Gender and sexuality acceptance isn’t new at St. Paul Academy and Summit School. In fact, the beginning of Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) goes all the way back to 1999 and the early 2000s. Recently, as students both within the SPA community and out have begun to express their identities more openly, so too have the clubs, policies and administration started to align with this expression.
Starting last summer, Director of Intercultural Life Karen Dye along with other members on the Board of Trustees at SPA began altering the Board Resolution St. Paul Academy and Summit School had regarding diversity and inclusion. It is now called the Diversity and Inclusion policy rather than simply a resolution. This change was prompted by the creation of the Gender and Sexuality Diversity Policy, which will be announced this fall, the changing culture and SPA, and the missing dialogue the old resolution did not present. The last time the Board Resolution was updated was 10 years ago.
“We had an old statement that was in the handbook that wasn’t so much of a statement as it was a Board Resolution that we just used as our diversity policy. We looked at our Board Resolution on diversity and we thought that it didn’t include all the things that would make this [Gender and Sexuality Diversity Policy] policy a real living document in our community. We never had a statement before, we had a resolution which sort of served as our statement, but it left out things like gender identity. We needed to update our statement to stay consistent with the new Gender and Sexuality Diversity policy,” Dye said.
Updating the Board Resolution to its new title, the Diversity and Inclusion policy was not so much as a drastic change as it was a shift in dialogue reflective of SPA culture today. The most distinct change in the policy is its inclusion of addressing gender identity and how that is accepted at SPA. The policy now states that “SPA is committed to the principles of diversity, and strictly prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, marital status, gender identity, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or any other identity.”
“The truth of the matter is that the old Board Resolution was a really good resolution, but it didn’t include those things that are more relevant today. We had to update the language to be reflective of SPA’s community and where it’s at right now. The one thing that was left out was the gender identity piece. Our students who are now feeling more comfortable asserting their gender identity, and how they identify in terms of gender in our community is why we made the policy. In some ways it’s reactive, and in some ways it’s proactive so that as a school when these issues and matters come up we can be prepared to have really good dialogue around it,” Dye said.
Acknowledging gender identity as a matter of diversity now aligns with the incoming Gender and Sexuality Diversity Policy (a tentative name) which received heavy student input. Unlike the change in the Diversity and Inclusion policy which was solely changed by Dye and the Board of Trustees, the Gender and Sexuality policy was heavily influenced by student clubs like Gender and Sexuality Acceptance and Rainbow Connection.
“It was updated with language more relevant and timely today. It was updated to reflect what’s going on in our society today. The Gender and Sexuality Diversity policy did have a lot of student input. We consulted with some of the gender related student groups. They gave us some really helpful feedback to put into that policy,” Dye said.
The increase in dialogue, information and tolerance SPA is presenting and continuing to create will surely foster a community that supports and values a diverse identities.
“As people are feeling more comfortable in being who they are in the community, which should be the case for students, no matter what they’re backgrounds and experiences are, we have some actual language and some standards about how to react when issues come up. Just like anything, religion or race, anything where there’s an issue or concern or something to celebrate, just like we have language around that we want to have language around this too as there is a relatively more recent thing to be their authentic self,” Dye said.
Dye expects the Gender and Sexuality policy to be completed and presented to the school publicly this fall.