“The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.”
-"Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching, Life and Dignity of the Human Person,”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
In May 2020, while our leadership grappled with opening the school during a pandemic, our country and much of the world were fraught with a range of emotions, expressed in countless ways, over the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many Black and other persons of color. Father Ryan was not immune to the effects of the environment at that time, and we began to receive many suggestions on what we should or shouldn’t do to improve the school’s experience for Black students and other students of color.
Instead of immediately reacting to the breadth of feedback we were receiving, we deliberately entered into a thoughtful and prayerful process to understand the ways we have created an inclusive environment on our campus and how we can improve it, specifically such that students of color have a genuine feeling of belonging. Our process, from the outset, has been focused on achieving two goals.
- To identify effective and sustainable actions that Father Ryan High School will take to make our environment more inclusive and with a greater feeling of belonging for Black students and other students of color.
- To identify effective and sustainable actions that Father Ryan High School will take to help prevent racism on our campus.
With the help and guidance of many in our community, including alumni, members of the Board of Trustees, school leadership, and faculty, we have developed a plan to help us achieve these goals, and we are ready to begin the implementation phase. We want to remind everyone of how the process was conducted as we present the outline of our plan.
STEP 1 – Listen and understand
To ensure we truly heard all of the feedback and considered meaningful improvements, we engaged a third party, YMG Enterprises, LLC, a respected and experienced Nashville-based diversity and inclusivity consultancy, to establish and facilitate the process. Additionally, throughout the process we were in consultation with the Diocese of Nashville.
During Step 1 we were pleased to hear from nearly 1,000 members of the Father Ryan community through focus groups and surveys. As you can imagine, the range of feedback was broad. It included comments that made us proud of our historic leadership in integrating classrooms and athletic venues in this state. At the same time, the feedback identified opportunities where we could meaningfully improve our efforts at fostering an inclusive environment.
STEP 2 – Prioritize the feedback and identify action steps
Step 2 gathered a working group of 15 people, including members of the leadership team, the Board of Trustees, and the alumni community. With the above goals in mind, all of the feedback gathered through letters and surveys was organized into five recurring themes. The themes are listed here along with the types of questions that the group discussed as it focused on the experiences of Black and other persons of color on our campus.
- Are there ways to improve our approaches to content and curriculum delivery for our students to build understanding, acceptance, tolerance, and empathy?
- How can our faculty and staff more fully understand the issues of diversity and inclusion in today’s world?
- How do our students and their families experience our school today?
- How can we improve their experiences?
- Have we clearly articulated and educated our community regarding our expectations and vision for what an inclusive environment looks like in the light of our faith?
- If students, their families, faculty, or staff have an interaction that makes them feel excluded or that they do not belong, do they have a supportive and effective process to communicate these feelings and experiences?
- How can we improve the representation of Black and other persons of color among our students, faculty, and staff?
STEP 3 – Implement and track progress
Using the Strategic Plan adopted in 2019, which included as one of its five priorities “to expand demand, inclusivity, and access,” the working group set broad objectives for each of the themes identified above. These objectives have been incorporated into the school’s strategic plan.
Specific actions have been identified with each objective, along with timeframes and targeted accountability measures. The actions presented below will take place during the 2021-2022 school year as part of the strategic planning implementation.
ACTION STEPS – 2021-2022 SCHOOL YEAR
- Father Ryan has updated and is communicating the policies, procedures, and processes regarding racial harassment in the Parent/Student Handbook.
- Father Ryan will develop and promulgate community standards and expectations, flowing from our Catholic faith and upholding our commitment to racial, cultural, and socio-economic diversity.
- Father Ryan will establish a Faculty Diversity Group to advise leadership during the 2021-2022 and subsequent school years.
- School leadership, all Heads of Houses, and the Faculty Diversity Group will attend and participate in one or more professional development opportunities, rooted in our mission, regarding diversity and inclusion during the 2021-2022 school year.
- The school selects a theme for each year, with “Lead” having been the theme for the 2020-2021 year. In August 2021, reflective of this year’s theme of “Solidarity”, all faculty and staff will receive training, utilizing effective techniques consistent with the Catholic worldview, that will enhance the faculty’s ability to cultivate and support a diverse and inclusive environment in the classroom and through curriculum delivery.
- Working with local and regional organizations that share our mission and values, Father Ryan will further and strengthen our efforts to expand the pool of racially diverse applicants for admissions and employment.
- Leaders of our Multi-Cultural Student Union club will work with student members to invite no fewer than three alumni speakers each semester during the 2021-2022 school year.
Ongoing Listening and Improvement
- Beginning the spring of the 2021-2022 school year, Father Ryan will conduct an annual survey of families, students, and faculty regarding their experiences during the year and will include questions regarding diversity and inclusion.
Father Ryan is committed to continuous improvement. We are in constant pursuit of an environment where every student is known and loved. The thoughtful process we entered into last year and the valuable feedback we received have enhanced our strategic plan. We believe that will bring about meaningful progress toward our goals. Our hope is that, consistent with our Catholic social teachings, the pursuit of these actions enhances the life and dignity of every person we meet.
As we begin this school year, we ask once again for the intercession of our Blessed Mother for all in our community.
Jim McIntyre Paul Davis '81