Diversity Council 22-23: Fostering Belonging at Grace

Established in 2009, the Diversity Council has been an anchor for community conversations around diversity, equity, inclusion, and this year, belonging.
The Council welcomes parents, faculty, staff, and trustees on a quarterly basis to help the school meet its DEIB goals. This year’s theme is Belonging, and the group is exploring the practices that build an inclusive school environment.

At the first meeting of the year, attendees reflected on when they first felt that they belonged at Grace. One parent named, for example, the positive impact of a personal invitation to a school event by another parent of color as an important factor contributing to her sense of connection. Understanding that belonging is as much a feeling as a practice, the Diversity Council members then used this foundation to launch a yearlong examination of belonging in school culture.

Researchers from the NYU psychology department led by Dr. Emily Balcetis presented at the Diversity Council’s second meeting, discussing the cognitive science of belonging. Their research concluded that representation of marginalized identities within school leadership fosters belonging by creating role models for students to look up to. Additionally, when teachers have authentic and empathetic conversations, students can learn to communicate about difficult subjects, which decreases occurrences of imposter syndrome. 

All of these efforts are in service to our students, so what better way to gauge effectiveness than to hear from them? At the February meeting, the Council welcomed student leaders from the Institutional Cultural Committee (ICC) and the Student Diversity Council (SDC) to discuss their experiences of belonging at Grace. To speak further on the experiences of BIPOC students at the high school, senior and SDC member Jameira F. presented her workshop from the MLK Symposium with Head of School Robbie Pennoyer. Jameira surveyed students with questions such as, “Do you feel you belong at Grace?” and, “Who is the Grace environment structured for?” Through discussion, students, faculty, and staff gain valuable insight about who does or does not feel a sense of belonging at Grace. 

In the final meeting of the year, attendees first looked internally at how the Diversity Council can improve upon their efforts to foster belonging and then brainstormed ways to support their work with back-to-school events in September 2023. Touch points early in the school year are opportunities to set a tone of inclusivity for new and returning families. Having proactive communication and one-on-one invitations were just a few of the many ideas generated during the session. 

The Diversity Council looks forward to reconnecting with new and returning attendees in the new school year as it continues to strengthen a deep sense of belonging at Grace. Whether you’ve attended once or not at all, the OCE and the DC invites any interested members of the Grace Community to next year’s meetings! Please look out for future dates in the eNews and the GraceNet Calendar. 
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Grace Church School is a co-educational independent school in downtown Manhattan, New York City providing instruction for nearly 800 students in Junior Kindergarten through Grade 12.