Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice

In September 2020, the Blue Ridge School affirmed that Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (DEI&J) were integral to the mission of the school. The Board of Trustees formed a DEI&J Task Force, comprised of two members of the Board of Trustees, four faculty members and three alumni. The Task Force was created with the broad intent of improving the schools efforts at creating a community where DEI&J is not just acknowledged, but to which it is also continually committed. The Task Force is committed to creating a strategic plan that outlines the approach the School should take to achieve a higher level of DEI&J throughout all programs.

Our statement of Diversity, equity, inclusion and justice

Blue Ridge School is an all-boys boarding school where students thrive in an intentionally diverse community of faculty, staff, and students. Employees and students alike benefit from the experience of learning, living, teaching and working alongside others from a multitude of backgrounds. While remaining an all-boys boarding school, diversity at Blue Ridge encompasses an array of ethnicities and races, family structures, socio-economic backgrounds, genders, ages, sexual orientation, abilities, countries of origin, native languages, traditions, religions, learning styles and differences and their intersections.

To be an inclusive community means that we respect and embrace each person’s values and understand the impact of these values. We recognize that simply existing in a diverse community will not automatically result in the inclusive culture we seek to create. Cultural engagement allows students and faculty to consider different perspectives and enriches both the teaching and learning experience. Cultural engagement also drives innovation and fosters creativity. Therefore, we purposefully promote inclusion across all of our programs, and nurture a supportive, encouraging, and affirming environment that celebrates individuality. We seek to help our students become capable and engaged citizens. 

We are committed to diversity as an immersive experience and encourage challenging conversations that promote growth and learning and that help us achieve our goal of graduating culturally competent students who will be equipped to act as leaders in advancing equity and justice.

Ultimately, we endeavor to impart the fundamental truth that every person is valuable and worthy of respect.

Year One (2021) Objectives: Conduct a review/inquiry of five major areas of school life through a SWOT analysis with the goal of answering several important questions. These areas of review include: 

Governance of the School – a sub-group of BOT members, will examine the aspects of the school’s governance to ensure that the school’s governing body and the policies it sets forth will uphold the forward growth of the school in regards to DEI&J.

• How can Blue Ridge School’s Board of Trustees attract members from historically underrepresented backgrounds? What challenges exist that have limited efforts to make Board diversity a reality?
• What kind of training and resources do members of the Board need to show support of the schools mission and vision towards DEI&J?
• What is the Board’s role in leading institutional DEI&J efforts?

Curriculum – a sub-group of faculty will assess the current classes offered, materials  and curriculum for existing or lacking areas of DEI&J 

• Do students encounter a wide array of voices, cultures, perspectives, histories, and backgrounds throughout Blue Ridge School’s curriculum? How can the curriculum meaningfully incorporate and celebrate these additional perspectives?
• What training and resources do BRS faculty need to be effective teachers of all boys?

Recruitment & Retention – a sub-group will examine the practices regarding students’ admissions processes, affordability of the school, financial aid distribution, and methods of bettering the retention process 

• Do our recruitment and retention strategies allow us to enroll and maintain a truly diverse student body?
• What metrics/data points should Blue Ridge School use to define or benchmark student body diversity?
• Do our current engagement tactics fit with the goals of creating a diverse student body?
• What messages do our enrollment communications send about diversity at Blue Ridge School?
• Are Blue Ridge School’s financial aid practices equitable?

Student Life Experience – this sub-group will examine the physical structure, decorations and furnishings of the dorms, the “at home “feel of the school, availability of  support systems, and equitable access to the school’s programs   

• What information needs to be gathered so that we can create a more wholesome and inclusive experience for all of our students?
• What voices have been left out (either intentionally or unintentionally) in the creation of a Student Life Experience that is welcoming to students?
• Do we currently have the faculty and resources to create a boy-friendly environment that is inclusive of all aspects of DEI&J? If not, what resources do we need for this to be accomplished?
• How can our Co-Curricular programming be used as an avenue through which we can implement aspects of DEI&J?
• What would the support system need to look like to bolster students’ self-confidence in who they are as an individual while increasing communal awareness of the value each individual carries within our community?

Faculty Life Experience – another sub-group will conduct an  inquiry into Faculty  Acquisition, Faculty Retention, and Faculty Training/Motivation/Support.

• Does our community currently reflect our student population or accurately reflect our intended diversity recruitment strategies? Is there a mirror for every student? If not, how do we ensure that happens?
• Does our community reflect a level of diversity similar to other schools like us in our competing market?  What does our faculty look like compared to others in the market? Are there inequalities based on demographics?
• Where are we lacking with regards to faculty retention/diversity? Are there areas of our program where faculty retention is at its weakest? I.e development, advancement, admissions, certain academic departments, etc.
• Should we require that all faculty who engage in conversations/discussions with prospective candidates go through Anti Racism Training including implicit bias training?
• Do we currently have biased hiring practices? Exclusionary job descriptions, filtering for prestigious colleges or other elite boarding schools, do we use panels that are not reflective of a diverse organization?
• What sort of training would be needed for faculty to conduct conversations and discussions related to DEI&J work?
• What do our current policies and procedures look like regarding DEI&J? How do we currently handle issues related to DEI&J? (For example: An employee shares that another employee made a sexist comment). How are these addressed and dealt with?

Additional Action Items for Data Collection and Constituency Communication.

• Collect school wide data by having students, faculty, and alumni complete the NAIS Survey of Inclusion and Multiculturalism
• Determine the best means of communicating BRS’s DEI&J efforts to the school’s constituencies

Concurrently Running Programs:   

• Continuation of the Faculty DEIJ book group which is now on its third book. This group is open to all faculty and staff and is led by Amber Wilkins
• The employment of an intern who will officially start in the Fall of 2021. This person will serve as an outside voice and guide as well as learn the process of developing a DEI&J program from the ground up
• Continue to use outside speakers throughout the spring of 2021. This will be geared towards both faculty and staff development and Saturday Programming for the  students

Continued support for existing and yet to be formed student groups which support student diversity and understanding.  These will include (Affinity) groups that are limited in nature whether that is by race, ethnicity, sexual preference etc. as well as (Diversity) groups that are designed to be a setting where open discussion can take place and students can share their voice, be celebrated and valued, as well as learn from one another.

In year two the task force will analyze the information obtained from the review process by conducting an in-depth assessment to determine the immediate and long term changes that are needed, and the best means to enhance the long-term commitment to DEI&J.  At present, established goals and priorities for year two will be:

Implementation Goals for Year 2: Analyze the information obtained from the review process. The TF will conduct an in-depth assessment to determine the immediate and long term changes that may be needed and the best means to enhance the long-term commitment to DEI&J.   

• Conduct a review of the Team Baron Handbook and Student Parent Handbook to thoroughly review whether our policies and practices are in alignment with NAIS best practices. The review will include the addition of explicit policies related to the reporting of racial discrimination and a formal statement of inclusivity.

a. Use of the data collected to inform DEI&J planning (school wide demographics, cultural climate surveys, retention and recruitment reports)
b. Institutionalize and integrate DEI&J efforts into recruitment practices for faculty/staff by diversifying hiring committees, conduct search committee training, clarification of hiring criteria
c. Integration of DEI&J efforts into professional development and expectations among all faculty and through all programs
d. Attendance at key conferences to identify support and resources
e. Consider the creation of a faculty position on par with the Dean of Students to lead the DEI&J program
f. Decide how and who will be held accountable for implementing the initiatives (training/events/conversations/reviews of policies and procedures)?

Year Three (2023) Objectives: Apply a DEI&J framework to all school operations. When the analysis and assessment has concluded and the Task Force recommends the initiatives that should be implemented, we will move forward with the framework and further implementation of our DEI&J goals.  

• Identification of objectives: how a DEI&J school can aid in achieving outcomes for student growth
• Procurement of a sustained faculty that mirrors the diversity of the student body
• Implementation of the long term initiatives that will change policies/practices, hiring of staff, faculty training, academic changes (for students)
• Communication of the initiatives to the BRS community
• Measure and disseminate outcomes. Continued SWOT analysis every 2 years
• Review & Adjust

Task Force Members

Virginia Marra, BRS Trustee
Alexandra Smith, BRS Trustee
Peter Bonds, Dean of Faculty and Academics
Jim Niederberger, Faculty Member
Amber Wilkins, Faculty Member
Darryl Smith, BRS Alumnus
Ryan Smith, BRS Alumnus
Joe Zhou, BRS Alumnus