Pace announces the expansion of the school’s equity, diversity and inclusion team during the 2019-2020 school year. (L-R): Omar López-Thismón, Joanne Brown, Nirvana Scott and Scott Shupe Photo: Pace Communications

The summer of 2020 was marked by thousands of protests around the country calling for racial justice following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Pace, like most institutions, vowed to make our community a more welcoming place, especially for Black faculty, staff, students and parents. Across several weeks this past summer, the administrative team combined efforts with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Team (DEI) to create the Action Plan for Racial Equity, with the purpose of eradicating racism and its legacy at Pace.

“It all started with listening,” said newly appointed Director of Student Life Troy Baker. “We gathered intel from social media accounts, alumni groups and parents to synthesize where we are and what we can work on.” The administrative team divided the plan into five distinct areas of focus: Listening and Learning, Teaching and Curriculum, Our Community, Our People and Joining Our Community.

Also over the summer, Head of School Fred Assaf announced new leadership to bolster the school’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Dr. Baker, as Director of Student Life, “oversee[s] the student experience from Pre-First through graduation from both a strategic and programmatic perspective, according to Mr. Assaf’s July 30 email to the Pace community. “He will partner with faculty, staff and division leadership to create an environment that nurtures the holistic development of every student, overseeing counseling, discipline, community-building and inclusion, as well as academic and non-academic interventions.”

Dr. Baker formerly served as Pace’s Director of Athletics, a position now held by Chad Wabrek. Dr. Baker earned his bachelor’s degree in education from Wright State University and his master’s in secondary education at Brown University. In addition, he earned a Doctor of Educational Leadership and Policy from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. “I actually didn’t study athletics in college, so I am excited to do what I know since thinking strategically about school systems is what I am trained to do,” he said.

In his July 30 email, Mr. Assaf also announced that former Director of Diversity and Inclusion Joanne Brown would serve as Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer with the start of this school year. “This elevation of title holds a new weight,” said Mrs. Brown. “It acknowledges on an institutional level that this work with diversity is a priority for our school community.”

Even before the summer, however, Pace had taken steps during the 2019-2020 school year to boost DEI efforts by installing DEI coordinators in each division to assist Mrs. Brown. These coordinators are Nirvana Scott in the Lower School, Scott Shupe in the Middle School and Omar López Thismón in the Upper School. “They are there to facilitate conversation within the age group they know best, help bring in age-appropriate speakers and scaffold language,” said Mrs. Brown.

The DEI team also launched student alliances and affinity groups last school year in the Upper School. The five faculty-facilitated affinity groups are: Black/African American/African Diaspora, Latino/Latinx/Hispanic, Asian American/Asian/Pacific Islander, LGBTQ+ and Jewish. Student-led groups like the Black Student Alliance (BSA), Gender-Sexuality Association (GSA), Hispanic Student Alliance (HSA) and the International Student Alliance (ISA) continue host meetings as well, providing spaces that bring together “students who share a common identity and those who stand in solidarity with that group,” according to Mrs. Brown.

Senior Cole Middleton serves as one of the leaders of the BSA. “The Black Student Alliance plans to implement a curriculum that will teach racial reconciliation and provide a space to discuss and dismantle the systemic oppression of black people,” he said.

This summer, Pace teachers led by Associate ICGL Director Ted Ward and Director of ICGL Tricia Anderson began A.W.A.R.E, the Alliance of White Anti-Racist Educators. The group of over 50 teachers met once a week to educate themselves on how to become better allies and properly facilitate classroom conversations. Going into the fall, an affinity group for students entitled “White Affinity Group for Racial Equity (WAGRE),” modeled after and led by A.W.A.R.E. group leaders, is now meeting on a regular basis.

Part of the Action Plan for Racial Equity addresses curriculum. Over the summer, Head of Upper School Mike Gannon changed the summer reading book for all 9th-12th grade students to “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas in order to help students engage thoughtfully in today’s national discussions.

In addition, “there is now a more intentional path to introducing Black culture beyond bondage and slavery,” according to Mrs. Brown. “Across all three divisions, faculty have examined history and social studies curriculum to identify where to introduce lessons regarding ancient African civilizations and pre-colonialism,” Mrs. Brown said in a Sept. 11 email update on action plan implementation.

Both Mrs. Brown and Mr. López Thismón teach ninth grade Transitions classes in which they hope to foster an environment where students feel comfortable voicing their own opinions without fear of judgment. In addition, the Middle School has introduced a new class called “Engaged Citizenship” to build a foundation for the topics around race taught in the Upper School.

Under the Action Plan for Racial Equity, Pace instituted a zero-tolerance policy for any forms of racism, hate speech and bigotry. Dr. Baker is working to change the structure of the discipline system and strategically think about its effect on the community. 

In the past, specifically in the 2019-20 school year, many sports teams encountered racially charged language on the field, from the stands and even on social media. This year, the DEI team has made it clear that they will not tolerate that sort of behavior no matter which side of the stands it comes from. Dr. Baker and Mrs. Brown have met with all the head coaches to discuss how to incorporate the Action Plan for Racial Equity into their coaching.

Also as part of the action plan, Pace will be upfront about their standards for the community and only hire those who emulate similar values. In addition, according to the plan, Pace “will be intentional about hiring, supporting, and retain faculty and staff members who identify with groups historically under-represented at Pace, with an intentional focus on those who identify as Black.” Also, the admissions team will “focus outreach efforts on historically underrepresented populations.”

“At the end of the day, this is your school and it is up to you, the students, to hold each other accountable,” said Mrs. Brown. She urges every student to lean into the Action Plan for Racial Equity instead of shying away out of fear or discomfort. 

“Make it clear what our standards are, and don’t be afraid to call it what it is,” said Dr. Baker. “Use the word racist to describe something racist rather than a lighter word like ‘inappropriate.”

The diversity team calls upon the student body’s humility. “Enter conversations with an open mind and acknowledge that none of us are perfect and we are all just trying to learn and grow together,” said Mr. López Thismón. “Listen more than you speak, and don’t just listen to respond. Listen to really understand what your peers are saying.” 

For more information on Pace’s Action Plan for Racial Equity and resources for self-education, visit the “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” tab under “About” on the Pace Academy website, https://www.paceacademy.org/about/diversity-inclusion/action-plan-for-racial-equity.

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