Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Face to Face: Discussing Our Differences Works Best in Person

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Face to Face: Discussing Our Differences Works Best in Person

Article excerpt

Dominican High School, where both of my sons graduated and where my daughter is now a freshman, is a microcosm of our city. The population of the school is a little more than half white, with our minority population made up of African American, Latino, and Asian students, including a dozen or so students from China. The socioeconomic status of families varies from struggling to well-off.

One week after the presidential election, Dominican held its monthly parent association meeting. Each meeting has a focus--study skills or drug and alcohol prevention or the state of the school. This meeting's focus was school programs supporting diversity and inclusion. The administration and parent diversity committee leaders were on deck to speak. With racial, ethnic, and gender issues on the forefront since Donald Trump's election, the timing of the meeting felt appropriate. Our nation was talking about diversity; it made sense that our school community should be doing the same.

As I walked into the meeting, I was a little afraid--not because I thought parents would rant regarding their political differences, but because I feared the opposite. I was afraid that in a national climate charged with tension around issues of race, gender, religion, and policy, our diverse Dominican parents would play it too polite, sidestepping important issues to have a tidy and uneventful meeting. I was afraid we wouldn't dare to dive under the surface of diversity, where life is nuanced and complicated.

I had nothing to fear.

The meeting was amazing and left me wishing it could have been televised and shown to U.S. citizens everywhere as an example of what dialogue and understanding look like. Unlike the echo chambers of social media, where people of one viewpoint share similar experiences and beliefs, our meeting included parents who voted for Trump and parents who voted for Clinton; we were male and female, Black, white, and Latino.

Dominican administration led with comments on school initiatives aimed at fostering a healthy atmosphere of inclusion. The principal acknowledged that Dominican's almost all-white faculty did not mirror the diversity of the student body, and hiring challenges were exacerbated by a shrinking pool of teachers of color. Responding to suggestions from several parents last spring, the school had begun a course of diversity training for teachers. The principal turned the meeting over to the trainer--an African American parent of graduates and a school board member--who presented information about the content and goals of the training.

When she finished, a white mom's hand went up.

"When I walk through the school, I see kids from all backgrounds getting along," she said. "My son has an eclectic group of friends. Are there problems here I'm not aware of?"

It was the question that defined the evening.

Both the school principal (who is white) and the leader of the parent diversity committee (who is African American) assured the group that Dominican's diversity initiatives--teacher training, parent diversity committee, student diversity committee, multicultural club, Black heritage club--were not reactive to specific incidents or problems, but were part of an ongoing effort to recognize the challenges inherent to a diverse community. The goal is to equip members of this community with the tools to be successful.

The white mother nodded, but still looked a bit puzzled, as if she wanted to understand the inherent challenges but didn't. An African American father of a junior jumped in. …

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