oak knoll school students surrounding logo on field

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:

Student DEIJ Initiatives

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 students 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 Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice. It is a safe space for BIPOC students to bond, have fun, talk about shared experiences, and address any societal challenges they are facing. 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.

Faculty Programming

  • New Jersey Catholic School Diversity Conference at Delbarton School
  • NAIS People of Color Conference — a national conference attended by Oak Knoll educators for the past seven 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.”
  • Widening the Lens — a Diversity Conference at Far Brook School for New Jersey independent schools
  • NJAIS Administrators of Color Institute
  • NJAIS White Administrators Institute
  • 2021-22: Administrative Team Training: The National SEED Project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) and Faculty/Staff identity work.
  • 2020-21: Faculty and Staff Training: The National SEED Project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity)
  • October 2020: Upper School Faculty and Staff Training: The National SEED Project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity)
  • September 2020: A schoolwide presentation on race and social justice across the nation and diversity, equity, inclusion and justice initiatives at OKS to date.
  • 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

Reconciliation

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 2020, Oak Knoll faculty researched the slaveholding history of Cornelia and Pierce and now incorproate that fact in teaching about the life and legacy of Cornelia Connelly.

Organizations and Websites:

Resources Specifically for Educators:

Books:

  • 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)

Media:

Social Media:

  • @asianmentalhealthcollective (Instagram)
  • @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.

DEIJ Team

Kelly DunMelissa Miller

Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice

Kelly DunKelly Ross

Upper School DEIJ Coordinator
908-522-8192

Kelly DunElinor Takenaga

Upper School DEIJ Liasion
908-522-8124

Kelly DunMelissa Nelson

Lower School DEIJ Coordinator
908-522-8127

Kelly DunEmma Kramer

Staff DEIJ Liasion
908-522-8109

Kelly DunSara Sykes

Community Belonging Liasion
908-522-8120
Episode 3: The Importance of Black History Month

Published February 15, 2022

Melissa Miller, Oak Knoll’s Director of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Justice sits down with Desiree Mitchell ’23, Oak Knoll junior and leader of the Black Scholars Club, discussing the importance of February’s Black History Month and celebrating Black history all year-round.