A conversation with Catherine Ronan Karrels ʼ86, Head of School and Kim Gayle, Director of DEI
MRS. KARRELS: You talk about how DEI is intertwined here at Stone Ridge, can you elaborate and give an example for the readers?
Our identity as a Sacred Heart school provides the framework for our diversity, equity, and inclusion philosophy. A deep respect for the unique identity and the innate dignity of each human person calls us to honor and value every member of our community. As a School that seeks to bring Christ’s heart into the world, justice has always been at the heart of our mission. This work is so foundational that it touches all elements of the culture and experience of a Stone Ridge education—from the classroom to the lunchroom to the athletic fields, and on and on.
The application of the Goals to DEI is a wonderful example of how Sacred Heart Education is both timeless and timely. While the values are timeless, the world is ever-changing and we have to orient our education to what is happening today. That’s where our school motto, Hīc et Nunc (Here and Now), maintains its brilliance. This work is dynamic, as it evolves based on the community that we serve, events in the world around us, and circumstances that arise on a daily basis in the School.
"To understand how DEI is intertwined, you have to read the Goals and Criteria of Sacred Heart Education in their entirety. It’s profound to reflect on how these timeless goals breathe life into our current journey around DEI."—Mrs. Karrels
MS. GAYLE: Please share with us what diversity, equity, and inclusion means to you and why they are important.
As a woman of color with intersecting identities, I understand how inequity persists across categories and are mutually constructive. My passion is advocating for all people and fostering a joy for learning, growth, and healing through cross-cultural conversations and connections with schools and the greater community. Being a former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and instructional leader for most of my career, I deeply understand the importance of a diverse world, equitable education, and a sense of belonging for every child. I am moved by Stone Ridge’s focus on educating and empowering young women in both the mind and heart by committing to support growth in wisdom, faith and grace, with purpose and integrity. These values are the cornerstone of creating a more inclusive and supportive school community, city, country, and world.
"I firmly believe anything can be learned or accomplished if empathy, love, and learning are the main ingredients. If each of us can reach one and teach one, then every student will grow into a compassionate human being who is constantly seeing, questioning, and changing the world through the lens of equity and justice."—Ms. Gayle
How is DEI work at Stone Ridge organized and run?
MRS. KARRELS: DEI work is threaded throughout all aspects of life at Stone Ridge. On the governance level, the Board of Trustees has a DEI Committee ensuring that each Board Committee sets DEI goals and that the trustees are supported in executing this work. Every member of the Administration and Management Team participates in professional development around DEI, as does the entire faculty and staff. There is intersectionality in this work with our campus ministry programs, our social action program, advisory program, and counseling program. A commitment to DEI and justice education are qualities that we look for in candidates who apply for employment at Stone Ridge. Students participate in robust programming, through a variety of clubs and affinity groups, the Social Action Program, homeroom and advisory meetings, assemblies and guest speakers, and so much more. Parents are invited to conversations and parent education around DEI. We strive to make sure that in every given year, there are a range of events and opportunities that will be inclusive and appealing to all members of the Stone Ridge community. And of course our teachers work year after year to tweak our curriculum and pedagogy so that both content and instructional methodology are inclusive.
As Head of School at Stone Ridge since 2008, I am confident in our solid programming and a strong commitment to DEI. In the past few years especially, I feel that we have strengthened our understanding of how important it is for our DEI efforts to cross every line of the institution and be on every faculty and staff member’s mind every day. We recognize that DEI work is inherent in our Sacred Heart identity. Every decision we make must be oriented towards our diverse community and our desire that inclusivity and a sense of belonging are signature aspects of the communal experience.
MS. GAYLE: DEI begins with the Head of School, Catherine Karrels, who sets the vision for the School in alignment with our Sacred Heart identity. With her support, as the DEI Director, I help actualize that vision throughout the School. A large part of my role is to ensure that we communicate as a team and keep every- one informed, from DEI Practitioners to division heads, department heads, student leaders, and so forth. With my expertise in DEI best practices and my pulse on current trends, I provide guidance, planning, and counseling to support faculty, staff, and students as we work toward our institutional goals.
What practices or steps have been (or will be) taken to champion DEI at Stone Ridge this year?
MRS. KARRELS: Ms. Gayle and I are collaborating on programming for trustees, faculty and staff, students, parents and alumnae. We are also working with a large group of collaborators (colleagues, students, fellow administrators, trustees, alumnae and parents) helping to lead these efforts. Our Director of Formation to Mission, Kathryn Heetderks, has been helping to develop a framework for and lead training on respectful dialogue. We are especially excited that Stone Ridge is working on this in conjunction with other schools in the Archdiocese of Washington and the Network of Sacred Heart Schools. In recent years, there has been a crisis in our world around dialogue. We need to teach our students the important life skill of trying to understand differences, and how to discern and take personal action in a world that has become increasingly polarized.
MS. GAYLE: In addition to what Mrs. Karrels has mentioned, I am dedicating time on building relationships and a strong sense of community between the DEI office and everyone we serve. Focusing on people and build- ing trust take priority in my first year here at Stone Ridge. Open and authentic relationships are foundational to DEI work. Once trust is established, we can have honest dialogue to move our programming forward.My experience facilitating difficult conversations and developing strategic plans for DEI has shaped me into a thoughtful and approachable leader. I champion DEI work daily; whether directing teams or organizing events, I am proud to serve alongside others who share the common goal of ensuring equity and inclusion extend to every classroom, office, team, and department. Luckily, at Stone Ridge, much of this work is included in mandatory Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Justice and Belonging (DEIJB) training and professional development.
"I teach people to breathe in the opportunity to connect and exhale the fear that often comes with engaging across differences."—Ms. Gayle
In your opinion, what is the most challenging aspect of DEI work?
MRS. KARRELS: There are many challenging aspects of the work. One area is making sure the curriculum is inclusive. It’s interesting that way back in the mid-1980’s, representatives from the Stone Ridge faculty attended the very first Inclusive Curriculum Seminar with Peggy McIntosh, founder of Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED), to learn about how to evolve curriculum with an eye towards inclusion. Former teacher and administrator, Diane Wood, recently gave me their original notes from 1988. I find it really inspirational to see this evidence of how our faculty has been working to incorporate diverse perspectives for so many decades. At Stone Ridge, we want all of our students to see themselves in the curriculum, and the Academic Leadership Team is working to identify how to put more structure to our curriculum analysis. We want our students to understand the diverse perspectives of the many cultures, ideologies, and people who inhabit this planet.
Another challenging aspect is building a sense of belonging. It’s such a complex concept, especially because each individual person experiences a sense of belonging in their own unique way. This is especially challenging when working with young people, whose sense of self and relationship to peers is always evolving and is sometimes fragile. Lisa Damour, clinical psychologist and author who specializes in the development of teenage girls and young women, talks about the variability of a child’s sense of belonging with the image of a “belong-o-meter.” She describes how on any given day, a child’s “belong-o-meter” can swing from very strong to very weak many times, based on who they’re sitting with, their confidence within the class they are taking, and so much more. Sometimes no matter how welcoming we may try to be, there are aspects of our culture or incidents that occur that unintentionally cause harm. Especially in a school with families coming from many cultures, many races, and many socio-economic backgrounds, building a community where everyone feels welcome, valued, and respected needs to be very intentional work. We also have to continually build a culture where folks can be vulnerable so we can learn from mistakes and open our hearts to one another. Asking for forgiveness and being open to reconciliation is an important part of how we build an inclusive community.
MS. GAYLE: Another challenge I see is that people view DEI work from their particular lens and experiences.It is an ongoing endeavor to remind people that DEI is all-encompassing. DEI includes race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, equity, social class, age, and neurodiversity, to name a few. DEI work requires us to review and evaluate how our fixed thinking is reflected in daily practices and dare to affect change.
It’s been said that equity and inclusion work is not just hard work; it’s also heart work. In independent schools, heart work is embodied in the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) director’s role and responsibilities. Serving as a diversity practitioner for most of my20-year career in Independent schools, I know firsthand that this adage is true. The single most important factor necessary to grow through challenges is establishing a solid relationship with the head of school and working in tandem as we meet challenges inevitable in DEI work.
Can you give an example of how we can help community members feel a sense of inclusion, belonging, and equity on a daily basis?
MRS. KARRELS: As a community that is rooted in the heart of Christ, we have Jesus’s example to guide us. It may sound trite to some readers, but if we continually ask ourselves what Jesus would do in our circumstances, we can envision a path forward. Jesus befriended folks from all sorts of backgrounds. He broke bread with strangers in an effort to get to know them. He listened to and reached out to help people in need. If we look at the beatitudes and Catholic Social Teaching, we have a good starting point for understanding why DEI matters. Read more on the intersection of DEI and Catholic Social Teaching.
MS. GAYLE: For people to feel a sense of inclusion, belonging, and equity, we must ensure that they are seen and heard at Stone Ridge. People are seen and heard when we remain open to others’ life experiences, listen and empathize, and support diversity of thought, which is at the core of our work in respectful dialogue. By grounding ourselves in respectful dialogue, we build relationships and ensure people see themselves reflected in various aspects of the school. Additionally,I find support for people with real-life day-to-day concerns, including issues around school-life balance and interpersonal relationships among students and staff. This support is reflected in our various DEI programming, encompassing all community members. Students are mainly supported through their DEI Practitioners, curriculum work, and different affinity and diversity groups. Faculty and staff have opportunities to build community through All-Employee Meetings and are welcome to the DEI office to seek assistance anytime.
MRS. KARRELS: Where do you see the future of DEI work at Stone Ridge going?
DEI work is always in the context of what is happening in the current moment. We will continue to strive to attract and retain a diverse student body and faculty and staff. Stone Ridge will keep leading our DEI efforts using the Goals and Criteria of Sacred Heart Education as our framework. Through these values, we will continue tobuild on our strong foundation. In a presentation to Stone Ridge last year, our Provincial, Sr. Suzanne Cooke, RSCJ, said, “At a Sacred Heart school, you can’t talk about diversity, equity and inclusion without talking about justice and belonging.” This insight is so important, and helps to crystalize the concept that a proper umbrella to envision this work would be described with the acronym DEIJB (diversity, equity, inclusion, justice and belonging).
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