Everyone Belongs Together: Panel on Dignity and Equity

Posted on: April 24, 2019, by :

By J M Whitt and Jeff Turner

Somewhere in a small Indiana town, a community had a discussion on how to go about creating positive change. After an unfortunate incident went viral, including a photograph of students from Zionsville Community High School giving the Nazi salute, an outpouring of concerns arose in the community and clergy, school administrators, and civic leaders came together to host a panel discussion, the common themes being dignity and equity.

Hosted by Zionsville Community Schools in the Performing Arts Center, the five member panel included Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation Rabbi Brett Krichiver Indianapolis Interfaith Church Reverend Shannon Walker Dycus, Tyler Thompson of Zionsville Christian Church, Zionsville Mayor Tim Haak, and Kris Devereaux, Chief Academic Officer of Zionsville Community Schools.

Prior to the panel discussion, the audience was entertained by two student musicians. After a brief introduction, Krichiver opened with remarks on his thoughts and experiences in regards to diversity and equity. Krichiver chooses to be an “interfaith rabbi,” stressing this point. “Interfaith,” he believes, is critical for developing empathy for faiths other than one’s own in order to facilitate with creating dialogue. He shared a story from childhood about how neighborhood children wanted to see “his horns,” as this was a common medieval stereotype. A lot of misconceptions exist between people of differing cultures and faiths. People have misconceptions about those they don’t understand. Do apathy and ignorance breed fear and contempt? He went on to say that as a minority he feels that it is important to advocate for other minorities, “we stand together or fall apart.”

Reverend Dycus started her remarks by sharing a parable about a monkey believing it had saved a fish that appeared to be having trouble swimming by pulling it out of the water and onto dry land. Her point was that even actions with the best of intentions can have unfortunate outcomes. Her five separate lessons for inclusion were that good intentions are not always good, that differences are always good, bias is real, inclusion requires including, and admitting that you (and I) killed the fish (accept that you can make wrong choices and cause some pain).

She concluded with an unfortunate reality of the situation. That the people who really need to hear the message being presented weren’t actually there. But the point she stressed, her positive message, was that we (the audience) were in attendance, and can be educators and teachers, sharing this message of inclusion and equity.

A five person panel discussion ensued. Questions were posed that each panelist had an opportunity to answer. One item of information shared was how the community schools now have a “drop down menu on their internet service menu” with many different language choices to include foreign language students, this according to Kris Devereaux. Reverend Thompson recounted stories from childhood in which neighborhood friends who worked with his parents would watch him after school, and how he became familiar with a family of a different faith and culture. Mayor Tim Haak suggested that as travel takes us to areas we aren’t familiar that we should try the same with people. Zionsville Community High School Principal Tim East, who helped plan the event, stated that the mentoring classes/small groups emphasize inclusion and dignity, providing an open forum to broaden and enrich the horizons for students in regards to diversity, one of the points of the panel discussion. The high school is actively supportive of cultural differences, as well as differences arising from mental health issues, and other physical conditions. In the coming weeks, there will be opportunities for small group meetings and dinners as well town halls to be held to be able to better facilitate discussions on inclusion and equity.

Hopefully, positive, lasting change will come out of these events, the type of change that will prevent such incidents as the type that prompted this panel discussion from reoccurring, or if they were to reoccur to be able to properly respond to them. Some of the topics discussed were daunting, but the town seemed to take the bull by the horns and dove right into the deep end of the pool.

More information on this series of panel discussions can be found at the Zionsville Community Schools website: www.zcs.k12.in.us

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