Over the course of the past year, Calhoun expanded its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programming, offering additional opportunities for both students and families to explore these complex, nuanced topics with fellow community members. Teachers broadened their classroom curriculum, centering more perspectives and voices that are all too often left out. In the wake of the George Floyd murder and acts of racial injustice, Calhoun alums and students of color were inspired to raise their voices on social media through the @blackatcalhoun Instagram account. The perspectives they shared and their demands for action moved school leadership to develop Calhoun’s Anti-Racist Action Plan, a critical addition to already-established DEI programming that promises to guide this work into the future. Here’s a look at some recent DEI initiatives across the school.
Upper Schoolers Found Diversity and Accountability Board
In spring 2020, amid the turmoil of a pandemic and continued racial injustice, a group of Upper Schoolers came together to form the Diversity and Accountability Board (DAB), which partners with school administrators to make Calhoun a more equitable community.
Since its inception, DAB has shared its mission and goals with the school community and has already begun to shape the continuing DEI work at Calhoun. The group has partnered with faculty and staff to create mandatory affinity groups in the Upper School, spearhead a BIPOC student and alumni network, and plan events for Black History/Futures Month.
Expansion of Affinity Groups
Affinity groups—groups of people who share a common identity—provide an environment in which students can build community and explore their identities in a safe space. While affinity groups had already been established at Calhoun for Lower School—Elementary, Middle and Upper School, this year the program grew to include Calhoun’s youngest learners.
Building off of the Students of Color Society (SOCS) affinity group in Lower School—Elementary, the school launched the Little Students of Color Society last spring in Lower School—Early Childhood. Little SOCS offers students of color in kindergarten through second grade a space to learn about race and ethnicity in age-appropriate ways. Little SOCS is facilitated by first grade teacher Destiny Orr, second grade teacher Kyoko Honma and Shnieka Johnson, Assistant Director of Admissions, Preschool—2nd Grade, while the SOCS group is facilitated by fifth grade math teacher Kyle Anderson and Spanish teacher Daniel Ercilla.
This year, the Upper School affinity groups also saw a shift, thanks to the partnership between DAB and school leadership. One of the first goals of DAB was to create a more robust anti-racist affinity-group program by making affinity groups a requirement for all Upper School students. The shift has given Upper Schoolers the opportunity to dive deeper into issues of race and further emphasizes that the work of making a more equitable school and society is a responsibility that every member of the community shares.
Diversifying Humanities Curriculum
Calhoun’s English and social studies teachers came together this fall for a series of professional-development sessions focused on the intersection between DEI and curriculum. Alongside Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion John Gentile, teachers explored opportunities for centering BIPOC experiences and storytelling in Calhoun’s humanities classes.
In her class, eighth grade English teacher Krystal Reddick is diversifying the literature students read by bringing in more characters and authors of color. Students have read texts such as We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Girl,” an essay by Jamaica Kincaid, and Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve’s story “The Medicine Bag,” about growing up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. “Diversifying the texts [we read] broadens the discussion and deepens students’ critical thinking and empathy,” reflects Krystal.
Racial Identity Development Series
In the winter of 2020, Calhoun launched a series of virtual events for families focusing on racial-identity development. Featuring guest speakers specializing in diversity, equity and inclusion in independent schools, the program offered a variety of perspectives while exploring the role racial identity development plays in education and at home. The series aimed to create a partnership between the school and families in thinking critically about race and continuing the community’s anti-racist work.