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Affirming our values in trying times

June 1, 2020

Dear CA Community, 

It has been a challenging, painful, and scary week for our country and our community. 

Amid such emotion, it can be hard to find the right words to give hope and comfort. Writing on behalf of Cary Academy, we must try – as now is not the time to sit in silence. 

Recent events, including the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Atatiana Jefferson, and the unnerving incident with Amy Cooper—who made a false accusation against a black birdwatcher in Central Park—have laid bare not only the overt physical danger but also the insidious, systemic racism still facing people of color.

At Cary Academy, we are proud of our words and deeds regarding diversity, inclusion, and equity. We have held workshops on implicit bias. We have welcomed speakers such as Peggy McIntosh to campus to speak on white privilege. Regardless, we must recognize that the private act in the woods of Central Park by a self-proclaimed liberal white woman showed that racism transcends political parties and unearthed more than fault lines within our ability to build trust. It exposed a chasm.   

We recognize that there is much work to be done by white people. Racism in the United States is no less a crisis, no less pressing, and presents no less a threat to our society and our community than the current coronavirus pandemic. And it must be met with the same sense of urgency and thoughtful, proactive response.

Many black people in our community are grieving, fearful, angry, and distrustful. Many do not feel safe. We recognize this fear, pain, and anger. We grieve with you. We are angry alongside you. And, representing Cary Academy’s Leadership Team and Board of Directors, we remain committed to listening, earning and building your trust, and ensuring your safety through ongoing community and anti-racism work.

We will not be silent or cave to hopelessness. Instead, Cary Academy reaffirms our longstanding commitment to the hard, at times uncomfortable, introspective work of diversity, equity, and inclusion that have been core CA values since we first opened our doors. 

  • We pledge to be part of the solution—to prepare our faculty, staff, and students to combat racism and make the positive changes we all want to see in the world.
  • We pledge to listen—to lean into discomfort to grow and learn, and to create a safe space for difficult conversations. 
  • We pledge to look hard within to ensure that every member of our community is empowered to participate fully in the CA experience—to be known, lend their voice, and be heard—and to feel safe and respected while doing so.

As with our COVID-19 response, this will be an ongoing, evolving effort—one that is taking shape now. 

To our families of color: your voices and experiences are valuable and crucial. Yet, we recognize the psychological and emotional toll it can take to share your experiences and concerns. If you are in a place to share them, we want to hear them. We are here for you. 

We look forward to inviting all our members into these conversations as we work together to combat racism and become a stronger community, together. 

Dr. Michael Ehrhardt  
Head of School                                                                 

Manju Karkare
Chair, Board of Directors

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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CA students address the 2019 Triangle Diversity Alliance conference, which brought together more than 200 students from Triangle area schools to discuss the roles of diversity, inclusivity, and equity in our respective communities and on our campuses.

Creating a diverse and inclusive community has always been one of CA’s core commitmentsWe feel strongly that our campus should reflect the wealth of diversity represented by our broader Triangle community.

And for good reason. We know that as students are exposed to a variety of perspectives, they are challenged to think more deeply, to broaden their worldviews. In effect, they become more compassionate, well-adjusted, and better equipped to succeed in the world beyond our campus.  

Recent research has even established that non-homogeneous teams are, in fact, smarter.   

Heidi Grant, a Columbia University professor writing in the November 2016 Harvard Business Review, outlined findings from various studies that showed diverse teams focus more on facts, process those facts more carefully, and are more innovative.

More recent studies, including 2018 research from Harvard’s Paul Gompers, have shown that diversity also translates into improved business returns.  

All of this matters at Cary Academy, where our mission is to be a learning community committed to discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence.  

While we are rightfully proud to be the most diverse independent school among our self-defined peers in North Carolina, and more diverse than many public charter schools, we must also remember that diversity is not the outcome … it is the starting point.

Diversity alone is not enough; it must be coupled with an unwavering commitment to equity and inclusivity. It is imperative that each member of our community have equal opportunity to participate fully in the CA experience; that all feel valued to share their unique voices, experiences, and perspectives; and to be heard with respect, kindness, and integrity.   

To that endwe have put in place many things to foster inclusivity in our community. Importantly, this is one area where we have also given students a tremendous voice. There are myriad groups and clubs across campus that offer opportunities not only to bring groups together around various identifiers, causes, and perspectives, but also offer opportunities to work collaboratively across them, and to provide important educational opportunities across the community.

For example, various Upper School affinity groups have hosted a range of activities throughout the year, including:

  • a lunch symposium on Asian-American issues, 
  • a sexual assault awareness workshop, 
  • a symposium series on education equity, 
  • a speaker for Indigenous People’s Day,  
  • a series of activities for Mental Health Awareness Week,
  • several cross-group conversations (called intersectionality), including a Roman Catholic and Christian faith discussion,  
  • a Diwali lunch, and 
  • several “Courageous Conversations” on topics varied as the prison system, hip-hop and culture, and mental health. 

Affinity groups help support three large scale activities as well: the Triangle Diversity Alliance Conference (hosted by Cary Academy this winter), Ubuntu, and MLK Day.

Coming up in April, we have the Day of Silence in recognition of the bullying and silencing often experienced in the LGBTQ community (4/12), a celebration of the Hindu Holi festival (4/26), and the National Day of Prayer (5/2).

While the Middle School has its own affinity groups (and sometimes partner with their Upper School peers), many discussions of diversity, inclusion, and equity are embedded into the programming run by faculty in their classrooms or through Charger Trails. These include:  

  • sixth grade conversations about cultural universals, building respectful relationships, world religions, and establishing community norms; 
  • seventh grade conversations about connections, the legacy of slavery, and the independence and protest movements; and 
  • eighth grade conversations on learning differences, the Holocaust, healthy sexuality, and Civil and Women’s Rights.  

This curricular work helps teachers put into context various activities that happen around campus, such as Ubuntu, MLK Day or the Day of Silence.  

 Of course, a culture of inclusivity does not mean a culture of universal agreement. Quite the opposite, inclusivity requires that we hold a safe space where a diversity of perspectives and identities can respectfully co-exist.  

It is for this reason that one of our all-community themes over the past few years has been what we call Dialogue Across Difference, an effort to build skills necessary to listen to one another. 

This work, done in partnership with Essential Partners, has included workshops for employees, students, and parents.  

Earlier this year we held an all-school dialogue with various topics on the theme of political values. It is important to us that these formal dialogues are not singular events, but that the art of dialogof leaning into difference with genuine curiosity and respect and a desire to learn, to discover more—is a skill that we develop in all our community members.  

To that end, teachers have continued this dialog work with grade-level dialogue work on a variety of topics such as identity, culture, and storytelling. This month, the 11th and 12th grade students will be self-selecting to participate in dialogues on a variety of topics of their interest. This work has intersected with that of other groups, such as our National Honor Society, which has sponsored a series of conversations around the theme of Civil Discourse.

As you can see, there is A LOT going on — too much to fit into a single overview. Students hear about these activities or opportunities through regular communication from their peer leaders. Faculty or administrators may share out to students when activities bridge into the curriculum. Where applicable, our CA Weekly also tries to capture the breadth of activities happening, even if we can’t get a special communication about each and every activity.  

Look for more in our upcoming print Magazine, including a Q&A with our new Director of Equity and Community Engagement.

Written by Mike Ehrhardt, Head of School


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