We wouldn’t have a strategic plan without our stories. Stories from our own school days at Ransom Everglades shape the work we do daily, and inspired the three-year strategic plan we recently presented to the RE Board of Trustees. Before we dive into the vision of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at RE and share with you our progress, we want to take you back to our years at Ransom Everglades.
I remember the January of my tenth-grade year at RE because my grandmother died. I didn’t cry at the funeral; I thought I was fine. But at school the next day, I got into a really loud fight with my best friend. We were fighting in the breezeway so my screams were literally vibrating through the campus. It was clearly my fault. After Mr. Clark [current COO and Interim Head of the Upper School David Clark ’86, who was then the Dean of Students] broke us up, I ran into the bathroom at the entrance of the breezeway, locked the door, and sank into the floor in a flood of tears. I clearly wasn’t okay. Mr. Clark called my mom immediately. She told him about my grandmother’s death. He talked to me afterwards about my behavior and healthy ways to cope with her death; more importantly, though, I didn’t get into any real trouble. That was Mr. Clark to a lot of us, kind of like a bridge between us and school leaders and, even sometimes, our parents. At least that’s how the Black kids I hung with saw it. Truthfully, without him advocating and keeping a watchful eye, some of us would never have graduated. – Victoria Beatty ’00, DEI Consultant to Ransom Everglades
We were all in the middle of a social experiment which obviously went well, but at the time was a little unsettling and scary for everyone. As a brand-new eighth grader, the only people who looked like me on the Main Highway campus were Louise Smith and Jeff Cordy, the maid and groundskeeper. Indeed, at that time, it was the only campus because the two schools were five years away from merging. Headmaster Robert E. Walker, Dan Bowden, Michael Stokes, Geoff Pietsch and James Beverley ’62 consciously steadied the tiller. There was no formalized project, but each found an opportunity to “check in’’ with me. Mr. Bowden did not teach me until Sixth Form, but he already knew not only me, but also my mother, grandmother, sister and brother. Mr. Walker was always available if I needed a “father” for the father/son athletic dinner or simply a steadying presence. Mr. Pietsch and Mr. Beverley always kept tabs: “Trying out for track next week? You know you should; you will enjoy it.” “Finish writing your speech?” “You do know about the dance. You are going, right?” And Mr. Stokes, like Mr. Bowden, was omni-present, the classroom, the field, the court. You name it, he was there. The communal spirit of Paul C. Ransom pervaded the campus. From First Form through the letter “Z” of the senior class – there were barely 300 students in the entire school – we cared for one another and we made this diversity thing work because somehow we all seemed to realize it was good for us as green-blooded people, as a school. But then, yes, it was a simpler time. It was a time when we understood the value of being one. – Wendell Graham ’74, RE Director of Inclusion and Community Engagement
The Office of Inclusion and Community Engagement is working diligently to sew this bridge of understanding and connection into the fabric of RE. Fall semester of 2022, we spent a great deal of time putting our vision and commitment in writing. We presented a Three-Year Strategic Plan to the Board of Trustees and its DEI committee requesting a yearly commitment of resources to sustain our work and grow our team. Of course, recruitment continues as a priority. We expanded our outreach to local schools to ensure we are identifying and encouraging talented future applicants.
Last semester was undoubtedly a shift inward, enhancing rather than expanding. We conducted a listening session with our Black female faculty where we obtained invaluable insight on current experiences. We are presently implementing several improvements as a result of this conversation. We hosted a formal dinner of Black faculty and staff to connect with RE administration and DEI board committee leaders, James Weaver ’90 and David Duckenfield. The conversation was enlightening and has assisted us tremendously in planning and enhancing current programs. One program specifically is the RE Teaching Fellowship program, which is designed to help Ransom Everglades attract faculty of color and was initiated this school year. We are thinking through how to improve the mentorship and housing aspects of this new program.
The Lighthouse Project, a program developed informally last year to provide early interventions to students in need of extra guidance, was formalized this year. The goal of the program is to keep an eye on all students, regardless of their racial, cultural or ethnic backgrounds, who are identified as needing added attention. The faculty advisors have a greater responsibility in assisting those students and, while every child has a regular academic advisor and grade-level dean, when focused attention is required, The Lighthouse Project advisors take on the responsibility of shepherding certain students to enhance their experience at RE. This role as faculty advisor has also been formally incorporated into the advisors’ job descriptions.
Training was a focus as well: specifically around the facilitation and implementation of affinity groups, which are designed to provide a safe space for students with a shared identity. As this issue went to press, we were awaiting all student applications for the specific groups, but the training began last semester with a professional development session for RE faculty on the role and facilitation of affinity groups led by Dr. Brandon King, a faculty member in RE’s Humanities Department and college counselor.
Inclusion training continued in November for the RE administration, faculty and students who attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference or People of Color Conference in San Antonio, Texas . The conferences provided transformative experiences for all of us. One of the most exciting parts was meeting one-on-one with nationally recognized DEI facilitator, Rosetta Lee. She ultimately visited both RE campuses over the course of three days in January and conducted targeted training sessions on intentional inclusivity. She presented to our board of trustees, faculty and staff, students, alumni board members and the RE Parents’ Association Executive Board.
We look forward to this second semester. Our office is filled with excitement over the plans for now and next school year. With the support of the administration, board of trustees, and RE’s beloved faculty, the vision is manifesting and we will be better for it.