In the first edition of the Network this year, an entire In Depth (center spread) was dedicated to Black Lives Matter. In the center of the pages were two lists: “steps taken” and “steps planned” for Marian to reach its goal of racial equity, diversity and inclusion within the school community specifically. Marian is now in the fourth quarter of the school year and doesn’t have much longer to check the boxes left empty of “steps planned.”
In August 2020 Marian hired its first Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Miss Devin Owens, to help work through the steps and keep adding to the list of ways Marian can become more inclusive.
The first item on the list was recently completed in January 2021 but had been in the works since the beginning of the year: a student Diversity Board. It is currently made up of four members who had been leading the work last year and were passed onto Miss Owens through teachers and counselors. “This year we have four people, next year I want 12 minimum,” Owens said.
President of the Diversity Board, senior Lauren Harris, has been passionate about this step since the summer. She was quoted in our August In Depth spread saying: “With a student Diversity Board, every color at Marian will be represented.” Now, she says, “I think there definitely has been progress made because also along with everything that the Diversity Board has been doing, the faculty has also been doing diversity training.”
This factuly and staff diversity training began with reading a devotional-style book titled “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla Saad. “We would have group discussions bi-weekly. I developed the questions that the teachers and staff answered, and at the same time we were also working with this speaker who works in racial equity named Abena Imhotep,” Owens said.
The next item on Marian’s list toward a more inclusive community is “enhanced handbook policy relevant to racist behavior,” but Owens said “this is actually something that will be bigger than Marian.” The Archdiocese of Omaha is working with area Directors of Diversity and Inclusion such as Owens, high school principals and students of all grade levels to create policy that will affect real change. The Archdiocese is taking an educational approach to this issue in order to obliterate the long-term thoughts and behaviors that create racism. “It’s gonna take a while… we’re going to middle schools and elementary schools and testing it out to make sure that it’s effective,” Owens said. This “testing” involves activities such as racial listening circles, where a group is given a specific topic and structure to guide a conversation.
Schoolwide racial awareness conversations in small group settings took place formally at the beginning of the school year after the tragic deaths of many Black people in the United States. Since then, these conversations have continued in spaces such as I.D.E.A.S. club, IncluCity, Donuts and Diversity and CAB. Harris especially encourages white students to get involved in these spaces. “Joining I.D.E.A.S. club is a big thing–it’s not just for students of color–it’s for everyone,” Harris said.
Two of the “steps planned” have not come to fruition due to COVID-19 restrictions. As for an alumnae diversity board, Owens said, “it might be an advisory board or just a group of alumnae who care.” A student multicultural night is being held off until it can involve food and more engaging activities which are currently prohibited.
Even with COVID-19 restrictions, 15 Marian students were able to participate in the virtual IncluCity workshop, “At the Intersection of Race and Gender” on March 5-6. Students were able to meet at Marian to join the Zoom and then discuss in-person.
Finally on the list of steps planned is “student-led programming for peer-to-peer teaching,” which is happening through the Diversity Board. “Our goal is to increase diversity awareness and inclusion inside of Marian and have the space to have uncomfortable talks so that we get to know each other better and feel more close as a community,” Harris said.
The Board began its mission in February by leading the celebrations for Black History Month. “Some of the activities that we’ve done for Black History Month is on our Instagram @MarianDiversityBoard. We posted 28 Black pioneers, so one each day, and talked about what they’ve done for the Black community,” Harris said.
The Diversity Board, along with others, also created a mural to hang above Marian’s front entrance. “It is supposed to represent a tree to show roots, or Black culture. We chose 28 Black pioneers to put at the end of the roots, because they help inspire Black culture and make it what it is today. The hair is supposed to be a Black woman but also the top of a tree, and it had different words like ‘powerful, intelligent and kind’ to represent what Black people are and what our culture is,” Harris said.
Through the presentation of the mural, education led by the Diversity Board and a Crusader Activity Block that featured members of I Be Black Girl, the Marian community was reminded of the importance of making diversity and inclusion an active part of the school. “I do think we’ve been taking a lot of steps to change, but there’s always more room for improvement,” Harris said.
Even though not all of Marian’s steps planned for racial equity have been completed, those leading the work have hope. “I just have to remind myself that this work will take time, but we’re making really meaningful steps given unprecented circumstances,” Owens said.