By Anaya Singh / Features Editor
For years, furthering diversity has been a highly discussed topic at Harpeth Hall. With the start of the 2021-2022 school year, B.E.L.O.N.G. was introduced to Harpeth Hall’s campus to involve both students and faculty members in conversations about diversity, equity and belonging at the school.
155 years ago when Harpeth Hall was founded as Ward Seminary, equity and inclusion played a different role in America than it does today. Racial segregation was prevalent during the time, finding no exception in the Tennessee South.
Fast forward to 2021 and diversity has grown exponentially; however, there is still a long way to go. At Harpeth Hall, a crucial goal is for marginalized groups to have a dedicated space where they can express themselves freely and feel a sense of belonging within our community.
To further that objective, MarQuis Chappell transitioned from his former role as a full-time English teacher to the school’s Director of Equity and Inclusion.
Growing up in a family very involved in the Civil Rights movement, Mr. Chappell wants to cultivate an understanding of different cultures and increase global awareness among the Harpeth Hall community.
“Our community is one that values growth,” Mr. Chappell said. “Students learn best in an environment where they feel valued and see themselves represented in the institution.”
One focus of Mr. Chappell’s role is beginning new diversity initiatives with the goal of ensuring that every girl on campus feels as though she belongs in Harpeth Hall’s environment.
“Diversity goes beyond the idea of black and white; we must expand our understanding of equity,” Mr. Chappell said.
Equity is all about access. Mr. Chappell believes that the goal of access is leveling the playing field. In other words, the purpose of equity is to ensure that everyone has equal access to opportunities.
To that end, one of the school’s initiatives for the 2021-2022 school year is to create new systems to cultivate diversity. Formally known as the Student Council for Equity and Belonging, B.E.L.O.N.G. stands for Boldly showing up, Engaging in tough conversations, Listening more than I speak, Open to feedback, Noticing my assumptions, Giving second chances. The purpose of B.E.L.O.N.G. is to help our community better understand other cultures by sharpening cross-cultural communication skills.
Often, conflict arises from miscommunication. To remedy this issue, B.E.L.O.N.G. focuses on teaching students how to communicate effectively. B.E.L.O.N.G. aims to ensure that the initiatives are student-led. Students can learn how to increase and sustain diversity both at Harpeth Hall and in their personal lives.
“It is important for Harpeth Hall students to expand their knowledge on all the different cultures on campus, and it is necessary for us to revel in the diversity we share as a community,” sophomore Jamiysn Larkin said.
B.E.L.O.N.G. hopes to ensure that the members’ ideas go beyond the student body into the larger community. As Harpeth Hall continues to grow with programming, B.E.L.O.N.G. wants to support the growth through acceptance and celebrating individuals’ cultures. B.E.L.O.N.G. will provide facility and family programming throughout its community.
As the acronym suggests, the concept of belonging plays a sizable role in equity and diversity. By organizing cultural programming that celebrates the community’s differences, steps are taken to broaden the impact of diversity at Harpeth Hall.
Diversity of ideas creates a broader way of thinking across the community. In order to make the culture of diversity at Harpeth Hall successful in the future, B.E.L.O.N.G. will develop internal programming that will continue to expand through the school’s policies, classrooms and conversations in general. All the initiatives support the institution in grappling with diversity, equity and inclusion to create a pathway for progress.
“I feel that it is my duty as a student, citizen, and human to encourage, promote, and celebrate diversity and inclusion,” sophomore Sarah Hinds said.
“Everyone deserves to be seen, and everyone deserves to feel seen.”
By creating a culture of belonging, members of the Harpeth Hall community have the opportunity to share their opinions, values and cultures with others.
“There’s a distinction between fitting in and belonging; fitting in challenges you to alter yourself so you can fit within the institution, whereas belonging challenges you to come as you are,” Mr. Chappell said.
As Harpeth Hall continues to transform its programming, B.E.L.O.N.G. strives to provide everyone with the opportunity to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion and to express themselves in a free and safe environment.