Greenwood’s Antisemitism Working Group (AWG) launched in the 2022/2023 academic year. Made up of staff, parents/guardians and board members, the group was formed to create a space for listening, learning, growing and developing educational opportunities.
“The AWG set goals last year based on feedback sought from Greenwood’s community,” said Heather Thomas, Vice-Principal, Deputy Head of School and chair of the AWG. “We have made strong progress in a short amount of time.”
One of the aims was to promote a better understanding of what Antisemitism is and looks like, she added. “By discussing this, we could then share ideas with the community to support education.”
As one of its first projects last year, the group provided feedback on Greenwood’s Policy and Procedures Manual.
“Our discrimination policies were refined and education was provided to both staff and students about the changes so that they can live the policy in practice,” Ms. Thomas said. “It helps staff in particular understand what they should do in certain situations.”
Greenwood parent Tama Sirkis joined the AWG last year to learn from others and help make changes that improve people’s experiences.
“Antisemitism is a major problem we are currently facing in Canada and worldwide; we have not seen this type of hate since WW2,” said Ms. Sirkis, who is Jewish. “We want to educate our community on the impact of these issues, and on the importance of vocal support for Jewish people — and any other group facing hate and discrimination.”
This year, as the AWG continues its mission of combating antisemitism and discrimination, members of the group also discussed centring other equity-deserving groups, which contributed to the establishment of the Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Working Group (EIBWG) for parents/guardians, board members and staff. More than 35 people joined the first meeting of the EIBWG.
“The initial meetings have been setting the stage for the group, beginning to build community and getting to know each other so that it is a safe space,” said Ms. Thomas. “In the first meeting, we asked folks to share, if comfortable, why they joined and what they hope the group can achieve.”
Answers varied, Ms. Thomas said, from wanting to reinforce community and character values, to hoping to support current and future students, to want to deepen their own understanding of other peoples’ perspectives.
Greenwood parent and board member Wendy Chong jumped at the opportunity to join both working groups. She had previously represented Greenwood at an equity, diversity and inclusion conference, and as a parent ambassador, she often receives questions from prospective families about this topic.
As a Canadian of Chinese-Japanese-English descent, Ms. Chong says she participates in equity, diversity and inclusion conversations in service to her parents and grandparents and their history in this country. Both experienced racism and exclusion at the hands of government policy and the community (through the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the treatment of Japanese Canadians in the 1940s) and even their own families. Ms. Chong says she also participates in these groups in service to the Greenwood community, a treasured place that has given her children wonderful experiences over the last number of years.
It’s vital that we remember this history and learn about the experiences of others both in the past and today and in service of the future, she added.
“The world feels more and more polarized. Making time to listen and learn about our
differences can help us develop and nurture empathy.”
It’s why Ms. Chong also joined the AWG. Joining the AWG as a non-Jewish member was important to her.
“To create safe and welcoming spaces, we need the support of the whole community, and in particular those outside of the group facing discrimination,” Ms. Chong said.
Issues of diversity and equity are of primary importance, Ms. Sirkis added. “And I believe positive change starts with us all.”
She has already seen small changes making an impact, like the acknowledgement of cultural and religious days of significance.
Ms. Sirkis said she appreciates Greenwood's genuine interest in hearing how people are feeling and their dedication to improving our community.
“Both the EIBWG and the AWG want to have meaningful discussions that lead to positive change,” she said. "Personally, having support and solidarity, especially from the non-Jewish community, is very important and meaningful.”
Any Greenwood parent/guardian who wants to work together toward creating a more inclusive environment is invited to attend the EIBWG and/or AWG.
Ms. Thomas said she hopes both of the working groups continue to strengthen the feelings of belonging and community at Greenwood.
“Conversations around equity and inclusion are not always easy to have,” Ms. Thomas said. “I’m so grateful that the Greenwood community wants to have them.”
Everyone is welcome in the working groups. If you are interested in joining the AWG and/or the EIBWG, please email Heather Thomas and she will add you to the meeting invites.
On March 2, 2024, Greenwood will host Equity Through Education: Embracing Challenges, Building Leaders and Fostering Inclusion. If you are a Greenwood community member who’d like to get involved in the conference, please register your interest here.