racism.
    • Branksome Hall will conduct a review of its human resource policies and protocols for hiring to bring greater awareness and action to ensuring we have increased diversity on our staff.
    • Branksome Hall will require that all teachers bring a critical lens to our curricular offerings: we will support our teachers in their efforts to expand the range of diversity of content in our teaching materials.
    • We will support the work of the Diversity Council and other groups across the school.
    • Branksome Hall will access experts on race and diversity and look to partner with members of the Black community who can advise and ensure that our changes are sustainable and implementable.
    • Branksome Hall will continue to welcome suggestions for speakers. This week, we received a list of suggested speakers from one of our students. We will continue to support the inclusion of diverse speakers and perspectives. Next week at the Grade 8 Celebration, we will welcome the return of Black poet, arts educator and mentor, Joshua Watkis. Joshua is a frequent speaker in assembly and in English classes.

    The most important question to any of these actions is, how do we ensure that these changes are sustainable? 

    This is possible through continued commitment and joint action on the part of every community member. 

    To conclude, I want to emphasize how important you are as a student body. These commitments go hand in hand with ongoing conversations with you, conversations that I intend to have with you, as do other members of the administration, as well as your teachers.

    I have great pride in the Branksome Hall student body and confidence in the future of our school. I would like to thank you for your attention during this assembly, and I look forward to doing this work together as a community. 

    ********************************************************************************************************** 

    We welcome your questions, feedback and comments. Please email principal@branksome.on.ca

    Warm Regards, 

    Karen L. Jurjevich 
    Principal
  • June 2 - Black Lives Matter at Branksome Hall: A Message of Solidarity and Allyship

    The Branksome Hall community has been deeply impacted by the events that are unfolding in the United States, Canada and around the world in the wake of the death of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. We are outraged, shocked and saddened, and we wish to extend our condolences to the Floyd family and to all those who are suffering, in particular communities of colour.

    Branksome Hall rejects racism and discrimination, and we stand with our Black students, families, alum and employees and all those who continue to experience racism. Issues of racism run deep, are systemically entrenched, and impact so many people, not just in the U.S., but across Canada and in our own Branksome community. 

    As a mission-driven school that aims to inspire our students to shape a better world, we believe in the power of critical thinking, researched debate, international mindedness and dialogue to make meaning and advance understanding. Sharing perspectives and most importantly, building compassion and empathy through open and honest discourse, are important stepping stones toward taking action and effecting change within Branksome and beyond. 

    Together, we will continue to challenge each other, create safe and brave spaces to have important conversations about anti-Black racism and discrimination at Branksome Hall. We each have a role to play, and all voices must be heard, valued and respected. This work is uncomfortable and not easy, and we are committed. 

    We know our students are seeking spaces to discuss and make meaning of these events. In Advisor sessions this week, students will focus on allyship and what it means to be an ally. A student-led video is being created that will be shared with Advisor groups on Thursday to set up the discussion. 

    A collection of age-appropriate resources is being compiled and will be shared with the community in this week’s Friday Files and Road Aheads, as well as posted to the Portal. These will support parents and employees in speaking with students and each other about race and racism. We highly recommend that you review this link to an impactful collection of resources that psychologist Dr. Lisa Damour shared yesterday. 

    This is an ongoing conversation and a partnership. We must work together in breaking down barriers, eliminating discrimination and bias. We each must contribute to and create an inclusive, safe, respectful and equitable space for learning and working. Our values of sense of community, inclusiveness, creativity and making a difference will continue to guide us in these efforts.

    Now more than ever, in this challenging time, we support each other, acknowledge each other’s pain, and show compassion to community, friends, family members and colleagues who may be angry, grieving and hurt. This is a time for listening and for self-reflection. 

    It is also a time for action. As a leadership team, we are deeply committed to supporting all of our community members of colour, to creating safe, respectful and identity-affirming environments, and together, to working toward acknowledging and eradicating systemic, institutionalized and structural racism. We all have the responsibility to do everything we can to ensure each member of our community feels that they can be who they are and that they belong.

    Karen L. Jurjevich
    Principal
     
    Karrie Weinstock
    Deputy Principal

    Elliott Brodkin
    Executive Director, Finance & Administration
     
    Cristina Coraggio
    Executive Director, Advancement & Community Engagement

    Patricia DiNicolantonio
    Head, Talent Management

    Heather Friesen
    Head, Curriculum Innovation and Professional Learning

    Michael Ianni-Palarchio
    Director, Technology & Innovation 
     
    Amanda Kennedy  
    Head, Junior School
     
     

Branksome Hall

10 Elm Ave, Toronto, ON, Canada
M4W 1N4
Canada. South Korea
Toronto’s only all-girls, all-years, IB World School.
Study abroad in grade 9.