Diversity forums promote inclusiveness

Andy Guest, Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy’s head of school, opened the school’s first Parent Diversity Collaborative Forum October 25 with an address to those present about keeping the dialogue going within the NDPMA community “about diversity and how it affects our community and to discuss what we can do to make things better.”

He told those in attendance that he is committed to doing everything he can to support the diversity efforts at the school and to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for its students and its faculty and staff.

Kala Parker, NDPMA’s dean of diversity and associate dean of admissions, said there are plans for at least three more such forums in the future. For more on the school’s diversity efforts, read an article posted last month on the NDPMA website: “Diversity takes center stage at Notre Dame.”

More photos of the Oct. 25, 2017, Diversity Collaborative Forum are below.

From Andy Guest, NDPMA’s head of school:

Good evening. 

To begin, I would just like to say welcome and thank you for attending the first of four discussions that we are hosting this year on the topic of diversity. As you can appreciate, this is not necessarily a comfortable topic for me. As a white male, who was born in Detroit, and moved to Grosse Pointe at the age of six, I have had basically every privilege afforded in society. I had a good family, a quality education and grew up in a safe neighborhood with parents who were educated and financially well off.

I always had a job and never had trouble getting a job. I was never scared of getting pulled over by the police for a routine traffic stop, I never had someone look at me when I went into a store or grab their purse a little tighter when I stepped onto an elevator, and I have never had to worry about getting hassled for walking down the street wearing a hooded sweatshirt. So part of me, as head of school, would love this uncomfortable topic to just “go away.” 

Unfortunately, it has not. Racism is real. Racism is a fact. We do not live in post-racist world. I wish we did. But, we don’t. And I think the first step in making our school better is recognizing that we do have students of different races and we are not immune to racism, racist thoughts or racist actions in our school. I always thought the comment that many white people make: “I am not racist. I don’t see color. I am color-blind” was a bit odd. Really, you don’t see color? Well black people do. Brown people do. Because they are forced to. As whites, we are not forced to see color, because we are not judged negatively because of the color of our skin. We can live our lives normally, without fear and without threat.

The simple fact is that we have black students, white students, Asian students and Latino students. We also have Christians, Jews and Muslims in our school. The word Catholic means universal. Our very essence calls us to be open and welcoming. Humans are created in the image and likeness of God.

As I mentioned in my summer update letter and reiterated at several back-to-school events, we have had a few incidences at the school that have been unsettling. They have been unsettling to me, our entire administrative staff, our teachers, our coaches, students and parents who have been involved, and our board of trustees. For privacy reasons, I do not want to nor am I allowed to get into specifics, but we have had incidences where students have used racial slurs against other students, either in jest or in anger. We have also had students use racial slurs toward teachers. It seems that there has been an increase in the use of these slurs the past year. We are not sure of the cause, but there is a theory that the current political climate is creating an environment that is dividing the country. 

So, there are two things I wanted to accomplish tonight. 

First, I want to reiterate that there is no place for racial name-calling at Notre Dame. It’s not what we teach and it’s not what we preach as a Catholic/Christian institution. And we treat issues of a racial nature very seriously. We want Notre Dame to be a school of inclusion. A place where every student, regardless of their ethnic, social, economic or religious background or the color of their skin can come to school, in a harassment-free environment and feel safe. The penalties for student violations are severe and can range from detention and counseling to suspension and/or expulsion. 

Second, I want to start a dialogue about diversity and how it affects our community and to discuss what we can do to make things better. The purpose is not to say racism doesn’t exist or that we will be able to eradicate ignorant or hateful remarks completely. While that would be great. I don’t think it’s realistic. Rather, the purpose is to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make sure that Notre Dame is a safe and inclusive environment for all students. This is our calling. This is what is right. This is our mission. We have the power to influence young people. To influence how they think. How they act. How they talk and how they treat others. If we don’t address issues here with our students, how will we ever make the world a better place?

At the first all-school Mass this year, I addressed the students about leadership, diversity and the type of school that I want ND to be. I told them all that I brag about them, their behavior and the type of students they are wherever I go. I told them that they had the power to make a difference in the lives of others. That they can make or break another student’s day just by saying something nice to them and including them in their conversations. I told them that they have the power to make someone feel good about themselves. And, then, I told them that my expectation for them is to live up to the great things I say about them and to help make ND a better school. 

So, my purpose here is to let you know that I care about this school. I care about its reputation. And, to pledge to you that I will do everything I can to support the diversity efforts here at the school and to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for our most precious assets — our students and your children. 

In closing, I would like to read to you the diversity statement that was created about four years ago by our diversity committee and adopted by our board of trustees, because I am not sure that everyone knows it exists: 

"Notre Dame, guided by the spirit and teachings of the Catholic Church and Society of Mary, actively seeks students, families, faculty, staff and trustees of diverse backgrounds who are committed to the formation of a community of inclusion that respects the dignity of every individual.

"Notre Dame believes that teaching students to advocate for justice is essential to their development as Christian persons, upright citizens and academic scholars. We believe members of our community should work to eliminate prejudice and be a voice for those pushed to the fringes of society on the local, national and global level. Therefore, Notre Dame challenges our community members to battle discrimination against any person or group, including, but not limited to, discrimination on the basis of age, creed, gender, race, national or ethnic origin, socioeconomic status or religion."

Thanks for your attention. 

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.