June 9, 2020, Wilmette, Illinois – Elizabeth Schuster, President of Regina Dominican High School, issued the following action statement in response to the tragic death of George Floyd.
There Are No Words ... But There Are Actions We Can Take
I have struggled to find the right words to share about this heinous time in our nation's history. I have seen message after message of support for justice come from everyone – from my favorite furniture store to my alma maters. Many of the messages are eloquent, many of them say all the right words probably written by a professional PR person who carefully crafted each word for the most impact and least blowback from their varied constituents. But I wonder as I read this beautiful prose, what will change after the hashtag stops trending and the memories of a man being murdered before our eyes fade? How many of these messages will actually turn into action?
Regina Dominican High School strongly condemns the brutal murder of George Floyd and the centuries of systemic racism, abuse and murder that preceded it. However, in this time of "thoughts and prayers" and strong public statements made comfortably from behind the safety of a screen, we also need action.
There are many things that I am proud of with regards to our school. I am proud of our students who don't shy away from tough conversations, I am proud of our students who are brave enough to be a minority voice in a majority crowd. I am proud of our faculty and staff who encourage young women to be leaders, to have their voices heard. I am proud of our history as the progeny of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, a congregation that not only preaches about eliminating racism but is on the front lines of the fight for equity it is in their core enactments and one of the reasons I am so proud to work at Regina Dominican. Further, the decision of the board and the General Council of the ADS Congregation to make their first lay president a woman of color speaks volumes.
We work hard to live up to the legacy of social justice handed to us from the Adrians. Currently we try to do our part by providing coursework that covers the topics of challenging unjust and oppressive systems in various academic departments from English to social studies to theology. We also have several new courses coming online this fall through a new and exciting elite global academic partnership. Here is a sampling of some of those new courses:
We have provided visual reminders throughout our halls that Regina is no place for hate and provided opportunities for students to experience and take action against the injustice in the world. Pro-life does not apply to just abortion.
We maintain a school culture that is caring and loving towards all students. We want them to learn and grow from their mistakes. We take a restorative justice orientation towards student behaviors, so that when a student's actions are at odds with our expectations, we work with them to see the harm and to repair the relationships with people they have affected. It is in this way that we become better people and a stronger and more supportive community.
I would submit that it is not enough to teach students about difficult topics; it is our responsibility to ensure they actually learn. There has been a multi-year coordinated professional development program for faculty to help teachers use the best practices in ensuring learning for each student.
We have several new initiatives coming up which include a partnership with the YWCA Equity Institute, professional development for faculty on eliminating racism and bias from the classroom, and sessions for students when they return in the fall.
In the past few years, we have completely revamped our hiring process to ensure equal opportunity, to eliminate bias in the interview process and to make sure anyone who is hired at Regina believes in our values as declared in our mission statement, to foster academic excellence, truth, peace and justice while challenging each student to develop leadership for life and respect for all races, cultures and faiths.
A few years ago, a strong student leader started a Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Club. This club has evolved to include students of all colors and faiths. They recently solidified their mission statement and it is as follows:
The D.E.I. Club brings awareness to and promotes the acceptance of all cultures and beliefs to all, especially in the Regina community. Through activities and celebration of diversity we foster equity and unity.
I joined the DEI club earlier this year not as a formal adult moderator but as a member because this is an important piece of our way forward as a school and I feel it is important to show support as the leader of our school.
Much of the change we need to see in the world can be made by getting the right people in office who represent our values as a nation, a state, a city and a neighborhood. We continue to stress the importance of voting down ballot. We became a polling site this year through collaboration with the League of Women Voters. We commit to continuing to educate our girls on the importance of their vote, not just in big flashy national elections, but most importantly in the down ballot elections in their local districts.
We can all always do better. Some of the things we have planned to help facilitate doing better are listening circles hosted by the YWCA Equity Institute. These sessions will be for students, faculty and staff. Our goal is to ensure that faculty and staff are well versed and trained in having and supporting conversations on race and bias. School leadership will participate in the YWCA's Equity Summit later in June.
None of what I describe above is by accident. None of it came into existence because of George Floyd because these were all things planned before his tragic death. These things came into existence because we knew there were many George Floyds out there and there have been for centuries. We are here to do real work in the space of eliminating racism. We as Dominicans who follow in the footsteps of St. Catherine of Siena hold ourselves to more than just social media and hashtags. We hold ourselves to action, not just saying what we believe online but by doing. We show with our actions how we intend to contribute to the solution.
We still have a ways to go and a lot of hard work ahead of us in our school community and in our society, but I am proud that we have the chance to ensure our faculty, staff and students will be well prepared to be a part of the solution. If you are looking for support as you start on this journey with us, join us online for Mass on June 11 at 7 p.m. CDT.
Lastly, if you are looking for ways to be a part of the solution click here for five simple ways to get started.