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Equity Director at prestigious McDonogh School backtracks after insensitive reaction to trans Nashville shooter
Last week, after a transgender person murdered six people including three 9-year-olds at a Presbyterian school and church in Nashville, the Director of Equity and Inclusion at the prestigious McDonogh School in Owings Mills, reacted by sending an email to all upper school students where she expresses concern that a resulting increase in societal transphobia may cause more transphobic speech on the campus of the secular private school where tuition is some $38,000 per year.
“I am concerned about the increase in transphobia in our society causing increased transphobic speech at our school” she said, after stating that her “primary reason” for writing to the students after the massacre was to “address how the gender identity of the suspected shooter may impact our community”. She clarified that while “Nashville police identified the suspected shooter as female”, the shooter actually used “he/him pronouns”.
She continued, stating that the research on the underlying issues contributing to school shootings is “clear”, attributing them to “mental health”, “access to firearms”, and “social isolation”, before confirming that the Nashville shooter being transgender “does not change that data”.
She lamented how “transgender students often face discrimination, bullying, and violence in schools”, before asking her campus community to “interrupt discriminatory or hateful speech” if they see it or hear it, as part of an effort to support “targeted” trans students.
Noticeably absent from the Director of Equity and Inclusion’s communication to students was the fact that the shooting took place at a Christian school, it seeming increasingly likely that the shooter targeted the location at least in part because of its religious affiliation — a reasonable speculation that could be confirmed or refuted if police would release the trans shooter’s manifesto.
In a later follow up email, the Director of Equity and Inclusion acknowledged she made an “error” by not considering that those “identifying as Christian may be processing this tragedy differently”. She said it was an “oversight” not to recognize that Christians may be mourning more intensely.
The full text of both emails are at the bottom of this article.
McDonogh’s appointment of the Director of Equity and Inclusion was announced in July of 2022. Head of School Dave Farace said her “philosophy on education” mirrors the school’s mission to be an “inclusive community”. The school now has four dedicated Equity and Inclusion personnel, including the aforementioned Director, and a separate coordinator for the lower school, middle school, and upper school.
During the Black Lives Matter riots of 2020, protesters in New Orleans removed a statue of the school’s founder, John McDonogh, a slaveholder who lived in Baltimore and Louisiana, and threw it into the Mississippi River. In April of 2022, the school unveiled a memorial to honor the slaves held by McDonogh, called “The Memorial to Those Enslaved and Freed”.
In the weeks after the death of George Floyd, one employee of the school shared how “Black Lives Matter” was temporarily painted onto the street of the campus’s residential area.
Dear Upper School Students,
As most of you probably know, there was yet another mass school shooting on Monday in Nashville. While the shooting occurred hundreds of miles away, it is normal to worry about the potential for similar attacks on our campus. Let me assure you that at McDonogh, student safety is a top priority. While no one can guarantee nothing bad will ever happen, we work to the best of our ability to ensure you are able to learn and grow in a safe and inclusive space. If you have any concerns or questions about the physical safety of campus or the increase in school shootings, please do not hesitate to reach out to me, your advisor, your teacher, a counselor, or any trusted adult. We are all here to support you!
My primary reason for writing to you is to address how the gender identity of the suspected shooter may impact our community. Nashville Police identified the suspected shooter as female and used their name at birth; however, according to his social media, he used he/him pronouns. While the suspected shooter's gender identity is unverified, many news outlets are identifying him as transgender. Given the online rhetoric boiling over, I am concerned about the increase in transphobia in our society causing increased transphobic speech at our school. Therefore, I want to remind us all of our community norms to respect and be kind towards one another. Being a part of the McDonogh family means being part of a safe and inclusive teaching and learning environment for all community members. Transgender students often face discrimination, bullying, and violence in schools, and it is crucial that we all take steps to combat these injustices.
Research on the underlying issues contributing to school shootings, such as mental health, access to firearms, and social isolation, is clear. We must continue to be mindful of these issues as we move forward. That this particular suspected shooter was transgender does not change that data.
If you hear transphobic speech, I encourage you to be an upstander! Interrupt discriminatory or hateful speech. Support any targeted student by asking what they need or want. If you are privileged enough to have someone feel safe in your presence to share, honor them by keeping what is shared in confidence.
If you need a place to process your thoughts and feelings in an affirming space, please reach out to one of the counselors, me, or another trusted adult.
Again, I encourage you to continue demonstrating respect and kindness to one another. Be mindful of what you consume online, what you post on social media, and how you respond to others. Thank you for living the values of our McDonogh community!
Earlier this week, I sent an email addressing the recent school shooting in Nashville. In the subsequent days, it was brought to my attention that I did not address the fact that this attack occurred at a Christian school.
It was an error on my part not to acknowledge that those in our community identifying as Christian may be processing this tragedy differently. I truly apologize to those who felt unseen or hurt in any way.
Certainly, we all feel deeply for the families of the victims and those left to mourn, and it was an oversight not to recognize that these feelings may be intensified for those in the Christian community.
As always, I am available to you for conversation. Please don't hesitate to reach out to me.