Benedictine Hospitality: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee works to support BC’s mission

By Noell Barnidge
Benedictine Military School is in the beginning stages of building a critical program, the Benedictine Hospitality: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, to support the school’s mission to “form and educate young men from diverse backgrounds.”

BC Principal Jacob Horne asked 10 BC faculty and staff members to serve on the Benedictine Hospitality: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee. Members are co-chairs Galen Houston ‘04 and Joe Tvrdy, as well as Dr. Frank Williams, Heather Hawkins, Sheila Crossley, Danny Britt, MSG Richard Smith, Fr. Maximilian Maxwell, O.S.B., A.J. DeFilippis ‘08, and Peter Newman.

“What we are centered around is how do we make sure that all of our Cadets have the best experience possible?” Horne said. “The committee is led by Galen Houston and Joe Tvrdy. These are two educators that, over my time at Benedictine, have had many conversations with me and with others on this topic because it’s important to them. And it should be. And so as we got together our group, those were the two people that I went to and just said, ‘Hey, I’d love for you to take this ball and run with it.’ And they are. The goal, the mission-driven, larger-picture sense, is important because bringing in a guest speaker is not enough to change a community, to change values, to change directions. It has to be systematic. It has to be the blood that runs the body. There has to be an understanding about why we have to recognize the injustices that our community went through within this country. And continues to go through. And why we can be better. And why we must be better. And why there is hope.

“Much like on the darkest of days looking at Christ on the cross, that is your symbol of hope,” Horne continued. “And there is hope that this country can be better, that Benedictine as a small light in the world can outshine everything. To be a Benedictine monk, to be a graduate, to go through this school, you must understand, you must appreciate, you must accept the love that Christ shows upon everyone regardless of socioeconomic status, race, or gender. It’s greater than that.”

Tvrdy said the idea of a formal program to address diversity and inclusion at BC “started bubbling up several years ago.”

“While BC has done an admirable job in fostering a welcoming environment for students, employees, and guests, we want to ensure that ‘Benedictine Hospitality’ is fully integrated into how we operate as a school,” Tvrdy said. “Conversations with Mr. Houston, Mr. Horne, current students, alumni, and community members prompted the formation of a diversity committee made up of BC faculty and staff.”

The specifics of the program will be developed over the next few months, Tvrdy said. It will begin with an email questionnaire and an invitation to participate. The committee then will meet in person or virtually with the goal of building a framework for the program and developing a plan of action that supports diversity at BC as mandated by the school’s mission statement.

“The faculty committee wrote the following diversity statement to guide our efforts,” Tvrdy said.
 Diversity Statement
"The Rule of St. Benedict tells us that all guests shall be welcomed as Christ. By doing so, we foster a community of inclusion that respects the dignity of the individual in the areas of age, gender, religion, ability, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, and culture.
"Our community is an inclusive environment where people can share their stories and their voices can be heard. We encourage our students to be authentic, to feel inspired to learn from those different from themselves, and to celebrate diversity and multiculturalism. All members of the Benedictine Military School community are responsible for advancing an understanding of and a respect for diversity.
"We firmly stand on the four pillars of our Core Values: Character, Spirituality, Purpose and Brotherhood. The success of each is dependent on the others and diversity strengthens them all.”
Executed correctly, the Benedictine Hospitality: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee can have a huge impact on the Benedictine community in multiple ways:

1. Teachers and staff will be excited and actively engaged in the workplace. Knowing that your thoughts, opinions, and experiences are weighed equally amongst everyone else at the school makes you want to engage more. 

2. Students can feel confident that the school does care about their personal welfare. In the classroom, they will be able to express thoughts more freely, giving new perspective to discussions and productive engagement.

3. DEI programs create attractive environments for more talent to come to our school. Prospects will want to join the Benedictine family because we strive to provide a supportive and inspiring atmosphere where people of varying backgrounds flourish.

“With a spirit of refined hospitality, Benedictine Military School represents a brotherhood of individuals from various ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, religions, and cultures,” Houston said. “We must protect the brotherhood and embrace the various aspects of life that make us different. Simultaneously, we must display the love that binds us all. I believe that the more we can educate and create meaningful dialogue about diversity and inclusion, the more we manifest understanding, empathy, and tolerance regarding our differences.”

The purpose of the Benedictine Hospitality: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee is to foster a comprehensive, educational, and progressive environment. BC believes in equal opportunity and access. Diverse and inclusive schools earn deeper trust from stakeholders and the entire community. BC’s goal is to challenge students to think critically about the world and develop sharp problem-solving skills. Presenting students with various ideologies and perspectives, far different their own thoughts and experiences, provides the opportunity to analyze current beliefs and examine the world in fresh ways. Diversity, equity, and inclusive strategies cultivate innovation and creativity.

“It is important for all of us to be equally included and considered in our work here at Benedictine,” Houston said. “For our personal success and the success of the school, the DEI Committee will be an evolving program to ensure we all achieve our greatest potential. The goal is to establish an inclusive culture that permeates throughout our community. We will create change and development that is meaningful, intentional, and sustaining. We have work to do! I am committed to the task of improving my beloved alma mater and better serving our students.”

Williams, who previously taught at Savannah State University, is in his first year at BC. He said he was inspired during his job interview by BC’s commitment to racial equality.

“As a lifelong educator, my energy comes from the opportunity to teach, to research and learn, to present multiple methods for which my students can engage,” Williams said. “So, when I interviewed to become an English teacher at Benedictine Military School, I thought, here I can impart knowledge and witness academic growth. It was during the interview process that I decided to ask about race, a bold move, but made by a veteran educator, I thought. However, the response to my question was powerfully impressive. The principal, Jacob Horne, stated that he would hope that I would teach the story, bring truth to the story. Even more inspired to work here, I began knowing that I could make a difference. We know that's the mantra of every teacher. Then, I learned that Benedictine, the institution itself, was planning to boldly address the issue of race; this, as you know, occurred while our beloved nation faced its most critical racial conflicts in decades. Nevertheless, invitations went out and we began having open conversations about race, about our students, about our conflicts.”

On Nov. 18, 2020, Benedictine Military School, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, welcomed inspirational speaker Chris Singleton to BC to speak with our Cadets. Singleton's mother, Sharonda Coleman Singleton, was one of nine people murdered by a white supremacist at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015.

“Our first major event with Chris Singleton touched everyone, socially and spiritually,” Williams said. “Hence, what BC aims to accomplish overall … aligns exactly with the enlightening that comes from understanding race as a social construct.”

BC intended to bring Singleton to speak during the 2019-20 school year “but COVID hit,” Horne said. Bringing Singleton to speak about race relations was important to Horne and BC Assistant Principal Kevin Farmer ‘92.

“It started then with Kevin and I trying to think of how we better educate our young men here and, more importantly, I think the bottom line of this is how do we make sure that the Benedictine experience is, in the best sense, recognized by every single young man who walks through the front doors of Benedictine Military School?” Horne said.

As inspirational as Singleton’s talk was, Horne said BC must do – and will do – much more than just bring in a guest speaker to discuss racial issues.

“We are focused on what type of long-lasting change can and should come about at Benedictine, specifically, to make our community even better than what we recognize it as today, which is a fantastic school,” Horne said. “And to have that drive that we can better. We must be better. We are building the next generation of young men that are going to be leading this country and they must be better. To have that hope, where Dr. (Martin Luther) King talks about the mountaintop and seeing over it, we haven’t gotten there yet but it’s there. It’s worth the work. It’s worth the time. It’s worth the investment. It’s worth the pain. It’s worth the tears. It’s worth the blood, sweat, and toil to march toward a better country and, for us, a better school. Because, again, that is our mission as a Catholic school, as a Benedictine school.

“When I think back to the founding, of Benedictines coming to Savannah at our darkest time in the nation, they came to address the injustice that ripped this country apart," Horne continued. "I don’t think that enough people know that the founding Benedictines were ahead of their time. Some Benedictines even lost their lives in this mission. Because, with time, things get skewed. Just like everything with time. As you start moving away from every generation after generation, other things begin to cloud the picture. And it takes people to purposefully look back and try to be who we said we would be. It takes work.

“We’ve got that team of educators together and we’re going to continue to work toward making real, meaningful, long-term change and evolution that is more than just a guest speaker, that is more than just one day taking the pulse of the student body or the faculty,” Horne said. “It has to be purposeful and goal-oriented and understanding that the day will never come when this committee, even if it’s made up of new educators and new leadership at BC, that it can’t be continuing to meet and continuing to work because our job is never done.”