Admitting 'failure,' Fenwick creates equity committee

New Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee formed as students, alum of color recount negative school experiences online

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

The Fenwick High School board of directors recently announced the creation of a board Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee.

The board approved the permanent committee at its June 15 meeting and appointed John Barron, the board's chair, to serve on the committee, which "will be charged with addressing racial/cultural justice/equity issues" in a range of areas, according to a statement by Barron and President Richard Peddicord that was emailed to community members June 25.

The committee's focus areas will include "cultural inclusion and sensitivity training; policy and governing practices; curriculum; student, faculty and staff recruitment; admissions and financial aid; and community service.

"In the wake of the killing of George Floyd and widespread protests around the country, Fenwick High School has also been asked to examine itself," Barron and Peddicord said in the joint statement. "The outpouring of anger, pain and frustration from so many of Fenwick's alumni and students of color over the past few weeks has been deafening.  We have heard and are deeply saddened.

"It is clear that we have failed our students of color, and all of our students, in many ways," they added. "If we are to educate our students -- as our vision statement reads -- 'to serve as compassionate leaders, committed to justice and peace in a changing global society,' we must change."

The committee's first meeting was scheduled to take place June 30, a day before Wednesday Journal's print deadline.

"An alumnus from the class of '03, who has spent the bulk of his professional career working with issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in education, has agreed to moderate the initial meeting until a chair is formally named," the statement reads.

The committee's formation comes at a time when institutions across the country are conducting self-evaluations when it comes to race and equity, and when Black people are growing more and more vocal about their treatment by these institutions.

Earlier this month, an Instagram account — Being a BIPOC Friar (beingabipocfriar) — called for Black, Indigenous and People of Color students and alumnae from Fenwick to "share their stories about racism."

Within six days, the account has amassed 150 stories and counting, and garnered more than 1,300 followers.

After reaching out to the account's creators on Tuesday through Instagram's direct message system, a person claiming to be the creator emailed Wednesday Journal their thoughts on the new committee. Wednesday Journal could not independently verify that the person sending the email created the account.

"I believe this committee is a step in the right direction, that direction being towards anti-racism," the person said. "I believe this committee will offer Fenwick some of the finest solutions to their current and past issues revolving around race."

The person added that "it should come as no surprise that there is urgency to address and fix a lot of things at Fenwick, starting with changing the history curriculum and centering it more towards Black history studies, as Black history is the main cause of American history."

In a story emblematic of the others that have been shared, one commenter, who identifies as Class of 2020, writes that their 13-year-old sister "had to sit there and watch white children prance around the stage in brown face for the musical West Side Story." When they brought the issue up to a leader of the group producing the play, they write that they were dismissed.

During a phone interview on Tuesday, Peddicord identified Caleb Fields as the 2003 alumnus who will moderate the committee's first meeting. Fields manages teacher diversity for Denver Public Schools.

Peddicord said that some details about the committee, such as the length of members' terms, still need to be ironed out, but added that, as a committee of the school's board, "DEI will be part of the overall governance of the school and will make suggestions for the board to consider."

"We're internally calling it the DEI committee and Dei is God in Latin," Peddicord said. "That is very much at the heart of a Catholic school that believes diversity, equity and inclusion are the work of God in this point in our history and we take it very, very seriously. The fact that those letters refer to God is a great reminder to all of us in our community."

When asked about the Being a BIPOC Friar Instagram account, Peddicord said that he is aware of its existence.

"It's very painful to hear people's experiences of things that took place at the school," he said, before urging students and alumnae with those experiences to send them to the committee's new email: inclusion@fenwickfriars.com.

"It's sad," he said of the accounts of racism at Fenwick. "We really want to do better and to respond to people's experiences. We think creating this committee is one step in that direction, but there are going to be a lot of steps that need to be taken."

Correction: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect a quote about the DEI committee's function by Fr. Peddicord. Wednesday Journal regrets the error. 

Contact:
Email: michael@oakpark.com

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Reader Comments

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Bill Stenger  

Posted: July 6th, 2020 11:06 AM

Is the outpouring of student sentiment unique to Fenwick? No. All schools are re-examining and looking inward. Fenwick does not appear to be dismissing anything but rather welcoming the challenge of bettering itself. And Ed, I hate to engage anyone in such forums, but please - I assume you are aware of the signage hoisted by OPRF students toward Fenwick fans that was not very LGBTQ+ friendly. If anything, I am hopeful for positive change within the Oak Park community and elsewhere for all.

Joyce Siragusa  

Posted: July 3rd, 2020 6:55 AM

Jeffrey - awfully broad paint brush you're painting with the western suburbs with. Remember your in Oak Park - what exactly does that represent?

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: July 3rd, 2020 5:41 AM

Many - perhaps the majority - of Fenwick's students do not live in Oak Park, and among from the numerous cars parked during the school day (driven by students) it's clear that a lot of these students come from mostly white western suburbs. Trumpland. It's terrible but not shocking to read the testimony of former Fenwick students of color that the school has a lot of work to do. While they're at it, maybe they can encourage Fenwick students and their parents to understand that when they're in Oak Park they're part of an integrated community and to behave accordingly.

Ed McDevitt from River Forest  

Posted: July 3rd, 2020 12:56 AM

In "America to Me" the OPRF kids spoke of being subjected to racist jeering while competing in sports against two teams: one from Hinsdale and Fenwick. I would hope that these episodes will be part of Fenwick's discussion of failure.

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