A Pre-Kindergarten - Grade 12 co-educational independent day school in Westchester, New York

RCDS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan 2020-2023

Winter Progress Update 2021

On March 11,2021, the Rye Country Day School Board of Trustees, Head of School Scott Nelson, and the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion team
shared an update on Rye Country Day's progress with the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion plan. 

Letter from the RCDS Board of Trustees

Dear RCDS Community Members,
 
We are writing to report on the independent review into complaints of racism and discrimination at RCDS and the steps that we are taking to support diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”) in our community. As you know, the Board of Trustees remains committed to prioritizing DEI at RCDS and continues to work in close partnership with the administration to address concerns that have been raised to continually improve our policies, practices, and culture, and to help our community move forward together. 
 
Last summer, the Board announced several steps to address complaints raised by RCDS community members. These included: (1) the creation of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee to provide leadership, guidance, oversight, and support to the School in its efforts around DEI issues; (2) engaging Natashia Tidwell and Candace McLaren of Saul, Ewing, Arnstein & Lehr (together, “SEAL”) to conduct a comprehensive review of individual concerns raised by members of the community; and (3) gathering available data to augment the SEAL review, including information about the overall student population, discipline and detentions, college matriculation, and AP/Honors enrollment.
   
SEAL reviewed, among other things, posts and comments on social media; complaints submitted through the School’s online complaints portal; letters from RCDS community members; the above data gathered by the Board; and existing RCDS handbooks, policies, and procedures. SEAL also conducted interviews with a number of individuals in the school community. All participants were assured anonymity in order to obtain their most candid feedback.

RCDS has been committed to enhancing diversity for many years, but clearly, more work is needed. Much of this was evident from the social media posts we saw last summer. The work done by SEAL, however, has given us a deeper understanding of how the School’s efforts have fallen short. Broadly speaking, RCDS has not been sufficiently sensitive to the unique challenges faced by persons of color in our community, and when concerns have been raised, they often have not been addressed adequately. Although in certain cases these failings can be attributed to individual behavior, the SEAL report identifies an unmistakable need for improved policies, procedures, and accountability at the School. 

Today, the Board and administration are announcing our shared commitment to a series of initiatives based on SEAL’s recommendations, which will be implemented by the administration with oversight by the Board’s DEI Committee. Some initiatives are already underway and have been, or are being, incorporated into the school’s DEI Plan – but in all cases, these steps are designed to promote a safer, more equitable, and more inclusive learning environment that will benefit all RCDS community members.   

Initiatives Based on SEAL’s Recommendations:

  • Enhancing Complaint Management Procedures – The School is already working with outside experts to design and implement best-in-class procedures for addressing complaints, including a formal, documented complaint management system and protocol.
     
  • Improving Counseling and Support Services – The School has completed a comprehensive review of Student Support Services, to identify ways to better address the needs of the school community, including a formal audit and review of the training, policies, and procedures of the department.
     
  • Athletic Department Review – The School has engaged Steve Broadwell to conduct a comprehensive review of the athletics program to identify ways in which its mission and operation may be better aligned with the standards and priorities of the broader school community, including a formal audit and review of the training and policies of the department.
     
  • Better Communication and Transparency – We will all be working to enhance communication with the RCDS community in order to improve confidence in the School’s processes and ensure that decisions are being made fairly and consistently, without regard to race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and/or parental status.
     
  • Conduct Annual Training and Evaluations – The School will be engaging outside experts to conduct annual diversity and inclusion and sexual harassment training for faculty, administrators, and students; implementing a written faculty evaluation process to allow students to provide feedback; and conducting exit interviews with families who leave the School in order to gain a better understanding regarding what may have prompted their decisions.
     
  • Instituting Formal Data Collection and Reporting – The School will devise analytical metrics and improve its routine and formal capture of both qualitative and quantitative data so that the administration and the Board of Trustees are better able to track and evaluate trends over time.
     
  • Adopting Other Steps Towards Further Inclusion – Working with outside advisors, the School has reviewed and updated its policies and procedures regarding political, hate, and other offensive speech. We will both create spaces for members of traditionally marginalized groups to congregate on campus and foster increased opportunities for intergroup interactions. We will also eliminate all financial-related holds on student report cards and transcripts.  

The members of the Board’s DEI Committee and members of the administration will continue to meet regularly with our DEI Consultant, Dr. Kira Banks, as well as participate in independent school DEI and governance-related training and programming to inform and guide their work. The School will provide regular updates to the community on the progress made in implementing the DEI Plan initiatives. 
 
It is important for all of us to understand that this will be an ongoing process. The initiatives summarized above will not only take time to implement, but additional measures may become necessary down the road. The Board and RCDS are committed to addressing and improving around issues of culture, equity, and inclusion—both now and in the future. 
 
Finally, we would like to acknowledge the debt of gratitude we owe to the members of the RCDS community who courageously shared their stories, as well as the many members of our community who responded to this call to action and who have been working, and continue to work, towards the achievement of an anti-racist and inclusive culture at RCDS. 
 
Sincerely,
 
The RCDS Board of Trustees

Letter from Head of School Scott Nelson

Dear RCDS Community,


If you have read the news recently, you have seen the disturbing reports of hate, violence, and bigotry directed at people of Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) descent across our nation. Such troubling reports began with the pandemic and, sadly, have increased over time. As a school community, we must take a hard look at current events with a critical lens. These moments provide an opportunity to learn and to affirm our commitments to moral responsibility, strength of character, and diversity. The hard, critical look we take must not only be outward; we must look inward and continually acknowledge where there is work to be done in our own community. We must stand up and say what we know and believe. We stand by our AAPI community members, and we condemn racism and discrimination and the systems that have enabled them for far too long. If any member of our community is experiencing anxiety related to these events or other reasons, you are not alone. Support is available. Please reach out to our counselors

As a school, we fearlessly counter ignorance with knowledge, character, compassion, and action. The twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racism have damaged our country, with communities of color feeling the impacts much more deeply. I believe schools play—and have always played—an indispensable role in leading the way towards change.

The RCDS DEI Plan is our collective action in being an anti-racist institution and community. It is how we will play our indispensable role in building a brighter future and dismantling entrenched systems of racism and injustice. This third update on the DEI’s Plan’s progress elaborates on the School’s actions since the previous update in November. It comprehensively covers policy changes and personnel additions in Student Support Services, formalizing school rules regarding the “n-word” in academic settings, giving students a voice in the faculty evaluation process, ongoing improvements in several departments, and various antiracism training opportunities for students, families, administrators, trustees, and employees. 

The work of the DEI Team and the collaboration of our entire community are important and promising. I want to draw attention to Dr. Barbara Prempeh’s meaningful contribution to our DEI efforts. Since she joined RCDS in November, she has focused on shifting the narrative at our school away from exclusion and towards belonging and inclusion. Her powerful work with students, faculty, staff, and administrators has centered listening, empathy, and compassion. It has been deeply impactful and essential to our promise of creating a culture at RCDS where racial, ethnic, and religious differences are celebrated, one that is supportive and inclusive for all. The message of the DEI Plan is clear and powerful: Each and every person at RCDS is capable and belongs here, and our community is sparing no effort to realize this every day.

Thank you for your continued engagement and partnership in this important moment of growth and improvement for Rye Country Day.

Sincerely,

Scott A. Nelson
Head of School

DEI Team Updates

DEI Advisory Committee (DEIAC) Members

Led by the RCDS DEI Team: Dr. Meredith deChabert, Assistant Head of School; Rebecca Drago, Director of Public Purpose; Ali Morgan, Director of Diversity & Inclusion; Joshua Rivera '15, DEI Teaching Fellow; Priya Singhvi, Director of Health & Wellness

Parents/Guardians
Lynelle Chang P'30, P'34
Hilary Cooper P'16, P'19, P'25
Kelly Grayer P'26, P'28
Sebastian Gutierrez P'32 P'34
Tamara Houston P'17, P'19, P'23, P'26, P'27, P'29, P'30
Lissette Marrero P'26

Employees
Jen Doran 
Don Fitz-Roy
Vivek Freitas 
Genevieve Gaubron 
Jessica Hauben
Julie Nuñez 
Charles Ogbonna 
Ethan White 

Alumni
Thomas Alston ‘05 
Nicole Granston ‘96 
Andres Soto ‘13 

Students
Yuto Abe '22
Magdalene Aideyan '22
Emily Cheigh '25
Deepta Gupta '21
Rowan Houston '23
Ayush Maini '24
Madeleine McCarthy  '21
Luke Millowitz '23
Ben Solo '21
Isabel Tiburcio '24
Milin Torgalkar '26 

DEI Program Highlights & Initatives

On January 25, 2021, RCDS employees, trustees, and several alumni, joined by thousands of educators across New York State, participated in a webinar hosted by NYSAIS, the New York State Association of Independent Schools, featuring Professor Ibram X. Kendi, author of the critically acclaimed How to Be an Antiracist. During the session, Professor Kendi responded to questions formulated by members of the NYSAIS community to highlight “the places in our schools where racism and power thrive” and “to help us see how we can become antiracist schools.” After the webinar, members of the DEI team hosted a special session for RCDS employees as a space to debrief, process, and build on the momentum of Dr. Kendi's talk. Important themes emerged, including the following: 

  • Every individual brings to anti-racism work different experiences and comfort levels
  • Institutions have the ability to be racist or antiracist 
  • Racism is not about individuals as much as it is about systems and institutions 
  • Affinity spaces are critically important. 

There was also dedicated time for attendees to share their personal reflections and contribute their perspectives to the larger discussion. In breakout rooms, participants chose to discuss how to be an antiracist school, how to weave Black History Month into curriculum, or how identity plays a role in pedagogy. The success of the debrief has led to the creation of monthly DEI Chats for employees, which offer regular opportunities for adults in our community to explore DEI in greater depth and in community with one another. All employees are welcome.
 

Employees in the Lower School have been sharing their experiences around their personal anti-racist journeys and creating anti-bias classrooms and curriculums. They have been meeting every other week to participate in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion/Social Justice Think Tanks. These forums allow employees to share and discuss age-appropriate lessons, including a variety of historical accounts when teaching. The "think tank" approach gives faculty an opportunity for self exploration and curricular growth as they pertain to anti-racism and anti-bias.

The Lower School Social Justice Coordinators have been working on and sharing important information encouraging employees to approach Black History Month and Women's History Month in a variety of new ways, including sharing facts, books, apps, and lesson ideas that expand the reach of information to all of our young learners. We have also been continually looking at curriculum through the lens of DEI. Recently, our fourth grade teachers broadened the perspective of the traditional Lewis and Clark unit to include the perspectives of the Indigenous communities with whom they interacted, as well as other enslaved people that were part of the story. Teachers and students engaged in discussions about multiple perspectives, and some students even learned about and participated in a “Land Acknowledgement,” honoring the history of the land we live on, who came before us, and who is still here. 
 

Two days of Character Workshops in the Middle School engaged the students with different modes of exploring and developing character. Some elements were directly tied to the School’s DEI work, such as the workshop on social activism. Through this workshop, each student explored and discussed with the entire group what they think of when they hear the word "activism" and what activism means to them. The discussion delved into specific ways activism is manifested and related the concepts of activism and character to current events (such as political, environmental, and music activism). Other workshops aimed to provide students with an understanding and appreciation of new and varying perspectives and to develop empathy via drama improvisation sessions, STEAM projects, or music. To help make connections between concepts and lived experiences, some students explored values and ethics via an interactive journey through the United States Asylum process and through an environmental ethics simulation on overfishing.
 

As a part of our ongoing work with the RCDS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan, the Middle School Social Studies faculty developed a unit for the sixth grade grounded in supporting positive identity development for all students. At the heart of the unit is a focus on social activism and justice. Lessons were discussion-based, and students were encouraged to look at real-world issues and to expand their sense of self and responsibility. The long term plan sees Grades 5 to 8 covering and investigating the same themes from different, age-appropriate angles. Students will be asked to think critically about identity and bias with lessons covering topics such as self-identity and cultural identifiers, gender, sexuality, race, and religion. The multi-year approach will ensure that students will revisit these topics year after year, tackling them in a new and engaging manner as awareness develops. The topics will blend nicely with the scope and sequence of our Health and Wellness curriculum and our DEI work.

RCDS has worked with affinity spaces for years, and we have now made a more intentional push to institutionalize them, knowing how critical they are to establishing connections and building networks through shared experiences. A few teachers have collaborated on re-instituting a Black Student Union in the Upper School, and we continue to hold space for the Students of Color (SoC) mentoring and Uplift programs, as well as Prism, the queer affinity group. In addition, we are planning to establish a more consistent affinity space for all Upper School students during Advisory time. These affinity spaces will be held on roughly a monthly basis and will be focused on race. Multiracial spaces will be included, and students will be able to opt in based on their racial identity. The affinity groups, which will be led by trained faculty members that also identify within the group’s race, will focus on discussing how to build community, how to support anti-racist efforts, potential challenges, and more. These groups are an important part of supporting the development of healthy racial identities, and they provide students with meaningful opportunities to practice having conversations and open dialogue  about race. 
 

In December, six RCDS Upper School student leaders participated in the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC). Trained adult and peer facilitators led the multiracial, multicultural gathering of upper school student leaders, which this year was focused on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community. The four-day conference helped 2,086 participating student delegates from across the U.S. and abroad build new, diverse networks as they developed cross-cultural communication skills, designed effective strategies for social justice, and learned the foundations of allyship.

Concurrently, 11 RCDS faculty and staff delegates attended the NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC), “New Decade, New Destinies: Challenging Self, Changing Systems, and Choosing Justice.” PoCC supports educators at all levels in becoming active leaders in improving the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate in their school communities.
As the School moves ahead in the implementation of its comprehensive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan, student and employee participation in these flagship conferences will provide important insights and guidance. 

Both conferences fostered meaningful connections and productive dialogue, and RCDS delegates participated with the desire to contribute their insights from the experience to the School community.
 

This year, one of the ways that RCDS celebrated Black History Month was the daily series Black History is American History, created by DEI Teaching Fellow Joshua Noel Rivera '15. The daily leader features, which were shared via RCDS News and in advisory and homeroom periods, sought to highlight Black voices through American history who are not as recognized as they should be. All 28 posts highlighted perhaps lesser known figures, like Carter G. Woodson (the founder of Black History week), Alvin Ailey (choreographer and creator of Revelations), Shirley Chisholm (the first Black American to run for President through a major party), and Althea Gibson (the first Black athlete to win a tennis grand slam title). Mr. Rivera concluded Black History Month with a reminder to celebrate Black history year-round and a quote from W.E.B. DuBois: “Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.” Read more about how RCDS celebrated Black History Month here.

 

Monthly Social Justice Committee (SJC) meetings, which are open to students and employees, continue to be a consistent place for community building and connection across divisions and roles. In January, attendees heard from the students who participated in the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference. They led the meeting skillfully, providing an informed grounding of theory around privilege and oppression, as well as some history of race relations in our country. The meeting also included an interactive activity designed to build community within identities and highlight our points of intersection. It was a powerful session, and those students continue to engage in important leadership work on campus. 

The February SJC meeting was focused on Black History Month (BHM). After Mr. Rivera provided background on the legacy of BHM, participants spent time discussing our Black heroes—both on campus and out in the world. Black attendees then had the floor to answer the following question: What do you love about being Black? It was a joyful, powerful, and connecting experience for the SJC participants.

This year, Rye Country Day honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a new all-school program called Social Impact Week. The week consisted of special programming examining themes of activism, citizenship, and community, including the virtual Day of Action for all students and families, the Identity and Resilience panels of alumni of color for Upper and Middle School students, social impact crafts in the Lower School, and an all-community read-a-thon fundraiser for the immigrant resource center Building One Community in Stamford. The week-long celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Dr. King’s legacy was sponsored by the DEI and Public Purpose Initiatives, and it was the result of cross-divisional collaboration guided by the DEI Plan.

The Identity and Resilience alumni panels featured five alumni, four of whom are RAMP mentors, and four student facilitators. The panels were conceived by Upper School student leaders, and the theme and questions were generated in partnership with Middle School student leaders. The discussions touched on issues of identity and advocacy as they pertain to the experiences of people of color at school and beyond. The alumni spoke candidly about their experiences at RCDS, and the student body gained insight into what it is like to be a person of color at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). The panelists covered the challenges and the joys of their student years, as well as where the School has been in terms of DEI work, and where it still needs to grow. It was a powerful and generative discussion led entirely by students. Special thanks to our featured alumni panelists: Ashley Richardson George '04, Thomas Alston '05, Vanessa Jackson '05, Deelan Ayhan '10, and Evander Jackson '17. 

Read about Social Impact Week here.

The DEI Team continues to build student toolkits for having difficult conversations. In the days following the insurrection on the Capitol, students engaged in grade-wide discussions to learn more and parse out what was happening, what it meant for our democracy, and how it may have impacted various identity groups differently. Students also had the opportunity to opt into affinity spaces based on their racial identity so that they could connect with peers having similar experiences regarding current events. The DEI Team worked with faculty to support them in discussing the insurrection in their classrooms. This included recognizing the importance of allowing time for students to process, discuss, and reflect on the national crisis and how members of our community could best support each other.

The student-led Coalition of Differences also continues to build brave spaces and tools for critical civil discourse and nuanced conversations among the student body. In the most recent installment of the program, students were able to choose from a variety of topics ahead of time, and they were placed in groups with peers that chose similarly. The strategy was to honor student interests, while also recognizing that certain topics can be more difficult to discuss in a school setting, often depending on identity. The topics for discussion included the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the inauguration of President Biden, Black women in politics, and DEI at RCDS, among others. 
 

This year for the first time, three Upper School students are attending a national conference coordinated by the National Network of Schools in Partnership (NNSP) called Race, Justice, and Equity: Empower Youth Voices. NNSP is also simultaneously offering a conference for eighth grade students titled The Race, Justice, Equity: 8th Grade Civic Ambassadors Program, and three RCDS eighth graders are participating. Each six-part program is designed to support young people in learning about a social problem and practicing critical issue inquiry: exploring the root causes of injustice and the barriers to making change. Our student representatives will connect with peers from across the country as well as community organizers to learn more about these issues on the ground. They will then work together to create a plan to bring back to Rye Country Day. These programs are building leadership skills that empower young people to make systemic change, and we are proud of our student representatives. 
 

The Upper School’s Community Meeting webinars have served as a focal point for community building this year. Hosted by English Department Chair Iain Pollock, the meetings have covered topics ranging from the election, Black History Month, celebrating our visual and performing artists, and more. The webinars, which feature student leaders and employees from across campus, focus on storytelling and joyful experiences to foster connection and strengthen our community. Some highlights include: our first annual Holly and Folly “almost talent show,” where community members showcased hobbies at which they are somewhat skilled, moving away from a sense of perfectionism; spoken word and poetry readings by our students; and our Coming Out webinar, discussed in the LGBTQ+ section of this update. 

The DEI Team continues to work to support Rye Country Day’s LGBTQ+ community members. In late fall, Upper School students led their peers and faculty in a powerful Community Meeting segment exploring the process of coming out and ways to support a friend’s identity development. The powerful sharing session was grounded in common language and a framework of inclusion and kindness. Several employees participated by sharing their coming out stories in the format of six-word memoirs and what they have learned along their individual journeys. It was a moving community moment that highlighted storytelling and resilience. 

Recently, several RCDS employees attended a training session held by the Transgender Training Institute focused on building queer and trans identities into our curriculum. Participation in the program supported the continuing efforts to implement the DEI Plan’s long-term curricular goal of representing a full range of voices. Several in-house trainings have been offered to Upper School faculty as well as the Athletics staff on supporting and affirming students who identify as LGBTQ+. The DEI Team continues to offer programming and points of connection as needed.
 

Fall Progress Update 2020

On November 23, Head of School Scott Nelson and the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion team
shared an update on Rye Country Day's progress with the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion plan. 

Fall 2020 Updates

Summer Progress Update 2020

On August 21, Head of School Scott Nelson and the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion team
shared an update on Rye Country Day's progress with the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion plan. 

Community Webinar

On June 25, the 2020-2023 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Working Plan and its specific implementation timelines were presented at an all-community webinar. The presentation featured Head of School Scott Nelson; Assistant Head of School Meredith deChabert; Director of Diversity and Inclusion Ali Morgan; Director of Public Purpose Rebecca Drago; and the RCDS Board Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

About the Task Force

In the spring of 2018, the Rye Country Day School Board of Trustees charged the administration with forming a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force to review and assess RCDS’s diversity and inclusion programs and to make recommendations for the evolution of those programs. The Task Force sought to explore two questions: “Where are we, and why?” and “Where should we be going?” From June of 2018 to March of 2020, over 70 members of the Task Force comprising administrators, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and students engaged in a rigorous process of data-gathering and analysis, review and prioritizing of issues and areas of focus, and making recommendations.

Task Force Vision

Rye Country Day strives to be a learning community in which everyone is included, everyone is supported, and everyone belongs -- an inclusive community in which each individual is and feels understood, respected, and valued. We aspire to build a community and a practice around diversity and inclusion that is continuously reflective, self-critical, and institutionalized, one that is built upon the foundation of respect and empathy within a safe environment. By participating in and contributing to a community of belonging at RCDS, our community members can take that ethos into the broader world and throughout their lives as open-minded, active global citizens. We believe that diversity and inclusion directly impact everything that we do; both are required not just for advancement but also for existence. We actively pursue equity for every student, family, and employee by listening to all voices and acting on their feedback.

Curriculum and Pedagogy

RCDS faculty and staff should be culturally competent, model inclusive behavior and language for students, and confront behavior or language that threatens the respect for diversity and inclusion in our community. As we prepare our students for the world, our program must be increasingly transformational, challenging students to consider multiple perspectives in critical engagement with their learning. We should assess our formal and informal curricula to ensure that content and pedagogy are culturally responsive and inclusive.

Program Evolution

RCDS recognizes that its diversity and inclusion programs must evolve to remain current with the rapidly changing times. The world of 2020 is radically different from the world of even five years ago. The next phase of diversity and inclusion programming will seek to fully integrate diversity and inclusion work with RCDS’s other initiatives, increase the focus on equity and justice, and keep current with the evolution of inclusive language and terminology.

RCDS Processes

Rye Country Day’s active commitment to diversity and inclusion begins at the top: the Board of Trustees and the administration have the primary responsibility for ensuring that the school’s active commitment to diversity and inclusion is demonstrated in school life both daily and pervasively. RCDS strives to implement policies and processes that promote inclusion in all areas of school life and to allocate resources to make diversity and inclusion goals a reality. Students should have the resources and support that they need to participate fully and successfully in school life.

Civil Discourse and Brave Spaces

We actively strive to create a community in which each student recognizes the value of diversity, is able to have culturally competent conversations across differences, and participates in civil discourse with those who hold opposing views. We seek to provide students with tools to have civil discourse through curricular improvement and initiatives promoting awareness of the world around us. We recognize that our community’s growth and success is dependent upon effective civil discourse.

Authentic Connection and Community-Building

We know that positive, meaningful contact between individuals dispels misconceptions and stereotypes; therefore, we engage as a community in the inclusive practice of authentic connections.

Parents and Guardians

Critical to the success of the school’s diversity efforts is the full access and inclusion of all families, along with parent and guardian support of our active commitment to building an inclusive and diverse learning community. Parents and guardians are key players in promoting a welcoming environment in which all families can and do become active, contributing participants in our school community.

Inclusion of the Full Range of Voices

We strive to foster a welcoming and ever-improving community that is dedicated to acknowledging and learning about our own diversity, as well as creating a culture of empathy and inclusivity that has a spectrum of perspectives. We value the expression of each member’s authentic self as an integral part of our community. Our school must be a place where all members of the RCDS community are confident they belong.