IN THE NEWS: Mount Takes Steps Toward Diversity, Inclusion

CALDWELL – The Mount St. Dominic Academy administration is taking steps to make the all-girls Catholic high school more diverse and inclusive after a letter signed by alumnae described incidents of racism and implicit bias that they experienced at the school.

On July 28, Head of School Sister Frances Sullivan, Order of Preachers, spoke with a group of alumnae who signed the letter to the school June 9.

“This conversation was the first step in rebuilding the foundation of our school and our relationship with our alumnae,” according to a message of the school’s website. “This conversation will be the first in a series of conversations with leadership to redefine and solidify our core values and live up to our mission.”

Two alumnae – Sandy Castor, Class of 2001, and Ghilianie Soto, Class of 2008 – have been appointed to the Mount’s board of trustees, and the board created a subcommittee on diversity, equity and inclusion.

An alumnae council on diversity, equity and inclusion also was created to support initiatives of alumnae and students.

Both the board subcommittee and alumnae council have a majority of members who are minorities.

Castor, who grew up in Montclair and now lives in West Orange, said she volunteered to serve on the board, which is advisory. Among the alumnae’s demands in the June 9 letter was that at least one alumna be appointed to the board.

Soto was appointed to the board after she also volunteered. She did not return a request for comment.

Castor said the board was hiring a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant to conduct a climate assessment of the school to identify problems and opportunities for improvement.

The assessment would include focus-group meetings with students, faculty, staff and parents. It is expected to look at the climate and culture for BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of color) students “soup to nuts,” including curriculum, recruitment of students and staff, retention, and alumnae relations.

The consultant was expected to start work when the Mount reopens for the fall semester.

Castor said the Mount’s administration is open to making changes.

“It’s hard to look at yourself in the mirror and realize that you may have been getting this wrong for decades,” she added.

The school administration also promised:

• To investigate all accusations by the alumnae.

• To review and revise the hate speech policy, then to train faculty and staff on the revised policy.

• To hold diversity and inclusion workshops for faculty and students throughout the year.

In a June 26 letter to the Mount community, Sullivan said, “We have made mistakes and have been blind to what has been within our sight. For this, I sincerely apologize.

“However, it is not enough to apologize, we must commit to action and we are committed to doing just that, taking action!

“We are committed to working with you, our Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) students and alumnae, our board of trustees, our faculty, our staff and the broader student community to take the steps necessary to create an inclusive environment where marginalized groups are heard, valued and protected.”

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