Racial Equity

Racial Equity Group

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 states:

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 are welcome to join the group at any time. The entire school is responsible to implement change. This group's role is to keep conversations going. People who attended meetings of the group over summer 2020 included:

Debbie Katz, high school counselor, and Maria Archer, K-8 principal, plan for a meeting of the Racial Equity Working Group
Debbie Katz, high school counselor, and Maria Archer, K-8 principal, plan for a meeting of the Racial Equity Working Group
Racial Equity Group summer meeting 2020

Some of the group's work has resulted in....

  • 15 employees took part in a three-part racial equity and inclusion training hosted by Virginia Association of Independent Schools. (More on applicable training below).
  • 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
  • Intention to offer a Civil Rights Tour E-term in spring 2021 (was offered, and cancelled due to COVID in 2020) 
  • Each staff and faculty member will be encouraged to set one of their professional development goals for the year to connect with a racial equity theme. The group also recommends that spring 2021 faculty-staff professional development be focused on anti-racism training. 
  • The Chapel theme for grades 6-12 in 2020-21 was finalized: “This is My Story.” Speakers will be invited to reflect 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 -- to help us all learn about inclusion and how to be more welcoming.
  • EMS is collaborating with Mark Metzler Sawin, Eastern Mennonite University history professor and expert on local history to help the school understand its history, particulary in terms of race, as well as Mennonites in the Shenandoa Valley. Mark spoke at EMS chapel in January 2020 about EMS history. High school history teachers are in conversation with him about curricular content.
  • Further development of library resources and web-based resources for faculty and staff personal education, and curricular support.
  • Reviewing the book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi for possible use in 9th grade US history class. Faculty and staff will also be encouraged to read it.
  • Supporting launch of a student-led Anti-Racism Student Association. Follow the group on Instagram @emhsantiracismsa

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 perhaps 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, Maria Archer, or Andrea Wenger.  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.

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.

Training and professional development

August 19 - September 21, 2020 -- Two administrators take part in "Dismantling Institutional Racism: From Theory to Practice" through the University of Montana Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mini-Course offerings.

June 29, July 1 and 2, 2020 -- Fifteen teachers, administrators and staff took part in a three-part training hosted by the Virginia Association of Independent Schools, Engaging in Diversity, Inclusion and Equity for Organizational Change with Dr. Liza Talusan.

February 19, 2020 --  Paul Leaman, Shannon Roth and Heidi Byler participated in Virginia Association of Independent School's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Conference

November 8-9, 2019 -- Maria Archer and Andrea Wenger participated in training hosted by Harrisonburg's Faith in Action, facilitated by the Racial Equity Institute of Greensboro, NC, Understanding Racism in its Structural Form