Through student organizations, faculty professional development, alumni outreach and commitment from school leaders, Trinity dives into the important work of building a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community
Trinity is proud to have maintained strong momentum throughout the 2020-2021 school year
around issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. This work has touched all areas of the school and has engaged all stakeholders, from students and faculty to administration, staff, and the Board of Trustees. This is work the school will continue in perpetuity, as the need to celebrate diversity, to foster inclusion, to fight for equity does not end.
“We really are trying to look at everything we do through inclusion — coming back to the strategic plan and building a sense of belonging.” said Laura Hamlin Weiler ’00, head of community engagement. “ This year has provided renewed clarity and focus for things that have always been foundational for Trinity.”
Trinity's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, comprised of 19 faculty and staff who have met regularly throughout the year, is committed to examining all aspects of the school through the lens of DEI.
Subcommittee work includes increasing diversity among faculty and staff. This included Trinity’s annual participation in the Virginia Diversity Network’s Diversity Hiring Fair in February. The group is also collecting qualitative data through personal interviews and conversations to enable the administration and faculty over several years to better understand the experience for those in varied socioeconomic backgrounds, people of color, and other traditionally underrepresented groups. Attention is also focused on handbook policies such as dress code and discipline through the lens of inclusion.
Another significant theme of 2020-21 has been to develop and formalize opportunities for both students and faculty to engage in conversations with one another to share perspectives, tell their stories, and most importantly learn about someone else, someone different from themselves. Inspired by the “One Small Step” listening project created by the founder of NPR StoryCorps project, Chapels, Morning Meetings, club meetings and more have been focused on people connecting and sharing stories. “That’s been a major theme for us this year,” said Laura Weiler. “because we feel like this work is best done at Trinity through telling stories and listening to and learning from other people’s stories, finding common humanity and understanding through different perspectives.”
New to campus this year, the Black Alliance Initiative has very quickly created meaningful platforms for students and faculty to listen, learn and engage. Meetings have featured whole group and small group discussions around a range of topics, including police brutality, the cycle of oppression, Black history, and Black culture.
In February, the students from the BAI Executive Board started a series of lunchtime conversations with teachers, beginning with the social studies department. Among the goals are to share what it is like to be a Black student in a history class, and to better understand what it is like for a teacher to approach a topic like slavery when there might only be one Black student in the class.
“The courage of these students in initiating conversation with their teachers around incredibly difficult topics is remarkable,” said Weiler. “They are eager to continue discussions with other faculty and staff.”
In addition to providing targeted facilitation with both the faculty and the board of trustees, Trinity’s relationship with the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC) has continued with thematic work with the student body at large and its leaders. In early October, Jonathan Zur led an all-school virtual assembly on the difference between equality and equity. While equality might try to assure that all people receive exactly the same amount and quality of support — equity looks at differences in need and may give more support to those who need it more. “Part of the work of being intentionally inclusive, recognizing that each of us has a large number of [‘didn’t know that I didn’t know’] experiences,” said Zur, emphasizing that being “intentionally inclusive” means actively trying to learn about the experiences and viewpoints of others instead of placing all of the responsibility on others to teach us. “We hope that this will continue to build Trinity's commitment to fostering an inclusive environment,” said Zur, “where all students feel a sense of belonging, can thrive, find support and where people can be intentionally inclusive and active in their allyship.”
Returning for a second virtual assembly in January, Zur and his VCIC colleague Charm Bullard shared anecdotes to illustrate the differences between being a bystander (someone who witnesses an act of bullying or harassment and says nothing), an upstander (someone who takes some kind of action in the moment to stop it, and an ally (someone who actively supports these efforts over time). Thanking Zur for his facilitation and leadership, Head of School Rob Short echoed the importance of deeper learning. “Watching and listening is learning at one level, but there is a deeper kind of learning that occurs when you think, reflect and put things in your own words,” said Short, “and there’s a third level when you're intentional in what you do.”
After each session, students reflected through a series of questions that asked them to think about their own actions in building and supporting inclusivity at Trinity.
Benefitting from additional support and training from VCIC were nearly 30 student leaders from student government, class office and clubs, as well as the Honor Committee, Student Conduct Committee, the Feminist Club, the Black Alliance Initiative, and the Gay-Straight Alliance. Student leaders learned how to facilitate difficult conversations on their own, establishing norms for communicating, and practicing principles, like using “I statements” and responding to differing perspectives “with wonder rather than judgement.” “Saying ‘I wonder why you feel that way’ instead of ‘I think you’re a terrible person’ can be the difference between starting a conversation or starting an argument,” said one facilitator.
School administrators will continue to partner with VCIC to create a roadmap for the future for Trinity specific to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This will build off of work begun in the latest strategic plan, particularly the idea of creating a sense of belonging. It will include but is not limited to curriculum, professional development, recruitment and retention, school climate and experience, and alumni engagement.
A group of Black alumni has continued to engage with administrators and faculty to share perspectives and ideas for Black alumni engagement. These sessions have been key in learning from alumni and strengthening connections. “They have all been very excited about coming back and sharing your experiences with younger kids,” said Sam Mickens, admission associate and head football coach, who has attended and helped facilitate these online meetings. “And the school has been very open to ideas about ways to get alumni of color involved and more connected.”
Trinity will also welcome as a special guest speaker Dr. Ronald Crutcher, president of the University of Richmond. Dr. Crutcher will speak at an assembly for current students and parents as well as alumni on March 31st. He will talk about the road to leadership as a Black man and the themes he writes about in his latest book, I Had No Idea You Were Black.
Trinity’s Gay/Straight Alliance will hold its second annual Pride in the spring in which members will educate our community about the LGBTQ community. The group has held meetings throughout the year on topics such as “The AIDS epidemic and its consequences” as well as “The Impact of World War II on the Queer Community.”
Second semester’s 5-Minute Chapels have been devoted to exploring diversity. The GSA delivered an exegesis on “God and the Gay Christian,” followed by the Black Alliance Initiative presenting on “Hairstory: The History of Black Hair” and then “The History of Black Music.” The DEI committee featured four members speaking at two chapels on a range of topics from a personal journey as a person of color in an independent school to the power of music in bringing disparate groups together to what it means to welcome someone different than yourself. Feminist club will present on the topic of respecting others’ personal space and consent.
The faculty and staff continue to engage in professional development on a local, national, and international level. This work is shared by all within our community and we are eager to continue to listen, learn, and grow.
“I’m so grateful for the daily efforts of our students, faculty, and staff leadership, each doing their part to establish a sense of belonging in all we do,” said Head of School Rob Short. “This is essential work that must occur every day and every year, on our campus and beyond to be successful and enduring.”