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St. Teresa’s, after swastika beer pong incident, trying to boost diversity and inclusion

St. Teresa’s Academy on diversity

St. Teresa’s Academy President Nan Bone and Board President Michelle Wimes talk diversity and inclusion after swastika and racial bullying at the Catholic school.
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St. Teresa’s Academy President Nan Bone and Board President Michelle Wimes talk diversity and inclusion after swastika and racial bullying at the Catholic school.

After students posed with a swastika beer pong and an African American student complained about racial micro-aggressions at St. Teresa’s Academy, the all-girls Catholic school is taking steps to educate its young women about discrimination.

“Several initiatives are in place to strengthen our efforts to educate our students at St. Teresa’s Academy about sensitivity to people who are persecuted, school officials said in a outline of new diversity and inclusion initiatives and events held since September.

The outline, given to The Star Editorial Board on Monday, said that St. Teresa’s was working with students “to stand up against discrimination and to become more tolerant of those who are victims of injustice.”

St. Teresa’s Academy President Nan Bone told the editorial board that the school, in the Brookside neighborhood of Kansas City, conducted a diversity and inclusion assessment in 2014 and found that its biggest challenge was developing a more diverse student body, faculty and staff.

Just 16 percent of the 600 young women attending St. Teresa’s are students of color.

Michelle Wimes, president of the St. Teresa’s Board of Directors, said the school has broadened its recruitment efforts to increase the number of minority students and faculty.

Tuition at St. Teresa’s is $13,000 a year — a potential barrier for students from low-income families. Bone said St. Teresa’s gives about $750,000 a year in scholarships to help cover tuition costs for students from families that can not afford the private school.

“We would like to be able to give $1 million a year to students,” Bone said. The school is in the middle of a fund-raising campaign, Bone said, and encourages donors to contribute to minority scholarships.

The school has been under siege since September, when a social media post showed nine St. Teresa’s students posed with beer pong cups arranged as a swastika. Then a student ambassador, who is African American, told a Star columnist about hearing jokes about the Ku Klux Klan and being mocked because of her dislike of the N-word and other micro-aggressions.

St. Teresa’s officials “were beat up,” on social media, and in letters and calls from alumae, for not expelling the nine girls who posed with the swastika, Bone said.

The students involved were required to participate in a day of reflection and several school discussions about acceptance, tolerance and forgiveness. On Oct. 1 members of St. Teresa’s attended “Stand Together KC,” where a rabbi and two pastors discussed community responses to hate speech.

Bone said the school was trying to move forward and fix whatever went wrong in its efforts to teach all its students equality and inclusion, sensitivity, and to stand up against discrimination.

Diversity training for faculty and staff had already started, the school now is hoping to reach parents, infuse diversity and inclusion into the curriculum and plans to hire outside consultants to review its diversity and inclusion efforts, identify gaps and areas needing improvement.

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc

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