Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Justice
Oak Knoll’s mission as a Holy Child school calls us to sustain a diverse, inclusive school community. Beyond requiring academic excellence, our mission charges us to educate students who recognize the dignity of every person, who will work for justice, peace, and compassion, and who can make responsible choices in a complex world. Thus, we embrace cultural, socioeconomic, racial, and religious diversity through a coherent system of administrative and academic programs. This active commitment is fundamental to Oak Knoll’s purpose and future.
Oak Knoll is dedicated to the ongoing review of curricular and extracurricular offerings to educate students on the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion and to be allies and changemakers in our ongoing quest for racial and social justice. We believe that it is only through education, understanding and celebration of our differences that we can begin to make meaningful change in the world. The below list of student opportunities is not exhaustive, but gives a sampling of our activities and offerings to encourage listening, self-reflection, open dialogue and safe spaces for all of our students:
The Asian and Pacific Islander Society (APIS) is a club that learns, explores, welcomes diversity, and shares the many cultures of Asia and the Pacific Islands with others. While learning about the different cultural aspects of these countries, the club also discusses topics in the media and issues revolving around Asians and Pacific Islanders inside and outside of the United States. APIS is a fun and engaging way to chat, try some Asian snacks, and talk about topics ranging from global issues to even your favorite take-out.
Culture Club is the Lower School’s multicultural association for students in grades 5-6. At meetings, members share their cultures and ethnicities and discuss current topics about diversity. Activities include book discussions, round-table talks and presentations to broaden the discussion of diversity at Oak Knoll. Sometimes members present multicultural topics at school assemblies.
SHADES (Students Helping Advocate for Diversity in Education and Society) is Oak Knoll’s multicultural association. At meetings, club leaders present topics which might include current events and issues surrounding diversity and inclusion. Students also share their own backgrounds and club members learn from everyone’s perspective. Activities have included educational trips, the annual Black Scholars & SHADES Thanksgiving Supper, a mixer with local schools and presentation at school assemblies.
Sister for Sister, a mentorship program for student of color in grades 7-12, was founded by an Oak Knoll graduate of the Class of 2020 and operates under the direction of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator. It is a safe space for people of color to bond, have fun, talk about shared experiences, and address any challenges faced while attending a predominantly white institution. Students who have attended Oak Knoll for a couple of years apply to mentor younger and new students and plan and lead activities and discussions. Mentors are selected through an application process and any student of color is welcome to sign up to be in a mentee group. Sister for Sister meets once per academic cycle, with the ability to plan other events if desired.
Students in grades 7 through 12 meet each cycle to discuss, organize, and plan activities and presentations that celebrate the culture and ethnicity of African-Americans. Some of the presentations focus on the celebrations of Kwanzaa, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and Black History Month. Oak Knoll’s Black Scholars group joins with Black Scholars from other independent schools to dialogue and socialize. Although the meetings focus on issues pertaining to African-Americans and their culture, all students are welcome.
Oak Knoll sends a group of students annually to the National Association of Independent Schools’ Student Diversity Leadership Conference, which is a multiracial, multicultural gathering of Upper School student leaders (grades 9-12) from across the United States and abroad. SDLC focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community. Led by a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators, participating students develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learn the foundations of allyship and networking principles. In addition to large group sessions, SDLC “family groups” and “home groups” allow for dialogue and sharing in smaller units.
*Source: National Association of Independent Schools
In 2019, Oak Knoll launched its signature Success Skills program in the Lower School, where concepts of empathy, self-control, integrity, embracing diversity and grit are reinforced throughout daily activities and the curriculum to become a natural component of the school’s culture.
In these contemporary times of incivility and disunity, high school students need to find safe spaces in order to dialogue with each other about who they are and what their concerns are — both in our school community and in the larger community beyond Oak Knoll. This club will create an opportunity for upper school students to learn about the uniqueness of each person and how that person contributes to making OKS a stronger community. Within a trusting and reverent atmosphere, students will discuss their differences and their similarities; what makes them unique and what unites them.
Annually, the ninth grade participates in a diversity and inclusion workshop on cultural appreciation that covers identity, micro-aggressions, and cultural competency skills.
Oak Knoll School has funded a study grant in the summer of 2020 for faculty to:
- Research the slaveholding history of Holy Child Founder Cornelia Connelly and her husband, Pierce, to integrate that fact into the curriculum.
- Review the curriculum to ensure Oak Knoll provides intentional anti-racist education and instruction.
This study group is a cross-divisional team focused on recommending both immediate and long-term steps to implement anti-racist training, programming and education, PK-12. The group will work for two weeks, researching resources that can be utilized to ensure: effective education and inclusion of BIPOC throughout the academic and extra-curricular programs; support structures for BIPOC students, faculty and staff; and curricular incorporation of the slaveholding history of Pierce and Cornelia Connelly. Recommendations for next steps are to be submitted to the Head of School at the conclusion of the two-week study grant period. The group should also be prepared to discuss their work at in-service meetings and other school gatherings.
- NAIS People of Color Conference — a national conference attended by Oak Knoll educators for the past six years.
- NJAIS Job Fair to Promote Diversity — with workshops on “Unconscious Bias Among the Well-Intentioned: How It Affects the Hiring Process” and “Supporting and Retaining Faculty of Color.”
- September 2019: Committee-developed action plans on MEC and NJAIS/MSA recommendations on diversity and inclusion
- June 2019: Committee-developed action plans on MEC and NJAIS/MSA recommendations on diversity and inclusion
- June 2018: A presentation on Oak Knoll’s student demographics (race, religion, SES) and community initiatives
- November 2017: Faculty retreat: Looking within and seeing from others’ perspectives.
- February 2017: A modified “privilege walk” to help visualize privilege followed by small group discussions
- June 2017: A workshop on identity and perspectives
- September 2016: A workshop on culture, identity, and privilege
- June 2016: A presentation by three Oak Knoll graduates on what it was like to be a student of color at Oak Knoll
- June 2015: A workshop on identity
- Annually: A workshop on providing a safe, bullying and harassment-free school environment
Cornelia Connelly, founder of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, along with her husband, Pierce, were slaveholders when they lived in Mississippi and Louisiana from approximately 1835 to 1839.
In January 2020, Oak Knoll Head of School Timothy J. Saburn wrote a letter to the community to help educate the school on this fact and about the existence of the “Commission for the Legacy of Slavery at Rosemont College.” The commission is tasked with making recommendations that will help the College develop an understanding of its connection to Cornelia, and the fact that, at one time, the Connelly family owned people who were enslaved.
Oak Knoll held facilitated discussion classes in January 2020 between Upper School students and faculty about the slaveholding history of Cornelia and Pierce Connelly and plans to further explore the slaveholding history of Cornelia and Pierce Connelly.
DEIJ initiatives will never be complete or “done.” This ongoing important work must be revised, constantly. This page should be considered a living document that will be updated as appropriate as current offerings are reviewed and revised to meet and exceed the educational needs of our student population.
Organizations and Websites:
- Black Lives Matters Movement
- The BIPOC Project: A Black, Indigenous, & People of Color Movement
- The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation (providing mental health resources to the African American Community)
- Therapy for Black Girls
- Black Girl Magic
- Black Boy Joy
- The Obama Foundation
- The US Conference of Catholic Bishops
Resources Specifically for Educators:
- Facing History
- National SEED Project: Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (Creating Conversational Communities that Drive Change)
- Teaching Tolerance
- From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation (Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta 2016)
- How to Be an Antiracist (Kendi, Ibram X. 2019)
- Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People (Banaji, Mahzarin R. 2016)
- Black Lives Matter (Edwards, Sue Bradford. 2016)
- Americanah (Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi 2013)
- Just Mercy (Stevenson, Bryan 2014)
- The Hate U Give (Thomas, Angie 2017)
- Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race in School (edited by Mica Pollock, 2008)
- Between the World and Me (Coates, Ta-Nehisi 2015)
- NYTimes 1619 podcast
- Hair Love (animated short)
- When They See Us (limited series on Netflix)
- 13th (documentary)
- CNN/Sesame Street Town Hall on Racism
- @theconsciouskid (Instagram)
- @blackandstem (Twitter)
- @aclu (multiple platforms)
- @ckyourprivilege (Instagram)
- @ethelsclub (Instagram)
*These resources were vetted by Oak Knoll School at the time of posting but are ever-changing. Please use your discretion when visiting these websites and social media accounts.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator