BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Thousands of current and former students of Nardin Academy in Buffalo have signed an online petition demanding institutional change and action against racism.
"It's a structural change that needs to happen. The culture at Nardin is poisonous," said Briana Jones, a 2014 Nardin Academy high school graduate.
Students launched a website called "Oppressed at Nardin" where students can share their stories.
"I have been looked at strangely by my peers for certain practices of my culture," recalls one former student who wishes to remain anonymous.
Students say there's a lack of diversity in faculty, student body and administration as well as no one to turn to when issues happen.
"They weren't being actively anti-racist and keeping students of color safe and protected. We started a petition to address those things," said a current student who wishes to remain anonymous.
The student-run petition lists several demands:
- Nardin must be serious about punishing and condemning racist behaviour and attitudes.
- We request that Nardin amend the Diversity Statement to encompass race as a fundamental aspect of this diversity.
- Actively and regularly engaging students in conversations about the minority experience at predominantly white institutions, and educating students on forms of racism, such as microaggressions, tone-policing, and invalidating POC experiences.
- Students of different cultures and ethnicities must be given the opportunity to share their customs.
- When policies such as dress code are created, the school must be aware of the effect they have on minority students.
- Whenever students’ names are announced in masses, ceremonies, or even just class attendance, students with less “white” sounding names often hear theirs mispronounced completely.
- We ask that teams in charge of creating advertising material do not purposefully seek out students of color when taking photos.
- Nardin currently has two teachers of color. Nardin also currently has no Black teachers. Students of color are not seeing themselves reflected in the faculty, and therefore do not feel as included in the decisions made by this faculty. We ask that Nardin consider diversity in hiring practices, for all positions.
- Nardin must commit to educating its staff.
- Nardin must empower its faculty to support its students, by supplying them with honest and true accounts of racism in America (and the world in general) written from non-white perspectives.
Former students created a separate petition, saying these issues have been going on for nearly 50 years. They list seven demands, asking similar changes.
"As Nardin alumni, we were taught to value character, excellence, humanity, and 'be someone who champions equity and justice'. It is time that the Administration values the same," said alumni.
Nardin Academy responded with the following statement.
“Nardin Academy is aware of these allegations, and I can assure you that we are taking each of them seriously. Our board of trustees has called for an immediate and thorough review.
“As a result of these actions, we have been presented with an invaluable opportunity to listen more carefully, understand more deeply and act more swiftly. Nardin Academy supports Black Lives Matter and stands in solidarity with all members of our Nardin community.
“After Nardin students drafted a petition calling for change, members of Nardin’s leadership team started meeting with the student authors regarding their concerns and call for action. To date, we have held three meetings, which will continue in the coming months. We educate our students to be leaders and to challenge power structures to change for the better. I was proud to sign the student petition, which aligns with our Mission, Vision and Values, as was our outgoing chair of the board of trustees Lisa Walsh, and incoming chair Tish Van Dyke ‘82. Change will not just be talk, but action.
“To date, we also have held three listening sessions with members of our alumnae community to listen, learn and expand this work. An additional alumnae session is scheduled for this week and we plan to hold similar sessions with our current students and families in the coming weeks.
“We formed a working group with our student leaders to effect immediate response and envision strategies for long-term change. We started by identifying four opportunities for immediate action:
o We are revising our statement on race, diversity and inclusion to be more current, appropriate and exacting;
o We are reviewing our dress code so it is more diverse, inclusive and accepting of all body types;
o We will review and strengthen, with student input, our disciplinary code, so it is more equitable and clarifies that systematic racism and unconscious bias in any form or at any level is a violation of the highest order;
o We are redefining our approach to advertising and marketing, including how we incorporate students of color in school promotional materials, We will invite an array of students to be part of those materials, and we will always respect their decision to participate, or not.
“In closing, I want to be clear: We will not shy away from these hard discussions, and the actions that need to be taken to make certain that Nardin Academy is a place where all students, families, faculty, staff and alumni feel welcome, safe and heard. As our founders, the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, would expect of us, we take full responsibility for needing these discussions, and taking the steps necessary to ensure our school embraces, recognizes and celebrates all.”
A current student says she hopes this creates a domino effect, leading to change in other schools in the area. And they want to see action sooner rather than later.
"We need Nardin to be more transparent. We need you guys to meet something by the time the school year starts, so we know you're actually making the effort," said Kesi Akono a 2013 high school graduate.