Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Equity Work

The EMS Equity Group is made up of faculty representatives from each division and administrators. Everyone is welcome to join. The group is a place to give focused attention to the school's efforts to continually grow in its vision to be a "learning community where every student belongs, thrives and lives God's call."

Background: In June 2020, the EMS Strategic Leadership Team established a Racial Equity Group in the wake of the death of George Floyd and world-wide protests that provided a long overdue wake-up call to address systemic racism in our institutions and country. A preamble to the group's working document stated:

Eastern Mennonite School was founded in 1917 by Mennonites for Mennonite students. EMS has undoubtedly hurt people of color throughout its history, while offering benefits to people of white, and Mennonite, background. This included racial discrimination in its admission process up through 1948, when black students were first allowed admittance to EMS. [See a timeline posted by Eastern Mennonite University, which shares its early history with EMS.] As followers of Jesus, we believe we are called to advocate for just treatment of all God’s people. The civil unrest of spring of 2020 -- in the midst of a global pandemic -- awakened us to more deliberate work to educate ourselves, engage our students, and be part of the systemic changes needed to address racial inequity in our school, local community and across the United States. The Racial Equity Group was formed by the school’s Strategic Leadership Team and held its first meeting, June 16, 2020.

 All faculty and staff members were invited to join. The group met via Zoom throughout the 2020-21 school year. Participants included faculty from each of the three divisions, administrators, school counselors, and other staff.

Beginning in February 2021, the school engaged resource people from the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC) to lead faculty-staff in workshops on implicit bias, and smaller working teams in additional conversations. Soon, the work moved from focusing on racial equity exclusively to broader equity work and was renamed to Equity Work.

Debbie Katz, high school counselor, and Maria Archer, then K-8 principal, plan for a meeting of the Racial Equity Working Group
Debbie Katz, high school counselor, and Maria Archer, then K-8 principal, plan for a meeting of the Racial Equity Working Group

Equity training and work over the years has included:

  • 15 employees took part in a three-part racial equity and inclusion training hosted by Virginia Association of Independent Schools.
  • Assessment of social students/history curriculum and incorporation of more BIPOC perspectives and stories beginning fall 2020. Awareness that all curriculum needs to be reviewed with a racial equity lens. That process is beginning.
  • Addition of two classes at the high school level: African American History and African American literature
  • Each staff and faculty member set one of their professional development goals for the year 2020-21 to connect with a racial equity theme.
  • 2021 faculty-staff professional development focused on implicit bias awareness training with the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC).
  • Summer 2021 a small group met with a representative from the VCIC to identify priorities and strategies for an EMS Equity Team in the coming year.
  • The chapel theme for grades 6-12 in 2020-21 was: “This is My Story” with an emphasis on belonging. Speakers reflected on EMS mission to be a learning community where every student “belongs, thrives and lives God’s call,” and share stories of times when they felt they belonged -- and times they didn’t feel they belonged. See YouTube channel for links.
  • Updated document on teaching controversial topics.
  • Racial equity work was added to the Strategic Pathways 2020 document and visited at the board level periodically.
  • Ongoing intention to host chapel speakers from diverse communities.
  • Mark Metzler Sawin, Eastern Mennonite University history professor and expert on local history, helped the school understand its history, particularly in terms of race, as well as Mennonites in the Shenandoah Valley. Mark spoke at EMS chapel in January 2020 about EMS history.
  • Ongoing development of library resources and web-based resources for faculty and staff personal education, and curricular support.
  • Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi was added to 9th grade US history class.
  • Elementary school faculty book read, Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad in 2020-21
  • EMS land acknowledgement concept was introduced in chapel and task force established to develop for integration into school culture.
  • 10 students participated in the school's Civil Rights Tour E-term in spring 2022
  • Updated hiring policy in 2023. "It is our policy to practice equal opportunity without regard to an individual's race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in the application of any policy, practice, rule or regulation."
  • Dynamic strategic plan, 2023-26, includes work towards belonging for all students at EMS, serving a diverse world, and serving diverse learning needs.
  • Encouraged a faculty & staff walking field trip to learn the history of the Newtown community (historically an African American neighborhood) in Harrisonburg as part of the 2023 Fall Faculty Conference
Paul Leaman, head of school
Paul Leaman, head of school

While hundreds of students have graduated from EMHS with an education that nurtured them and prepared them for the future,  some students left here carrying hurts and stories of pain. We acknowledge that students of color and others may have experienced pain that has not been acknowledged. For that, we are sorry.

If you would like to share your story, we want to listen. In sharing stories, we honor those who have been hurt and hope to learn how we can do better.

Please email me or Maria Archer.  If you do not feel comfortable reaching out to us, please feel free to talk with a trusted counselor, pastor, or friend and ask if they would be willing to connect with us so we can find a process that will feel comfortable to you.

Paul Leaman, Head of School

Additional Information

Read the letter that Paul Leaman, head of school, shared with students grades 6-12 and the parents of students K-12, as well as faculty and staff following the death of George Floyd.

Read a June 23, 2020, article announcing the launch of the Racial Equity Working Group.

Read an article about the Civil Rights E-term in spring of 2022.