Antiracism, Equity & Belonging

Successful programs focused on antiracism, equity and belonging are like living beings. To develop and grow into a healthy and strong institution, we respond to the real needs of a unique body of families and faculty, and we value each other’s experiences. Our programs include alliance and affinity groups, extensive professional development for faculty, events and discussion groups for parents, and a Diversity Council made up of stakeholders including parents, faculty, administrators, trustees, administrative staff and our facilities crew.   

Our Commitment to Antiracism, Equity, and Belonging
 
Grace Church School seeks to provide its students with an outstanding education and with the desire to use it to make the world a better place.  Every facet of our work is enhanced by the diversity and strength of our community.  We believe that equity and inclusion are not only hallmarks of a just society, but also virtues essential to sound learning. And so, Grace seeks to recognize and honor the unique gifts of its students, families, faculty, and staff—and the cultures, beliefs, values, and experiences that have shaped them—striving always to cultivate mutual understanding, humility, respect, and kindness.
 
But inclusion is not enough and equity is an impossibility if we cannot name, acknowledge, and oppose the forces of racism and all forms of bias, hate, and fear that exist in our society and that seek to diminish so many in our midst.  Knowing this, we commit ourselves to the work of antiracism and to the cause of justice: that all students may find in Grace a home, may learn from Grace their precious worth, and may hear from Grace a call to serve the common good and the dignity of humanity.  -Grace Diversity Statement, 2018
 
The Institutional Culture Committee (ICC) of the Board of Trustees provides regular updates to the school community about their vital work. Below are updates from the ICC organized by topic and date. You can find the full community letters on the Board Commitment page of this site.

List of 8 frequently asked questions.

  • Provide a Comprehensive Response to the Student Demands

    May 2021       
    Owing to a positive and collaborative dialogue with the Grace representatives of Black Students Demanding Change, Grace has been recognized as one of BSDC’s New York Partners.
     
    The MLK Planning Committee is recruiting members for a Student Committee to enhance participation and engagement, as well as to bring more student voices into the planning process—in line with one of the BSDC demands.
     
    January 2021      
    Grace students and administrators continue to work towards a full response to the updated demands, which we will share with the community. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) coordinators from independent schools across the city met with student leaders of Black Students Demanding Change (BSDC) offering support to enhance collective approaches to organizational change as part of this work. The entire process has been iterative and productive, and we’re grateful to our student representatives for their leadership. Next steps will include further discussion of the response with BSDC, more details of which we plan to share in our Spring update. (January 2020)
     
    October 2020     
    On August 24, the Grace representatives of Black Students Demanding Change (BSDC) delivered updated demands to the School. Shortly thereafter, the Co-Chairs of the Institutional Culture Committee (Barbara Sibley and Renée Noel) and members of the administration (George Davison, Hugo Mahabir, Jean-Robert André, and Kim Chaloner) began meeting with these students to coordinate and move toward a detailed response. The meetings have been productive, and there is broad agreement that these updated demands are reasonable and largely doable. This group will continue to meet until later this fall when we will share a full response to the new demands. Additionally, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) coordinators from independent schools across the city are collaborating with student leaders to enhance collective approaches to organizational change. We are grateful to our student representatives for their leadership and dedication, and we commend them and their fellow members of BSDC for their thoughtful 2020 Demands.  (October 2020)
     
    July 2020                       
    In Spring 2019, a group of students crafted demands and shared them with the administration. Those students never received the thorough communication they deserved as we developed responses to their requests. A revised and more detailed response to their demands can be found here. Starting in September 2020, the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) will issue quarterly reports to the community about the school’s progress in addressing these demands.
  • Strengthen the Vital Work of the Office of Community Engagement (OCE)

    May 2021       
    The OCE has posted a job description for an administrative assistant and expects to complete its hiring process soon.  Grace is exploring the possibility of introducing a DEI Integrator role to support the faculty’s curricular and pedagogical antiracism efforts.
     
    January 2021      
    The OCE has drafted, and will soon post, a job description for the additional full-time position they are adding to their staff this year. The hope is to have that position filled before Spring Break. The OCE has been busy on a number of fronts, including: organizing a half-day training in restorative practices for high school faculty, followed by a student assembly; expanding the capacity of the office by supporting divisional liaisons, who are now planning their second semester work with division heads; facilitating faculty wide discussions that build off the summer readings of Ibram Kendi and Dolly Chugh; collaborating with the admissions office to arrange admissions events for prospective students and families of color; supporting projects to examine and codify the school’s anti-bias hiring practices and to develop standards for antiracist curriculum planning, pedagogy, and leadership that can support faculty growth and evaluation.
     
    October 2020     
    Grace’s Office of Community Engagement will add one full-time person to their staff this year.  In addition, the Diversity Liaisons in each division will have a more formal role, working between students, teachers and the OCE. They will receive compensation for their time. There remain many volunteer roles that are critical to the School’s antiracism effort, and we will continue to look at how we can expand the resources of the OCE to lead this work. 
     
    July 2020                       
    Our Office of Community Engagement has been in operation for two years, and we are grateful for the good work Jean-Robert André and Kim Chaloner have so ably led. They are assisted by volunteers from every division, who generously give their time as affinity group leaders and who engage in student support and training. We need to examine the staffing and delivery models of these programs, make better use of current resources, add to them as necessary, and ensure that the OCE is equipped to take on these school-wide initiatives.
  • Host a Community-wide Town Hall 

    May 2021       
    This spring, the ICC Task Force will be hosting several group discussions about the school’s antiracism work.  That format seems to work best for virtual meetings, as participants can be “together” on a single zoom screen, allowing for a meaningful exchange of ideas and information. This summer, the Board will receive recommendations from Pollyanna and the Task Force, identify strategic priorities, think through how to communicate them most effectively.  A Town Hall might be a part of those efforts.
     
    January 2021      
    Having hosted one town hall at the end of summer, we will begin to plan another for this spring. It will once again focus on the school’s response to racism in our community. Unlike the previous town hall, which took place as a webinar presentation, we hope to structure this next event in a way that leaves room for facilitated open exchange.  We will schedule it once we have a better sense of when Pollyanna’s assessment will be complete.
     
    October 2020     
    Grace held a Town Hall on the School’s response to racism in our community on August 24. The Town Hall was the culmination of several forums over the summer with parents, alumni, teachers, and students; those conversations are continuing this year. A video recording is available here.  

    July 2020                       
    The School will hold a Town Hall over Zoom on the topic of the School’s response to racism in our community. This forum will be open to all, including students, and will be hosted jointly by the OCE and the Board’s new Institutional Culture Committee (see below).  We hope for a candid and robust discussion.
  • Launch the Institutional Culture Committee (ICC)

    May 2021       
    The ICC is completing its first year, which has entailed setting up structures for current and future oversight of the non-academic aspects of the school’s mission and program.  The ICC has been divided into teams, including: Antiracism, Equity, and Belonging; the ICC’s Charter; Sustainability; Gender and Identity; Episcopal Identity; and Health and Wellness.  A working group has also spent the year identifying annual deliverables and the ways data can enrich the ICC’s work and assist with the school’s growth and development; they will continue their work next year, with the goal of developing a dashboard of trackable data related to our antiracism, equity, and belonging.
     
    January 2021      
    We are a committee of 32 members strong, including three HS students and two newly elected faculty representatives. Members of the committee are working in teams to advance particular priorities (e.g., a data team is seeking to identify metrics and design dashboards that can help track our progress and hold ourselves accountable to our aspirations). Meetings of the full group reserve space for hearing reports on initiatives underway (e.g., the history department’s antiracism self-study) and responding to emergent issues.
     
    October 2020     
    The Institutional Culture Committee (ICC) of the Board of Trustees has had a busy first few months, hosting several parent forums over the summer and holding its first committee meeting on August 19. The ICC is closely involved with shaping the school’s response to the recent Student Demands, and it is overseeing the Independent Review, described below. In addition, the ICC partners with the OCE on many of the ongoing programs and new initiatives described in this update. 
     
    July 2020           
    The Institutional Culture Committee (ICC) of the Board of Trustees will add—at the highest level of Grace's governance—a new layer of accountability for the school's work of anti-racism, equity, and belonging. At our meeting on June 16 the Board approved the creation of the ICC as the first standing committee to be added at the board level since Grace became independent of Grace Church in 2007. The ICC comprises members drawn from the many constituencies of the school and, starting in the fall, it will include two students from the High School Division.
     
    The creation of the ICC was the final action of the Board’s Diversity Structures Task Force, which itself was formed out of the 2015 Long Range Plan.
  • Conduct an Independent Review

    May 2021       
    Pollyanna is completing its climate assessment, using the input from the focus groups they conducted in the fall and over 350 responses to the survey they shared in the winter. We thank the community members who generously gave their time and insight. 
     
    This Spring, the ICC has formed an additional Task Force to consider some of the blind spots that may be holding back our efforts to cultivate a sense of belonging for all students.  Comprising a balance of ICC members and non-members, this Task Force will host conversations open to the Grace community and use those discussions to inform the recommendations they deliver to the Board this summer.
     
    Over the summer, the Board will read through the recommendations from Pollyanna and from the Task Force, identifying strategic priorities for better fostering a culture of antiracism, equity, and belonging at Grace.
     
    January 2021      
    Pollyanna has completed the first phase of their assessment process, conducting over 30 meetings with members of the Grace community in forms ranging from individual interviews to large zoom groups. The next step is the community wide survey that is included in this email. We know how full people’s schedules are, but this is exactly the right time to do an independent review like this one—and your participation will help make it a success. When you receive the survey, please take a few minutes to complete it.
     
    October 2020     
    The Board has engaged Pollyanna, Inc. to conduct the Independent Review announced in the July letter. Pollyanna will begin its work by conducting focus groups within seven constituencies of the school: faculty/staff, students, current parents, alumni, alumni parents, trustees, and administrators. Letters engaging members of the community started going out last week, beginning with the faculty/staff group; other constituent letters will follow in the coming weeks. Participation in these focus groups is integral to Pollyanna’s learning and discovery during this process. Following the conclusion of the assessment phase, Pollyanna will issue a summary of findings and recommendations, which will be made available to the community.
     
    July 2020           
    This fall, as its first major initiative, the ICC will launch an independent review into the ways that racism persists at Grace, examining the school’s culture and environment from the perspective of students, families, faculty, and staff of color. The ICC will engage and directly manage an outside consultant to conduct this work with participation by the community. The internal review will look at the prevalence and handling of microaggressions, at specific racist statements and actions that have been reported directly and at those that have been shared on @blackatgrace. It will have a broad reach, including the process by which the administration evaluates and responds to complaints. In addition, the review will look at admissions, recruitment, hiring practices, and board operations--all with the goal of attracting and supporting more students, faculty, administration and trustees of color. The ICC will issue quarterly progress updates. A final report of findings, with actionable recommendations, is expected to be shared with the community in the summer of 2021. 
  • Clarify Reporting Procedures

    May 2021       
    The Student Community Board is recruiting members for the 2021-22 cohort, continuing to expand the way we approach discipline and care for the community, especially when violations of the Student Life Agreement impact members of the student body.
     
    January 2021      
    This work is ongoing. This fall, the school updated faculty and student handbooks, clarifying hate speech rules and definitions. The handbooks delineate guidelines for addressing speech and other infractions. HS students and faculty participated in conversations designed to build comfort and competence with restorative practices.  This work was introduced at the MS level as well. The HS Student Community Board is active and will be called upon to address some concerns in the winter quarter regarding Student Life Agreement violations.
     
    October 2020     
    The Board and the administration continue to find ways to ensure safe and effective reporting procedures, while further scaffolding the existing systems we have in place. These include the addition of more specific hate speech rules and definitions in the high school division student handbooks, and ongoing training of our high school Safe Space Advocates and the counseling teams across divisions. The School is also expanding structures to deal with violations of community guidelines, such as the high school Student Community Board that employs restorative practices. Restorative justice circles are being introduced to faculty and students in multiple divisions throughout the year to expand this option for community building and rehabilitation. Additionally, work with Pollyanna and the strengthening of the Division Liaison roles will also help identify where communication for reporting can be improved.  
     
    July 2020           
    We plan to increase accountability in the near term by clarifying and strengthening the procedures in place for addressing incidents of bias, discrimination, and racism. Having clear, effective, mission-consistent procedures for resolving conflicts among school constituents is critical to fostering trust and cohesion. Feedback from recent forums reminds us that this effort must include our youngest students and families.
  • Create a Comprehensive Parent Orientation

    May 2021       
    The virtual nature of this pandemic admissions season required us to experiment with new ways of introducing applicants and accepted families into the school. The JK-8 Grade admissions team held a variety of orientations for incoming parents. They felt valuable, and it’s our hope that the school will continue to develop a comprehensive approach for helping new families understand Grace’s mission. Along these lines, the OCE is running four orientations to our Diversity Mission Statement, introducing families to our commitment to antiracism, equity, and belonging.  These will be similar to the orientations from the fall, and they should help onboard new families to the community and to the ways they can support the school’s goals.
     
    January 2021      
    The OCE held Parent Orientations this fall for all grades. Thoughtful feedback is leading to refinements to content and scheduling with the goal of reaching all existing parents. The OCE also plans to create mandatory sessions for all incoming new parents in the spring as well as special sessions for existing parents as their children transition between divisions. The OCE is hosting a White Parent Series and have held three of their six planned meetings.
     
    October 2020     
    The OCE started its parent orientations with the JK and K last week and we plan to meet with parents in all grades this month. These sessions, offered to two grades at a time, focus on understanding the institution’s commitment to antiracism, equity, and belonging, its connection to Grace’s Mission Statement and what this charge means for families at the school. These orientations detail expectations for all community members and invite parents to participate in our ongoing programming. Attendance is strongly encouraged.
     
    July 2020           
    Racism places a heavy burden on Black, Indigenous, and people of color in any predominantly white institution, and it has clearly done so at Grace. The work of anti-racism must not likewise fall solely to BIPOC, but must be embraced by white members of our community with intention, persistence, candor, and hope. We are exploring the best way to provide every parent with a more comprehensive orientation to the mission and ethos of the school. The goal will be to deepen parents’ understanding of the values of care, respect, and belonging that are at the heart of our community, so they can support the commitments made by Grace students and understand the process that occurs when those commitments are broken.
  • Expand Spaces for all Community Members to Engage in Antiracism Work

    May 2021       
    In addition to affinity spaces that have been in effect all year, the High School has had themed community weeks, some of which have given students opportunities to explore antiracism. The Student Diversity Council will run its sixth Community Week forum on antiracism, facilitated by HS students for their peers. HS students have formed a new “Middle Ground Club” to promote civil discourse.
                           
    The OCE and the Assistant Head have run a series of faculty meetings with the goal of translating our summer reading about equity and antiracism into our practices as educators and into goals for our institution.
     
    January 2021      
    Affinity groups are active among for faculty, parents, and students throughout the school.  In particular, the Faculty WAAG and Faculty of Color groups have continued regular meetings and have maintained momentum. Student groups have launched and are working toward expanding their membership. These groups are critical in engaging the entire community in the advancement of our antiracism work. Five white affinity spaces are now running, including groups for faculty, parents, MS Students, HS Students, and administrators.  Students in the high school have more than 12 affinity spaces, and this year saw the addition of an affinity space in the high school for women of color. MS Affinity Groups have met three times so far and include CASA, students of color, and a MS SWAG (Student White Antiracism Group). Anyone interested in joining a group can contact Kim Chaloner here. In addition, the HS Student Diversity Council has now run two community wide discussions about antiracism at Grace. The next one is planned for MLK week during this week’s HS intersession. Other discussion forums, such as the Diversity Council, Community Book Club, and Parents of Diverse Cultural Backgrounds groups continue to be available.
     
    October 2020     
    Students and parents regularly share how assuring and supportive affinity spaces can be. We have continued to ensure that spaces are available, especially for students, supporting a wide range of identities covering race, religion, gender and sexuality, and more. Because the participation of white-identifying members of the community is crucial to this work’s success, student leaders are reimagining our high school space for white antiracism, and we are inaugurating a series of conversations for white parents as well, where we will explore the role of white community members in antiracism work. Our faculty group is up and running and gaining members. New groups across identities are forming this year, and we are happy to see this communal effort take off.
     
    July 2020           
    We seek to more deeply support affinity group work for students, faculty and parents of color, and critically, we also need to provide opportunities for white community members to engage in this way. The Faculty White Antiracist Affinity Group (“WAAG”) has been running for five years and has grown in membership and commitment. This space works alongside other racial and identity-based affinity groups and allows white faculty to gain racial awareness to safely explore their own biases with professional guidance and support. Similar WAAG spaces for parents and High School students have already planned their agendas for fall 2020, and programming is in the works for Middle School students as well. These affinity spaces are not meant to further segregate us, but rather to meet us where we are individually and equip us with the skills we need, strengthening the community as a whole.


Committees & Groups

List of 6 frequently asked questions.

  • The Institutional Culture Committee (ICC)

    The ICC embodies the Board's commitment to antiracism, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Guided by its own specific committee charter, the ICC provides oversight at the Board level to the School’s efforts in living out its overall mission as well as its commitments to diversity and inclusion. Co-Chaired by Renée Noel and Barbara Sibley, the Committee has grown out of the work of the Diversity Structures Task Force (2016-2020) and is composed of 32 members across all constituencies of the Grace community, including current HS students. The ICC has a set of subcommittees that maintain oversight over these areas: Antiracism, Equity and Belonging (AEB), Communication of Mission, Dashboard and Reporting, Sustainability, Episcopal Identity and Service Learning, Gender and Identity, Health and Wellness. These subcommittees are designed to be nimble and flexible depending on the needs of the Grace Community. A list of members of the ICC can be found here.
  • Office of Community Engagement (OCE)

    The OCE seeks to support Grace in engaging in collaborative work that serves the school’s mission to “develop an active ethical consciousness.” The office helps coordinate professional development, student programs and events that honor our rich interconnectedness in a diverse and dynamic world.  Any member of the community is invited to visit and learn about how the office hopes to make the mission of Grace Church School a living and breathing reality for all.
     
    The OCE includes:
    Jean Robert Andre, Dean of Diversity and Inclusion
    Kim Chaloner, Dean of Community Life
    Ilana Laurence, Dean of Student Life
     
    The OCE has also created additional roles for current faculty in each division, called Division Faculty Liaisons:
    Early Childhood Division- Kate Patton
    Lower School Division- Hayeun Kim
    Middle School Division- Morika Tsujimura
    High School Division- Piya Kashyap & Enkay Iguh
  • Diversity Council (DC), All School

    The Diversity Council was formed as a result of a 2009 internal review and it is made up of parents, trustees, faculty, staff and administrators. The council helps plan yearly events that highlight the value of a diverse environment, including evening events, a diversity book club, an annual film event, and working group meetings that discuss issues important to building an inclusive school. It is facilitated through the Office of Community Engagement, and its meetings are open to all members of the community.
  • Safe Space Advocates, High School Division

    Safe Space Advocates are faculty members and support staff who have received special training in order to answer questions about harassment and to help students who need to report incidents. While students may always seek out school counselors, advisors, faculty or administrators to ask questions or report incidents, the Advocates focus on helping students by listening to their concerns, by helping them understand policy and assisting them to seek further support. When appropriate, the Advocate can help a student to find counseling resources, as well as with the disciplinary process.
     
    Safe Space Advocates :
    Andrew Leonard
    Katherine Cheung
    Ravendra Persaud
    Alice Polanski
    Jacob Root
    Christina Olivares
    Mark Hummell
    Daria Melnyk
    Toby Nathan
     
    Associates to the Safe Space Advocates:  Mel Chan, Beth Walker, Ilana Laurence, Kallan Wood

  • Black Students Demanding Change

    In the summer of 2019 students from the GCS high School presented the school with a list of demands to further the school's antiracist mission and explicitly reported areas that the school was falling short. Some of these demands were met but Grace did not adequately respond. Following the devastating events of 2020 including, but not limited to, the racism laid bare in the effects of the pandemic on communities of color, the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the Black Lives Matter protests and the clear and courageous testimony on the @blackat Instagram accounts for independent schools including Grace, a group of students at New York City independent schools formed a now nationwide organization named Black Students Demanding Change (BSDC). Grace has representatives on BSDC, and under the umbrella of the group have updated the Student Demands of 2019. These demands are grouped under the following: Culture, Accountability, Representation, Education, and Support (CARES).
  • Pollyanna, Inc.

    Pollyanna Inc. is an independent consulting firm that works with academic and other institutions to achieve their diversity, equity and inclusion goals. Through its unique conference models, discussion platforms, and racial literacy curricula, Pollyanna works with its partner organizations to increase racial literacy and institutional commitment to equity and belonging. Following @blackatgrace and other reports of racism in our community, Pollyanna was hired by the Board of Trustees to conduct an independent review and study of the institutional response to racism at Grace. Pollyanna consultants held over 30 focus groups this fall and, following a community survey this month, they will deliver an assessment report to the Board this spring. 

Some Background: Diversity at GCS for Over 60 Years

Grace Church School has always welcomed students of all faiths or no faith and welcomed all the children of the surrounding community. In 1947 the school became coeducational. Grace has increasingly sought ways to better live this ideal. GCS was one of only two New York City schools willing to host the NAIS Multicultural Assessment Plan during the early 1990s. In 1997, Grace hosted a two-day, citywide diversity conference examining racism in education, headlined by Dr. Cornel West. In 2009, Grace conducted a Community Climate Assessment, a year-long process of self-examination, using the resulting data to create our Strategic Plan for Diversity and Inclusion in May 2010. We have a history of being ahead of the pack, but we are not done yet. Watch this page as we continue to grow.
© 2021 Grace Church School
Grace Church School is a co-educational independent school in downtown Manhattan, New York City providing instruction for over 700 students in Junior Kindergarten through Grade 12.