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Integrity and Authenticity

Jenny Rinn, director of lower school & Bel Beeson, Rachel Freeman, and Shannon Gutierrez, equity & inclusion committee co-chairs
As we shared last month, we believe that the community here at Brandeis is one of our greatest strengths. Guided by the community pillar of the Brandeis 2023 strategic plan and one of our enduring understandings, b’tzelem elohim, we launched the equity & inclusion committee, a diverse group of faculty and staff volunteers to help us cultivate a community where people feel welcome and included. B’tzelem elohim (being created in God’s image) is a Jewish concept that highlights the divine qualities in each and every person and helps guide our community in treating ourselves, others, and the world around us with kindness and respect. In that vein, we strive to be a school where differences are honored as an essential component of a learning community, and where our diversities—of socio-economic background and status, gender identity, family structure, sexual orientation, religion, race, ethnicity, and more—are secured, celebrated, and supported.
 
Last week we welcomed Schuyler Bailar, a former member of the Harvard men's swimming team and the first openly trans athlete to compete on an NCAA division 1 men’s team. Schuyler presented to our parent community, as well as to our students in three age-appropriate groupings: kindergarten and first grade, second through fourth grade, and middle school. With each group, he shared his story of being a swimmer, how he was assigned female at birth but felt like a boy inside, and how he got the help he needed to navigate his feelings and transition. He showed some photos of what he looked like when he presented as a girl before transitioning and becoming the boy he always felt he was. He focused on the challenges of trying to "fit-in" while keeping his integrity and authenticity intact and the reasons he chose to put many potential accolades and opportunities at risk to be true to himself. After he spoke, parents and students had the opportunity to ask him questions and make connections with him. (And he also did his famous peacock pose for the students!). Click here to see photos of his visit.
 
We heard from many members of our community about the positive impact Schuyler’s visit had on them.
  • “Schuyler Bailar was one of the best speakers I've heard. His story highlighted the importance of taking care of one's mental health, as well as the impact of kindness and support. In addition to teaching us about specific issues important to transgender adults and children, I think he powerfully conveyed some critically important messages about how we can all exist in this world and support each other.” - Hadara Stanton Hersh, board chair and parent of 2nd and 6th graders
  • “The kindness, curiosity, and acceptance in the student's responses and questions made me feel proud to work at Brandeis.” - Anna Rentz, K-2 learning support specialist
  • “In my short time as a parent at the school, I have never felt prouder to be part of the Brandeis community. Dedicating time and resources to having Schuyler speak to both our adult and youth audiences is another proof point that Brandeis places the highest value on educating all of us to be knowledgeable, kind, aware, justice-seeking citizens. I wish everyone could hear Schuyler speak.” - Rachel Rosenblum, parent of 1st and 3rd graders
  • “It really meant a lot that Schuyler would come to Brandeis. It was really awesome how accepting and supportive his teammates were of him. When I got to talk to him, I felt like I could kind of connect with him because I told him about when I had long hair and how people would call me a girl. It was so cool that after talking to him, I came in for a half hug and he asked for a full hug.” Ari H.-L., 5th grade student
 
Our community was blown away by his story, as well as his poise, vulnerability, and candor. As we have gender non-conforming students at Brandeis, we were thrilled to have Schuyler visit our school as a positive, self-accepting, confident role model for all of our students, but most specifically for those kids who may find it difficult to live in the world as they are.
 
As an institution, especially a Jewish institution, we feel it's important to educate our community about discrimination of any type and to promote acceptance and kindness. If you are interested in further reading regarding topics of equity and inclusion, please take a look at a collection of books and films curated by the equity and inclusion committee and shared with our faculty and staff last spring for summer learning. If you are looking for books for your children to read, please take a look at this list curated by our librarian Bel Beeson. These lists cover areas of race, culture, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability.
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