Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
The Ursuline School’s commitment to our mission and community is not only to assemble a diverse population of students and adults, but to teach the skills, model the behaviors, provide the resources, and cultivate an environment of equity and inclusion that affirm all perspectives and backgrounds within our community. Only when we engage our differences will we find a greater understanding of the world and how we can serve it. Our diversity, equity and inclusion work aims to give every member of our community a voice.
President Eileen Davidson was extremely pleased to announce that Tamisha M. Chestnut joined The Ursuline School as of March 1, 2021 as our inaugural Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion .
Ms. Chestnut reports to the President. As DEI Director, she will lead Ursuline's initiatives to cultivate a fully inclusive community, building upon the steps described in the DEI action plan that we developed last summer, Better Path Forward Together. She will bring her expertise to our work in numerous areas, including school policies, enhancing curriculum, and broadening faculty recruitment. Ms. Chestnut and the DEI team will design student workshops, organize faculty education programs, and also create affinity and alliance groups.
Ms. Chestnut is a seasoned executive with a broad range of experience in all aspects of human resources and diversity, equity and inclusion.
She began her work in this field at Morgan Stanley, where she served as Director of Human Resources & Diversity for the Global Wealth Management Group. Most recently, as the Director of Human Resources at The Nightingale-Bamford School, she was responsible for providing vision and executive leadership to fulfill the school's mission and strategic human capital planning initiatives.
The Ursuline mission is already well understood and lived out by Ms. Chestnut as she is an alumna of Academy of Mt. Saint Ursula.
She is enthusiastic about once again being part of an Ursuline school community and bringing her skills to our school. She stated, "The creation of the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion position at Ursuline demonstrates an intentional action towards transformational change. Ursuline is ready to identify, build and nurture a culture of equity and inclusion, that addresses the needs of the community with purpose and passion. My professional, educational and spiritual experiences have prepared me for this moment. I am honored to be the first in this position to lead social change and to collaborate with the Ursuline community to move the equity and inclusion agenda forward."
We warmly welcome Tamisha M. Chestnut to The Ursuline School community.
“To build on the initial steps we have taken, we are committed to enacting near-term, mid-term and longer-term corrective actions to systematically address racial injustice and to expand diversity and inclusion within our walls.” June 2020.
The current members of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team are Adrianna Robertson, Doretha Buster, and Kim Tietjen.
Our strategic action plan, Better Path Forward Together, was launched in June 2020. We know that this work of building an anti-racist community will not be accomplished quickly or painlessly. But we are committed to reforming our school-wide systems and practices. We pledge to expand our efforts to validate and include all in our community. We call up the courage to reimagine a more equitable environment.
As we enact this Better Path Forward Together, we will do whatever is necessary to create a just environment for every person in our community. It will be part of the fabric of who we are, because it is the fabric of what we believe. We are grateful to all who have courageously and patiently offered constructive recommendations and heartfelt support.
We are undertaking a multi-year review of our curriculum.
We engaged legal counsel to review the Student/Parent Handbook, Employee Manual and Faculty Handbook, and school policies. This included a review of our Disciplinary Policies with a zero tolerance for discrimination and harassment based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background or sexual identity, whether spoken or written, by faculty, coaches and students.
Our DEI Team led a voluntary summer 2020 discussion group for faculty and staff as they read and discussed anti-racism resources. A reading list and resources on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion was shared with faculty and staff. We formulated new Anti-Racist Education and Training, required for all faculty and staff and coaches, students, and trustees.
As a member of NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) and the NYSAIS, we are able to access certain resources on diversity and to network.
Mrs. Buster attended the 2016 People of Color Conference in Atlanta hosted by NAIS. The theme was Advancing Human and Civil Rights: Fulfilling the Dream together. Three legends were honored at the closing ceremony: John Lewis, Hank Aaron, and Christine King Farris, the eldest sister and only living sibling of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mrs. Buster also took part in 5 workshops and an affinity group. There were over 5,000 attendees from all races, ethnic groups, cultures, gender, and sexual orientations. It was an inspiring gathering.
In 2018, four Ursuline students attended the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference in Nashville; a multiracial, multicultural gathering of student leaders from across the country. The students attended with Mrs. Buster and Ms. Tietjen.
The aim at the Diversity Summits is for students from a wide variety of backgrounds to learn from one another, share ideas, and work collaboratively to ask and discuss some of the most complex questions facing our communities and nation. While some of the conversations are quite complicated, these discussions promote responsible citizenship and, ultimately, enhance the living, learning and school/working environment of students, faculty and staff.
We hosted our first Diversity Summit in November 2017. It was an offsite two-day workshop. Participants explored topics they had chosen, such as race, gender, voting rights, colorism, homophobia, and privilege.
At our second offsite Diversity Summit, in November 2018, we welcomed students from Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich. It was the students who prepared the materials and led the sessions on colorism, Title IX, gentrification, and Islamophobia.
The next Diversity Summit was in October 2019. The topics this time included antisemitism, equity versus equality, privilege, and disability discrimination. The aim was to come to a better understanding and encourage greater acceptance and inclusion while having difficult conversations.
Our most recent Diversity Summit took place on Saturday, March 20, 2021 There were excellent student-led presentations on inequities in healthcare, defunding the police, ableism, LGBTQ representation in the media, and Instagram activism.
Participants spent the day broadening their knowledge and having robust discussions. It was a successful and engaging day!
The Diversity Alliance Club specifically meets to hold informative discussions and host events surrounding diversity, inclusion and equity. Several other Ursuline clubs provide opportunities to explore and celebrate various cultures and histories. These include the Asian Appreciation Association/The Chinese Experience Club, the Black Essence Club, the Bollywood Club, the Italian Society, and the Spanish Club.
The Spectrum Club is a safe place for teens to ask about sexual orientation and gender expression and to get information, within the framework of Catholic teaching. The Spectrum club works to create an environment which fosters awareness and tolerance, and encourages sensitivity to acknowledge that everyone’s feelings and experiences have value.
Classroom education and experiences are enriched with our Guest Speakers, Visiting Authors, and our Global Education & Serviam Program.
We were privileged to welcome via Zoom Fr James Martin, S.J. on April 27, 2021 to speak to our high school students about acceptance and respect for the LGBTQ community and all the marginalized. Fr. Martin described his ministry and how he sees it in terms of the Gospel, citing the stories of the Roman centurion, the woman at the well, and Zacchaeus the tax collector.
Fr Martin is a Jesuit priest, editor at large at America magazine, consultor to the Vatican's Dicastery for Communication and author of many bestselling books, including "Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity" and his most recent, "Learning to Pray".
In March 2019, Ursuline welcomed activist and author Luong Ung as the keynote speaker at our 6th annual Global Education & Serviam Symposium which was an exploration of global displacement. Ms. Ung shared her story as a child of war in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge invasion and genocide in the 1970s. Her message was profound and inspiring, highlighting resilience and strength in the face of forced displacement, violence and loss.
As part of our Distinguished Speaker Series, we welcomed author and educator Debby Irving in December 2018. Ms. Irving is the author of "Waking Up White." She has extensively studied race and racial tension. She uses her own life story to reflect on and consider how belief systems shape our understanding of the world, the systems and structures of racism, and the challenges of working toward racial justice. Ms. Irving spoke to faculty and at an evening gathering of parents.
In November 2017, as part of our Visiting Author Series, we were privileged to welcome back award-winning author, musician and screenwriter James McBride to speak to our student body. Mr. McBride gave insights into the writing process of his landmark memoir and New York Times bestseller, "The Color of Water," which high school students read over the summer. He also generously offered advice to aspiring journalists and writers. His informal, conversational style connected well with students, faculty, and the group of parents and alumnae who were able to attend. Most significantly, Mr. McBride encouraged students to discover what it is that they like and to pursue that interest, learning from failures which are a natural part of life.
In October 2017, we welcomed Abdullah Khan and three students from Al-Ihsan Academy for a presentation about the basic beliefs of Islam. They talked about some of the similarities shared by Christianity and Islam, which are both monotheistic religions. Our juniors and seniors enjoyed the chance to follow up with questions and talk with the visiting students.