Last year, Casady appointed English teacher BrieAnn Johnson as head of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (D.E.I.) program. Although Mrs. Johnson has held this position for a year, not many people know about the program or what it entails. I sat down with her to learn more about her role.
Mrs. Johnson’s passion for D.E.I. began in college when she noticed the inequalities in education across the Oklahoma City Public Schools district. She continued exploring D.E.I when she began teaching at Northwest Classen High School. Johnson believes that ethnic diversity within a school “can add so much to education when you have so many different experiences, perspectives, and traditions that are coming to the students [or] to the classroom.” Johnson continued engaging with D.E.I when she taught in Los Angeles. There, she took on “a more formal role” in D.E.I education. Although Johnson has attended several training sessions on diversity, equity, and inclusion, she continues to grow her knowledge through her graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania. “One of the things [the program is] incorporating a lot [of] this year is the importance of D.E.I. training for school leaders,” Johnson said, with a small U. Penn. flag behind her.
Since Johnson had such extensive training in diversity and inclusion, she and Head of School Nathan Sheldon had “several conversations” on D.E.I. and decided that “it was time for Casady to start” a program of its own. “The national dialogue, understanding really how important matters of equity and inclusion are, were really a catalyst for wanting to integrate that more into our community,” Johnson explained.
Now that the program is fully established, Mrs. Johnson has a greater opportunity to educate Casady students on diversity, equity, and inclusion. She listed many ideas for Casady’s D.E.I. program this year. She plans to work with Vicar Father Tim Sean Youmans on Casady’s new initiative, “Soul-Craft Wednesdays.” Johnson hopes to utilize this time to have speakers “give us the [D.E.I.] content, and then open up our Soul-Craft Wednesday with talking points so students can engage in deeper discussion around those things.”
Johnson is also organizing a student-equity committee this year. “It’s just so important to be able to have a gathering space for students to talk about these things [D.E.I.] and talk about them in constructive ways,” Johnson said. Mrs. Johnson also hopes to use Unity Club as another instrument in Casady’s D.E.I. program. “Unity Club is for students […] If there’s an issue that hits one student community especially hard, they can absolutely gather and talk through those different parts under the umbrella of Unity Club,” she told me. She also hopes to have a book group sponsored by Unity Club that reads and discusses anti-racist literature. Johnson emphasized the importance of a student-led group like Unity Club where students rather than faculty can immerse themselves and others in D.E.I.
Although D.E.I. training requires a continuous process of growth, Johnson believes that there are certain things that students, faculty, and parents can do every day to embrace equity and inclusion. She believes we must “approach conversations from a place of grace and generosity and [by] assuming positive intent.” She encourages people to start better conversations about diversity and equity. “I think most people are afraid to engage in these conversations because [they think] they’re going to be wrong, but not engaging is worse than being wrong,” Johnson reflected. She stressed how diversity, equity, and inclusion are about “growth and change.” “Culture is so personal,” Johnson said as she leaned forward in her chair. “You can’t come into the world knowing the most personal parts and intricate details about how someone moves through the world. You learn it by relationship and experience with them.”
With a new school year, Casady students have the opportunity to embrace diversity and equity to a whole new level. Through the help of Mrs. Johnson, Unity Club, and support from the Casady community, students have the chance to develop into more understanding, empathetic, and culturally competent beings.