June 25, 2020
“Racism in all its forms contradicts Catholic Social Teaching, which calls for respect for the human dignity of every person. The Sisters of Mercy oppose racism and are actively working to develop an intercultural perspective within our Institute as well as within the communities we live and serve.”
— Sisters of Mercy of the Americas (Critical Concern — Anti-Racism)
Over the past month, an immensely important conversation about race has been taking place across our country and within our broad Bishop Feehan community.
Nationally, culturally and at Feehan, there is pain and there are ingrained problems that need addressing. We've heard from current students and alumni about their experiences at Feehan, the experiences of others, and a desire for, even an insistence on, change.
We share that desire.
While we have intentionally done far more listening than speaking or writing over these past few weeks, we've also heard from some who feel like Feehan's lack of a detailed response is a sign of not-caring or not being moved to action. And we want to assure folks that is not accurate.
And while the following content will be a bit longer than usual, we do not want to give the impression that it is fully comprehensive or enough. These challenges will take the commitment of many and hard work over months and years. More questions and issues are sure to arise, and positive steps and solutions not yet contemplated will be added to our efforts.
I’ll repeat a message from a week ago that remains core: Feehan’s best moments have all been built upon a wide community creating a shared vision and working together towards that vision. And this is how we will make real progress on this challenge, as well.
…which is why I have been so appreciative of the feedback we have already received from current students, alumni, past parents and more. This connection between folks who desire more and expect more from Feehan is the lifeblood of our school. Dozens of phone conversations, emails, a petition with nearly 500 signatures, a thoughtfully-researched, constructive letter put together collaboratively by 22 recent alums, and many social media posts. These communications have had two common themes:
1. There is a serious issue at Feehan to be addressed; and
2. We want to see a better Feehan.
Both of those conclusions from feedback this month match feedback we received in our recent strategic planning process and the intentions of all those who care about Feehan and our students (past, current and future).
There is much to say and much work to do -- and we look forward to continuing this conversation in a variety of venues as we move forward — but several key topics feel especially important today:
The message that has been most clear and most important is that it remains distressingly, too-often disturbingly difficult to be Black or a person of color at Feehan. Part of this is certainly due to Feehan being heavily majority white, both in the student population and in faculty and staff, and Feehan needing to do more educating around micro-aggressions and developing of an anti-racist environment. But another part is due to overtly racist acts and statements that are completely unacceptable at Feehan or elsewhere. If that was not clear in the past, we will make it so in the future.
Many have said that the bar for what is expected — in terms of welcoming all, loving all and addressing injustices — should be higher at Feehan because of our mission and our roots with the Sisters of Mercy and the teachings of our Catholic faith. We agree. We need to ensure a safe and supportive environment for our Black students and students of color.
And we need to increase the diversity of our student body, our faculty and staff and the perspectives present in the Feehan experience.
We have also heard that it’s been difficult for Black students and students of color to bring those concerns to Feehan leadership … and that when concerns have been brought up, students have felt unheard or minimized.
And finally, we have heard from many that it is too possible, perhaps even likely, to graduate from Feehan without an education in or connection to social justice issues specifically around race and the Black experience in our country.
Those are all important messages that add to our understanding of Feehan and help put specific direction on the sometimes-too--generic “desire to make change”.
This is the part of our message that we fear will come across as Feehan saying “we’ve got this” or “pat us on the back”. Please know that is not the intention. But we have had feedback that it seems like Feehan is ignoring this issue, and we want to be responsive to that.
In 2018 and ‘19, Feehan as a whole underwent a comprehensive review looking for strengths and weaknesses and most important needs for the future. Feehan students and staff, alumni and parents were all involved — both leading the review process and through interviews, focus groups and surveys. The end result was a 2019-2024 strategic plan summarizing the results of that process.
Hundreds of suggested improvements were boiled down to sixteen key priorities, including:
We will make Bishop Feehan both a more diverse community as a whole and a community more adept at supporting diversity of all types.
Starting in September of 2019, that plan has been the driver of virtually all Feehan administrative and development efforts. A committee of Feehan’s Board of Advisors is tasked with checking in on progress towards the 16 goals, and Feehan’s administration is evaluated based on that progress or lack thereof.
Efforts to Date
Several of the recommendations that have come up in recent (June 2020) emails and phone calls and the like were already at some point in development or implementation this past school year. The strategic plan and some of the below hopefully paint a picture of an institution taking this very seriously and working hard to get better. A sampling of recent efforts:
A Students of Color Working Group has been established, moderated by Principal Sean Kane. The group met throughout the 2019-20 school year (until the shutdown) and drove several of the below developments.
Feehan's 'Rock Talks guest speakers series featured two speakers of color who came to Feehan this school year (a parent and an alumnus) to offer their perspectives on careers and diversity.
An “our Feehan experience” panel discussion was held as another ‘RockTalk with four Feehan students of color sharing their experiences with fellow students. The faculty watched a video of that talk together as required professional development. The intention was for the student body to watch it together and discuss in theology classes in Spring 2020, but the shutdown pushed that back.
Every Feehan academic department incorporated African-American themes into curricula with added emphasis during Black History Month 2019 and 2020. The English department, in particular, has made significant, intentional strides in adding Black voices and voices of color to required readings.
Feehan’s popular social justice senior elective is significantly revamping its curriculum for ‘20-’21 to focus on making systemic change.
And perhaps most importantly, in 2019 Feehan was accepted as a participating school in the very highly-regarded (and difficult to gain entry into), school-wide Peer Leadership Program with the Boston chapter of the Anti-Defamation League. (https://www.adl.org/news/article/peer-leadership-program). This program includes a major professional development initiative for Feehan faculty and staff, as well.
This is only the beginning of Feehan’s progress on this important matter. These are early steps. These steps need to be developed further, and new initiatives need to be added, as well. The key message is that this is and will remain a major strategic priority for Feehan.
Additional Work & Request for Help
Because this is a strategic priority and because it is so important in general, we will be working diligently on this at Feehan in coming months and years and beyond. We will engage our Feehan constituencies and outside experts; we will listen more to voices both inside and outside of Feehan; we will add educational elements on these topics for our student body; we will learn and act more. We will also take care to be deliberate and thoughtful with plans, so that those executed will be truly meaningful and have the best chances of success vs simply looking good on paper.
I’d like to put an extra spotlight on two related and essential needs:
a) Adding Black faculty and staff (we have none currently) and faculty and staff of color.
b) Increasing diversity within our student body.
One alum with whom I spoke recently about the first challenge asked me pointedly: “Why do you think you don’t get many or any Black applicants for open positions — have you looked at your current staff and what it looks like?”
Fair point, and a similar thought would apply to our student body, where the percentage of Black students is lower than that of many of our local sending communities. In many cases — especially in hiring — how we have been doing things hasn’t worked to change the numbers.
We will absolutely work on both of those challenges internally with new approaches to recruiting, hiring and admissions. But here I’d also like to ask for your help: if you know of students or families of color who would be well-served by Feehan — please send them personally my way. I will do all I can to make sure their admissions experience (and more importantly their overall Feehan experience) is positive. Similarly, if you know of a Black person or person of color who would make a great addition to our Feehan faculty or staff team — please send them my way. I can’t guarantee a job, but I can guarantee that we are actively looking to hire a more diverse staff, and I will lead that process personally for terrific candidates for Feehan.
Continuing the Conversation
As stated above, the most important recent development for Feehan on the issue of race and diversity is the outpouring of feedback and stories and passion around this issue and around a desire for Feehan to be better. Those stories inform us. The passion motivates and inspires.
And we need to keep that going.
Our dedicated email — firstname.lastname@example.org — remains open for feedback. And Mr. Kane and I welcome calls and personal outreach.
Further, we are going to establish a Feehan Diversity Council for those who would like to remain active parts of this ongoing conversation and/or help work on solutions through this strategic planning and implementation process. We will work to create more opportunities for feedback and input (likely Zoom or the like) and provide ongoing updates on progress on the above plans and new plans for making change.
If you’d like to be a part of this Council — no official time commitment required, but we will add you to invites and communications — please email your interest to the email@example.com email address, and we will start that group right away. The Council is open to all students, alums, parents, past parents and staff who have a desire to see Feehan make progress in this arena.
Please know of our prayers for all and your families — for safety, good health and peace in our communities and our nation.
God Bless & Go Shamrocks.Tim Sullivan '87President, Bishop Feehan High SchoolJune 25, 2020