Community & Equity
Dear Members of the St. Mark’s Community,
On June 24, I sent an email which concluded with a promise to be in touch with you again once St. Mark’s had finalized action steps about the School’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Today I am pleased to share some initial details of those action steps. Before sharing those details, I would like to address two groups in our community directly.
To our alumni, and in particular our Black alumni: I hear you. Through the stories many of you have posted on the @blackatsm Instagram account and through the messages that some of you have sent to me directly, you have shared accounts of your time at St. Mark’s that are traumatic, raw, and painful. Your testimonials demonstrate that St. Mark’s has, in the circumstances described, failed to live up to our School’s ideals. For that I apologize. On behalf of the Board of Trustees and the School community, we are committed to responding to your concerns. The testimonials present a call for St. Mark’s to commit comprehensively, in actions as well as in words, to antiracist work. As the head of St. Mark’s, I make that commitment, first with immediate action steps and second with planning for action steps that will take longer for full implementation. In addition, I commit to creating opportunities to discuss your feedback about the School’s approach to this work.
To our students, and in particular our Pathways Prefects: I support you. I applaud your courage for taking bold steps. Thank you for the work that you have done, are doing, and will do to help make St. Mark’s truly anti-racist. Black Lives Matter; I appreciate your commitment to every one of our current Black students, to our Black alumni, and to future Black St. Markers.
Following are the steps that I commit to St. Mark’s undertaking, beginning today:
- An Anti-Racism Task Force will identify action steps for St. Mark's to take both inside and outside the classroom so that St. Mark’s is an anti-racist school. I have heard the demand for a task force to develop an anti-racist curriculum that is mandatory for all students. This demand is entirely appropriate. In addition to the necessary curricular work, I recognize that we also have work to do in other areas of School life. As St. Mark’s is a school committed to educating the whole student, I want an Anti-Racist Task Force to have a more extensive focus. The Task Force, reporting to me, will be led by Director of Community and Equity Affairs John Daves and will address the curricular need identified in the petition and also address needs that exist elsewhere in the academic program and in other areas of the School like the residence halls, athletics, and the arts.
- Faculty and staff members will engage in mandatory anti-racist professional development programming. Every year, all faculty and staff members will participate in at least one daylong on-campus professional development program on race. In addition, all faculty will be required to attend a regional or national diversity conference at least every three years.
- St. Mark’s counseling services will expand to include additional resources for students of color, and specifically Black students. We will have on campus, starting in 2020-2021, a health professional of color with expertise in supporting students of color. That health professional will also provide expertise to help our current counselors increase their skills and knowledge for their work with students of color. In addition, we will implement a confidential process for reporting on and vigorously addressing incidents of bias that occur on our campus.
The St. Mark’s Trustees offered their full support for these steps during a Wednesday, July 8, Zoom call. The Trustees will also create a Board Diversity Committee to oversee the School’s progress in its advance to being fully anti-racist in all parts of its program. St. Mark’s faculty and staff offered their commitment to engage fully in the action steps during a Thursday, July 9, Zoom call, and offered a number of helpful implementation suggestions.
Much more work lies ahead. Indeed, the action steps identified here represent only the first in a series that St. Mark’s will take in the coming weeks, months, and years in the interest of making St. Mark’s a truly anti-racist School and a truly inclusive community. I look forward to this work, and I look forward to your feedback. Thank you.
John C. Warren ’74, Ed.D
Head of School
St. Mark’s School seeks to reflect the increasingly diverse world in which our students presently live and will live in the future. We intend to provide our students with a superior education in a community of students, parents, faculty, and staff that represents a variety of racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. We strive to ensure respect for all regardless of sex, gender, gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation, ability, family structure or economic background.
Each year as we welcome new students to school, we work to provide support for all students entering the St. Mark’s community. In addition to the support provided by advisors, dorm parents, The Center and teachers, St. Mark’s seeks to cultivate a community that is safe and generative for each community member. In fact, we believe that understanding the various cultures and communities represented in our student body is an essential part of the education each student receives here at St. Mark’s.
Notably, there are students at St. Mark’s who fit into a dominant culture, and it is up to us as educators to help our students who fall into this category understand the nuance of the privilege and the responsibility that comes with it. Indeed, this idea is central to the St. Mark’s Global Citizenship initiative. The goal of the Global Citizenship Initiative is to assist our students in recognizing and appreciating the beautifully distinctive features that exist in the variety of cultures of the world, to appreciate the human universals that make all people more similar than different, and to inspire our students to become global citizens.
As we navigate this investigation and framing of who we are as global citizens and as members of the St. Mark’s community, there will inevitably be moments of misunderstanding and discomfort. In fact, we encourage the discomfort while maintaining safe space for everyone. It has been proven that providing support spaces for those outside the dominant culture can further enrich the entire community by allowing those groups to speak about unique issues specific to their community. St. Mark’s has long recognized the inherent challenge of being in the minority for various identities such as race, religious beliefs, country of origin,socio-economics, gender, orientation and ability; but, more than recognizing the differences exist, St. Mark’s endeavours to embrace the joyful, beautiful and enduring aspects of our universal humanity to create a more meaningful community. Our affinity groups (known as Pathways) are essential tools in strengthening smaller pieces of our St. Mark community to make a stronger whole.
To this end, orientation provides education for all students around issues of identity and culture by utilizing Pathways Student Leaders (as well as adults from the Office of Community and Equity Affairs, Global Citizenship, Dean of Students and Counseling Services) to introduce the concept of affinity spaces and the opportunities available to engage in Global and C&E work at St. Mark’s. At some points, domestic students of color, international students, and students whose families are new to the boarding experience will have special time dedicated to creating the safe affinity space which is integral to the C&E and Global Initiatives at St. Mark’s. Students who do not have these particular affinities will continue to unpack intersections of our identity (because we all have them) and consider how their voice is just as relevant, necessary and responsible the work of diversity and inclusion.
The Pathways program promotes awareness around cultural difference and provides affinity opportunities for students whose social or identity needs are not reflected in the dominant culture at St. Mark’s. This program is the umbrella under which all student affinity groups are housed.
The affinity groups create meeting opportunity for students who are outside of the dominant culture. They provide support for group members and those group members in turn, collectively and individually become active participants in building awareness throughout the community as a whole.
Research shows that students’ success is only as strong as their degree of social and identity comfort. To that end, SM provides affinity groups for those students whose cultures are underrepresented here. To be clear there is always a concern that affinity groups segregate communities as opposed to bringing them together.
And yet, affinity groups still exist in the most prominent and lucrative organizations, including The United States Congress, Fortune 500 companies, and the Ivy Leagues. How can these groups be so exclusive and yet so highly popular and even endorsed at senior levels of leadership? The answer is that acknowledging difference and communicating across cultural lines actually brings communities closer together rather than further apart. Having the time and freedom to meet in an affinity group empowers members to articulate unique concerns that can be addressed by the entire community.
Viewing affinity groups as exclusive, often stems from the lack of acknowledgment that there is indeed a dominant culture and that others are expected to fit into it. The acknowledgment of a dominant culture and one’s relationship to it is the only way to begin addressing issues of power and privilege. Here at SM, we provide affinity opportunity for all groups who present with this need. ALL affinity groups provide some meeting times open to ANY St. Mark’s community member who wants to participate. Below is the current list of active affinity groups.
- Asian Student Alliance
- Men are Not Born; They are Made
- Gender and Sexuality Alliance
- Southborough Society
- Christian Fellowship Group
- Black Lions Union
- Los Leones
The ASA hopes to create a stronger sense of community and promote cultural understanding through various activities and events. The ASA seeks to address different issues regarding Asian culture or challenges that many Asians face studying abroad. Furthermore, the ASA hopes to create a network of support for students of the Asian race and promote a sense of community.
The excellent collection “Men’s Lives,” compiled by editors Kimmel and Messner, begins with this simple, but important premise: “Men are not born; they are made.” Let’s talk about what it means to be male at St. Mark’s, in your families, in your culture(s), and in society. Being male today is not about stereotypes or archaic expectations; it’s about the type of boy or man into which we make ourselves, and sometimes that’s very complex and difficult work.
The GSA serves to promote awareness, tolerance, and acceptance throughout the school community by engaging in activities and events that recognize and celebrate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. We believe in the creation of an all-inclusive environment inspired by enthusiasm, open-mindedness, and mutual respect.
This affinity group is for girls and women to discuss topics related to being a woman in today’s world and is a space in which open and honest conversation will explore topics both inside and outside of the St. Mark’s community, including Feminism, gender equality, media, women in the workplace, family, education, politics, and everything in-between.
Students seeking a deeper understanding of the Christian faith and its application to their personal lives gather weekly in a comfortable home setting to enjoy fellowship, food, singing, good conversation and Bible exploration with use of multimedia and directed study. Those who may already be committed in their spiritual walk or those just seeking to explore. All are welcome!
B.L.U. provides a safe space for students who identify as part of the African/ Black Diaspora to work with members of diverse identities to coexist, learn, and educate themselves and the school about culture and service in addition to creating a safe environment where said students are comfortable giving and getting support and guidance.
The #OpenlySecular affinity group offers a safe space for discussion, sharing of ideas, and support for those persons in the St. Mark’s community who identify, or may identify, as secular or non-religious. Secular is an umbrella word below which many common terms exist as identifiers, including atheist, agnostic, humanist, and freethinker. Our goal is to provide a welcoming environment for our members to share their lives, thoughts, experiences, and feelings, while we will also organize and educate about secular issues, topics, and advocacy; we focus on the affirmation of being openly secular. Student leadership within this affinity group is sought, particularly for working to affiliate with programs that further enhance the safe space, such as Secular Student Alliance and the Center For Inquiry On Campus.
SWIRL stands for students with interracial lives. The purpose of this group is to bring attention and understanding to experiences of people who "fall between the cracks" during conversations about race/ethnicity, or those who mark "other/multiracial" on standardized tests. SWIRL is open to anyone interested in having conversations or learning more about people with interracial lives.
Pathways Prefects are the student voice for C&E. They are friendly faces to talk to about issues and questions of community and equity at St. Mark's. They host the weekly C&E Minute during school meetings and assist the C&E Director on group-related logistics.
Mosaic is a committee comprised of one representative from each active affinity group that meets regularly with The Director of Community and Equity Affairs and occasionally holds combined meetings with the Community and Equity Affairs Committee to plan all school programming.
Pathways leaders oversee new student orientation and run Pathways Pizzas all year long. They serve as an active support structure for students who do not fit into the dominant culture at St. Mark’s.
The Pathways orientation program introduces all new students to the Global Citizenship arm of the SM strategic plan. Students are given the opportunity to think about the many different cultural identifiers and focus in on the one(s) that are most salient for them. They are encouraged to take a deeper dive into the understanding of self while getting to know St. Mark’s and each other. Included in this orientation - which is a partnership between Global Studies, Counseling Services, Residential Life and Community and Equity - are pointed conversations in affinity groupings about building community, academic success strategies, self-advocacy/resources available, being away from home, and entering a culture different from one's own for the first time. Each of these conversations is tailored for the appropriate cultural group who need unique support and ensure that all students have the opportunity to connect with those who identify in the same way they do. While finding connections with those who have similar cultural ties, students also reach across cultural lines to learn about the different cultures represented in the new student body. In this way orientation allows students to look first at self, and then outside of self, all while getting to know St. Mark’s culture and traditions.
Student Diversity Leadership Conference
“SDLC is a multiracial, multicultural gathering of upper school student leaders (grades nine - 12) from across the U.S. SDLC focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community. Led by a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators, participants will develop effective cross-cultural communication skills, better understand the nature and development of effective strategies for social justice, practice expression through the arts, and learn networking principles and strategies. In addition to large group sessions, SDLC "family groups" and "home groups" allow for dialogue and sharing in smaller units.” - SDLC
“WPC is a conference that examines challenging concepts of privilege and oppression an offers solutions and team building strategies to work toward a more equitable world.
- It is not a conference designed to attack, degrade or beat up on white folks.
- It is not a conference designed to rally white supremacist groups.
- WPC is a conference designed to examine issues of privilege beyond skin color. WPC is open to everyone and invites diverse perspectives to provide a comprehensive look at issues of privilege including: race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, etc. - the ways we all experience some form of privilege, and how we're all affected by that privilege.
- WPC attracts students, professionals, activists, parents, and community leaders/members from diverse perspectives. WPC welcomes folks with varying levels of experience addressing issues of diversity, cultural competency, and multiculturalism.
- WPC is committed to a philosophy of "understanding, respecting and connecting." - WPC
Monthly Pathways Pizza evenings can be sponsored by any affinity group who would like to have an open discussion with the entire SM community. The format generally consists of two groups agreeing to host an open conversation of common interest (i.e., the women’s group and the group for students of color unpacking intersectionality) which is then open and available to the entire community. This allows groups to bring an issue to the forefront concerning their specific affinity.