DEI Initiatives: Upper School

The Upper School is fortunate to have strong student leaders and supportive and committed faculty and staff who guide and mentor them. Some examples of DEI and anti-racism work in the division for the 2020-21 school year are:

Practicing Civil Discourse
In September, the Upper School introduced Courageous Community Conversations, an ongoing series of optional conversations on current events. The goal of the conversations is to provide a space and a model for students to engage in dialogue and civil discourse, allowing them to practice our Core Values – honesty, kindness, respect, and responsibility – and support our shared goal of becoming a truly inclusive community. The first series of conversations focused on the current crisis around racial justice – the recent deaths and protests, the ongoing struggle for racial justice, and the role of activism in our communities. Students were brave, thoughtful, and eager to listen to learn rather than listening to respond.

Student Leadership
In December, six Newman students attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) offered by the National Association of Independent Schools. SDLC is a multiracial, multicultural gathering of upper school student leaders from across the U.S. and abroad that focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community. Led by a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators, participating students develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learn the foundations of allyship and networking principles.

In February, three ninth grade students began the Race, Justice, and Equity Empower Youth Voices Program, a series of workshops developed by the Close Up Foundation and the National Network of Schools in Partnership. The program is designed to help students come together to consider the changes they would like to see in our society, develop empathy for the perspectives of other, and build the skills and confidence to empower other young people to create change. Our ninth graders joined students from across the nation to deliberate about the barriers to equity in our systems of education, health, and justice, hear from policy and advocacy experts about the work that is needed to make change real, and consider methods of activating members of their communities to take action.

This year’s ACTIONS Committee – the Upper School’s student-led committee for community engagement – is comprised of four subcommittees including the Subcommittee on Promoting Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice. In years’ past, ACTIONS has organized initiatives including DEI workshops for the entire Upper School, Criminal Justice Reform Week, and ADL’s No Place for Hate initiatives.

Inclusive Clubs
Upper School students have historically chartered a number of clubs focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. 2020-21 clubs included among them the Social Justice Club, the Gender-Sexuality Alliance, the Global Cultures Club, the Jewish Cultures Club, the American Sign Language Club, the Camp Able Club, the Mental Health Club, and the French Club.

Student Programming
In October, the freshmen and their advisors participated in a High Resolves workshop focused on identity, bias, and inclusion. Students were thoughtful, empathetic, and engaged as they explored the societal influences that inform how we understand and categorize ourselves and others – and how this impacts our interactions, particularly with those who are different from us. The workshop aimed to help students develop the ability to recognize when messages are divisive and understand that we have a choice in how we respond to difference.

Black History Month
Launched on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and continuing throughout the month of February, Upper School students, faculty, and staff gathered each week for a film and discussion series unpacking different parts of Black life and experience in America. Students engaged in meaningful conversations connecting current and historical events to their lives at Newman, all while enjoying delicious dinners from local Black-owned restaurants. You can learn more about the films and restaurants here!
Taking inspiration from their Middle School peers, Upper School students showcased major historical events and introduced less well-known experiences involving Black Americans through Black History in Two Minutes videos during class meetings each Friday in February.

Courageous Community Conversations
The latest in our conversation series was facilitated by Upper School Spanish teachers and focused on hurricanes Eta and Iota and the extensive damage, devastation, and trauma caused to the people and countries of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Students and teachers discussed political and social crises in past decades, including expanding poverty and community stress, and unpacked the empathy and connection New Orleanians have with others experiencing this type of devastation and the importance of opening our eyes and hearing the voices of those telling their stories.
Anti-Defamation League
Also like their Middle School peers, Upper School students participated in ADL’s Art and Poetry Contest. Considering the words of the immortal John Lewis, "Get in good trouble, necessary trouble," students reflected on what good and necessary trouble they would get into to fight systemic racism, hate, and prejudices of all kinds and how this “necessary trouble” will be used to help our community.
A number of students are participating in a local initiative OurStoryNOLA, created by former and current history teachers, examining the history and inequity of schools in New Orleans – and how young people today can be agents of change. The initiative takes inspiration from the work of Newman graduate Walter Stern ’97, author of Long before Ruby’s Walk: New Orleans Schools, Race, and Thinking beyond Backlash.
Community Engagement
In a year when many of our community partners are not able to accept volunteers, our students jumped at the opportunity to engage at every chance. Many students volunteered to plant trees with SOUL (Sustaining Our Urban Landscape) NOLA, an organization working for a resilient and environmentally equitable New Orleans by reforesting our urban landscape. Others volunteered to help voters get to the polls through Roll to the Polls NOLA and Ride New Orleans. In lieu of our annual veterans’ appreciation cookout at the Volunteers of America transitional home for veterans, students created care packages with socks, face masks, toiletries, sweet treats, and thank-you cards. And among their many plans, Upper School students are especially looking forward to SBP opening back up to volunteers for rebuilding projects. Each of these opportunities reminds students of their connection to the greater community to which they belong.

1903 Jefferson Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70115
Phone: 504.899.5641
Fax: 504.896.8597
Open 7:45 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Monday through Friday
An independent,
non-denominational day
school in New Orleans for
early childhood through 12th grade