June 28, 2020

Taking Action to Be a Just, Equitable, Inclusive & Responsive Community

Jaime A. Dominguez / Head of School

Dear Oakwood Community,

As alumni and current students have shared their painful experiences on the @blackatoakwood Instagram account, it is clear that students at Oakwood who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) have experienced instances of bias and discrimination by members of our community and that harm has been done. Our country is at a point of reckoning after the murder of George Floyd and many others. Many organizations and institutions are grappling with their past failings and establishing ways to do better going forward. Oakwood is not exempt from this process and we apologize for the pain that not acting sooner may have caused. We welcome this opportunity to improve. Our school has long engaged in work on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), but when we see troubling experiences that run counter to our mission, we must act decisively to get to the root of these problems and avoid their recurrences.

I want to update you on actions we are actively taking to ensure that Oakwood becomes a more just, equitable, inclusive, and responsive community. This work has been ongoing all year long and has continued nearly day and night for the past several weeks. We recognize that there is more work ahead and accept that we’ve sometimes failed to create safe spaces for students and families of color, particularly our Black students and families. We feel strongly that in this moment, it behooves all of us to lean into this work rather than be defensive.

We are taking a restorative justice approach to improving Oakwood. This begins with listening and affirming, followed by taking actions to eliminate threats that have been experienced. We also recognize that our statements and words may not be meaningful during this time until we prove through our actions and deeds that Oakwood School is committed to this work.

When @blackatoakwood launched last Sunday, the school reached out the following day to the individuals running the account. We then held a call the following Thursday in which those students and alumni were able to voice their concerns directly to various school administrators and board members. On that call we promised to address their concerns and follow up. Each and every incident that has been reported is being investigated. We will continue meeting with students, alumni, faculty, and parents throughout the summer and into the fall. We also encourage every member of the community to contact us should they want to report any incidents of bias. Please know that there will be no repercussions to any student posting, sharing, or amplifying the voices of Black experiences at Oakwood.

We apologize that Oakwood School has not consistently lived up to its ideals and that consequently some of our students have been hurt or traumatized. We also deeply regret that the school did not always communicate back to those who reported incidents of bias and discrimination. We realize that this is unacceptable.

Accordingly, a more effective bias incident protocol is being developed to ensure that when discrimination and/or racism is directed at any member of the community, there is a process to safely and efficiently investigate, adjudicate, and communicate. As part of this, we will be consulting with outside experts in the field of bias reporting, both in establishing our process and helping to enact it. The components of this protocol are being finalized and we will share more as we return to school this fall.

As these incidents come to light, it is important that community principles, which are central to our shared work, are upheld. Collective growth is only possible when all voices are heard, and when civility and respect are practiced by all. We ask everyone—students and teachers, families and alumni—to engage in courageous conversations, and to do so with care and compassion. We also ask that all community members do so in a way that abides by the School’s Standards of Conduct which can be found in the Student-Parent Handbook and which identify the following behaviors as unacceptable (as we will have zero tolerance for any of the following on campus, in classrooms, online, or in any setting): “racial, religious, and sexual slurs; anything which demeans, objectifies, or stereotypes another person or group of people; personal attacks of any kind; vulgarity in language or visual form.”

Lastly, one of my top priorities this year was to begin the process of organizing and aligning all of the groups working under the umbrella of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Oakwood. As part of this ongoing work we will be taking a comprehensive look at all areas of our school through the lens of DEI. Below are some ways that our work in this area is being turned into action. This list is just a sampling. A comprehensive overview is currently being developed by the Board, School, and Parent Organization DEI Committees and our Alumni Council. Each of these groups is also establishing multiple ways to further engage with students and alumni. We will continue to update the community about future initiatives and developments, and we look forward to sharing even more soon:

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as a Strategic Goal
The Oakwood School Board of Trustees has pledged, in our Strategic Plan, to increase the diversity of the student body, the faculty/staff, and the Board itself—with the goal of being in line with the diversity of greater Los Angeles, and to support equitable and inclusive practices and policies.

Examining Our Curriculum
Task forces are putting identity-focused and antiracist curricula in place from Kindergarten through Grade 12.

Summer DEI Workshops for Families
The Office of DEI Programs will be holding parent/guardian workshops on unpacking racism and building racial literacy skills.

Financial Support for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Following the leadership of our Parent Org Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion group, Oakwood launched a dedicated Annual Fund campaign to strengthen the school’s DEI programs.

Extending Outreach in Admission
A new Elementary Campus Outreach Coordinator position will cultivate relationships with prospective students and families of color, strengthen institutional alliances, and directly support current students and families of color.

Helping Teachers and Staff Grow
All faculty, staff, and administrators will be required to attend training in antiracist pedagogy and professional development to strengthen DEI skills. As part of this work all faculty and staff will be engaging with a number of resources including, How to Be an Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi.

Helping the Community Grow
Our DEI program directors and educators have curated a growing list of antiracist and anti-bias resources for families. These texts are meant to assist parents in talking to children about race and unpacking racism, systemic oppression, and privilege.

Student and Alumni Task Forces
We are be forming a student task force and, separately, an alumni task force that focuses on the Black experience at Oakwood.

Growing Diversity Through Enrollment
The K-12 Admission team is developing new ways to connect with prospective families through DEI initiatives, empowering parents/guardians to act as school ambassadors, and liaising with Black organizations working in the field.

Retiring the Mascot
After a yearlong conversation with the entire Oakwood community, our longtime mascot, the Gorilla, is retiring. When the new school year begins, we will imagine together what our next school mascot can be. We look forward to engaging with the creativity of our student body to select a mascot we can all get behind as a symbol of our extraordinary school.

We recognize that Oakwood School hasn’t done our best in the area of follow-up communication. To that end, we will make sure to regularly update the students and alumni of @blackatoakwood and the entire Oakwood School community on our progress. No one should be left with the impression that we are not taking this seriously and working fervently to address these issues. In addition, I am personally available to any community member who wants to speak with me directly.

We will emerge a better school, one in which everyone is seen, heard, and valued. No matter the obstacles we face, Oakwood School will continue to live up to its highest values and deliver on our educational mission.

Jaime A. Dominguez
Head of School