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Letter from the Rector: DEI Action Steps

Dear Chatham Hall Alumnae & Families,

Students and alumnae of color have courageously shared their experiences at Chatham Hall via many platforms, including the @blackatchatham Instagram account and previously on @turtleandiristea.
Although the shared stories focus primarily on race, they reach beyond to include other realms of inequities. The experiences are those of prejudice, bias, and insensitivity encountered from other students, faculty, and the general culture of the school. We as a community have had to confront the pain and rightful outrage of our Chatham Hall sisters, and I thank these women for sharing their stories. We deeply regret the pain that anyone suffered within our walls. We continue to read and listen, and each of your experiences is motivation to recommit ourselves to the necessary work of equity and inclusion.
 
Our work to date, although informative, underscores that we are only beginning to recognize the lengths to which some students, student groups, and some adults have gone to feel a part of Chatham Hall. We understand now - as a nation and as a school - that assimilation is not inclusion. Inclusion requires treating individuals fairly and respectfully for who they are and creating a community where all can thrive. To ultimately reach full inclusion, we must continue to listen to and learn from the experiences of all. Therefore, we commit to the following actions in 2020-2021: 
 
Chatham Hall Climate & Culture
  • A DEI Working Group comprised of representatives from all constituencies - students, faculty, parents, trustees, and alumnae - is being formed to support an authentically diverse populace at Chatham Hall and move us to become an actively anti-racist institution;
  • Developing and introducing early and ongoing student education (starting with opening of school) related to our aspirations and commitment to be an inclusive, identity-safe school community and the behaviors that are and are not compatible with this, including explanations of what constitutes hate speech, harassment, bullying, and cyberbullying;
  • Crafting and distributing clearer guidelines for appropriate student and adult language and conduct in order to ensure an anti-racist community;
  • Clarifying and abiding by the consequences for violating these guidelines so that students and employees are consistently held accountable to our community standards, while allowing room for learning and growth i.e. restorative justice after a mistake/violation;
  • Developing and communicating a reporting mechanism for incidents of bias in the Chatham Hall community;
  • Expanding our student leadership development program with a focus on community-building and respecting each Chatham Hall student and what they bring to our school;
  • Continuing the DEI awareness education program initiated in 2019-2020 through our required programming such as chapel, speakers, class meetings, and all-community events, focusing on the variety of cultures/experiences we are fortunate to have at Chatham Hall;
  • Initiating a review of our traditions and considering if they are still the most empowering for a diverse community in the 21st century or if they need refinement;
  • Expanding understanding and support of affinity groups around identities such as race and LGBTQ+, and assisting these groups in celebrating their communities through educational programming and other activities;
  • Creating policies to better support gender non-conforming or transgender students;
  • Supporting our international students and their parents with appropriate programming and tracking that support through regular meetings and surveys;
  • Conveying to students clearly and sensitively how to access mental health support, along with a mechanism for student feedback;
  • Communicating guidelines for our Student Counseling Office so students, parents, and staff understand protocols, roles and responsibilities related to issues such as confidentiality of student disclosures and parental rights;
  • Creating and conducting two parent workshops/conversations per year associated with a topic of inclusion (such as race, adolescent mental health, socioeconomics, international perspectives, etc.); and
  • Writing a larger five-year plan regarding specific goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion practices.

Hiring & Retention of BIPOC Faculty & Staff
  • Committing to the recruitment, hiring and retention of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) faculty and administrators over the next five years;
  • Establishing relationships and working with regional Historically Black Colleges and Universities and professional organizations dedicated to supporting educators of color in hiring processes;
  • Building and maintaining a list of BIPOC candidates and diversity allies over time, and returning to that list for consideration of candidates and/or networking in the event of future openings;
  • Conducting exit interviews with faculty members leaving Chatham Hall regarding their experiences with the school’s culture.
 
Professional Development
  • Expanding the current required professional training in diversity and inclusion for all administration, faculty, and staff to include bi-annual in-service training, and regular education sessions at faculty meetings that examine specific inclusion issues, anti-bias training, and anti-racist training such that all faculty are equipped - and expected - to address incidents involving such behavior; 
  • Annual DEI education and training for Chatham Hall trustees as well as an expansion of new trustee orientation to focus on the school’s DEI commitment;
  • Conducting the second part of training around implicit bias and adult sensitivity/conduct before school starts. (The first part of the training was conducted by our DEI consultant Trina Gary last August; part two had been anticipated this spring but was postponed due to the pandemic.); 
  • Expanding faculty/staff and student participation opportunities in the annual NAIS People of Color Conference; 
  • Crafting and executing a multi-year DEI summer professional development schedule for administrators, dorm advisors, and department chairs;
  • Devising a new orientation and mentoring program for first year faculty that includes a diversity and inclusion component;
  • Establishing and tracking expectations that faculty apply DEI training and practices, from representation in curriculum to the ability to have difficult DEI conversations with students and colleagues; and
  • Providing ongoing education for all faculty and staff, with additional training for advisors, dorm advisors, and counselors, around adolescent mental health. To begin, Lisa Damour, author of mandatory faculty summer book read Under Pressure, will be leading a faculty/staff workshop as part of the opening of school.
 
We are not waiting until school reopens to begin our work. Since June, the following actions have taken place:
  • 2020-2021 student leaders met with school administrators to discuss establishing clearer expectations around racist/bigoted/offensive language, educating our community about those expectations and clarifying consequences for violations;
  • Administrators and faculty discussed with students in our LGBTQ+ community policies and practices that would better affirm and support them; 
  • Faculty attended professional development opportunities centering on inclusion; 
  • Faculty members held their first meeting regarding one of our mandatory summer faculty reads, White Fragility; and
  • Faculty worked with our online education partner One Schoolhouse to guide us in weaving into the curricula anti-racist themes and underrepresented groups.
 
As a community, the Purple & Golden Rule is and has always been the foundation of our code of conduct. It includes these powerful pledges: “I will respect all people and recognize that other people may have customs and beliefs different from mine.” “I will set an example for my peers by my actions and words.” “I will support others when they are following the Purple and Golden Rule and will counsel those who are not.” This rule, known by generations of Chatham Hall women, is based upon the expectation of mutual respect, consideration, and thoughtfulness to create a principled and caring sisterhood. At times, our community - past and present, employees, alumnae, and students - has fallen short, and we thank all who remind us of this. We will continue to seek your counsel. We now look to the work of clarifying our Purple & Golden Rule so we all understand what is and is not acceptable in a Chatham Hall woman – current or former, on campus or off. 
 
The full administrative team, supported by the DEI Working Group, will have collective responsibility for realizing these goals. As always, we welcome your participation in this work, and we hope you will reach out to connect@chathamhall.org with your thoughts so that we may continue to move forward together. The best way to honor our students and alumnae is to act. And we will.
 
Esto perpetua,

Rachel A. Connell, Rector
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An all girls boarding and day school in Southern Virginia, Chatham Hall prepares girls for college and for productive lives. Our innovative academic program offers Advanced Placement courses, global study and travel, as well as project based learning. Our athletic teams regularly compete at the State level and our exceptional riding program is nationally recognized. We foster the intellect and character of each student and, through our Honor Code, live in a community of trust. Grounded in its Episcopal heritage, the school welcomes students of all faiths and backgrounds.  
800 Chatham Hall Circle | Chatham, VA 24531 | 434.432.2941 | admission@chathamhall.org