Identity, Belonging, and Brotherhood
McCallie Communications Office

Over the course of the school year, McCallie delved into two related strategic initiatives that are central to its mission and its strongly-held beliefs about community and brotherhood.

The first, Moving Forward Together as Brothers, focuses on race and diversity, and the second, Belonging at McCallie, focuses on sexual identity, orientation, and inclusion. Both initiatives involve taking stock of how McCallie, as a community, is living up to its values and standards of Honor, Truth, and Duty, and fostering a brotherhood that respects each community member by affirming every person as made divinely in God’s image. Both initiatives are providing new knowledge, skills, and strategies to ensure that every boy, regardless of his race, ethnicity, heritage, religion, sexual orientation, or background, enjoys a deep sense of dignity and belonging at McCallie. The work that McCallie has embarked upon is more of a journey than a project. McCallie has made marked and strong progress. Head of School Lee Burns ‘87 explained, “As we move forward on this journey, we are working deliberately and carefully within the context of the school’s mission and the enduring foundational commitments reaffirmed by the Board of Trustees. Especially central is the commitment to our Christian foundation and principles, Judeo-Christian heritage and tradition, and welcoming and respecting boys of other backgrounds and beliefs. This work is important, so we are moving with a real sense of urgency. The work is also complex, so we are treading slowly enough for us to design the path forward in a meaningful and sustainable way for McCallie.” While in our country there is much conversation, debate, and divisiveness about issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, McCallie’s sole focus is on what is best for the boys of McCallie we serve. And we are committed to serving our boys in ways consistent with and as an expression of our long-standing and enduring foundational commitments. We will do this the McCallie way.


As we move forward on this journey, we are working deliberately and carefully within the context of the school’s mission and the enduring foundational commitments articulated by the Board of Trustees. This work is important, so we are moving with a real sense of urgency. The work is also complex, so we are treading slowly enough for us to design the path forward in a meaningful and sustainable way for McCallie.



Dean of Community and Brotherhood Ricky Thomas

Ricky Thomas, Dean of Community and Brotherhood, has led work throughout the year that focuses on supporting students. 

To Serve and Love Well Every McCallie Boy

McCallie is long blessed with an overwhelmingly positive and nurturing culture with supportive brotherhood. A healthy school culture is built through day-to-day interactions with one another and through the norms that are established and reinforced when we see, acknowledge, listen, and value one another generously. The national conversations about race that burst forth last year after the murder of George Floyd prompted some Black alumni and students to share their sometimes difficult experiences at McCallie. In addition to hearing from those who felt marginalized because of race, the school heard from gay alumni about the difficulties and stresses they experienced. Listening and learning from these groups’ experiences, as painful as it was to do, energized McCallie’s commitment to ensure the full McCallie experience and deep sense of love and brotherhood for every boy. As Head of School Lee Burns ‘87 said in his Convocation remarks, “Our responsibility is to serve and love well every McCallie boy.” To do this to the best of its ability going forward, McCallie is more intentionally assuring that every boy is seen, heard, and treated with respect and dignity. 

Affirming differences and providing equitable experiences and opportunities require knowledge of blind spots and possible bias. Commonly-held biases are based on race, sexual orientation, and religion, but one can be biased toward a number of identity markers or elements. Developing understandings of bias and inequitable or exclusionary approaches requires a life-long commitment to personal and community learning, growth, and progress. Sumner McCallie, in his role as Dean of Faculty and Curriculum, is playing a key role in helping McCallie faculty and staff learn how to better understand the perspectives of and support the needs of our diverse student body of over 900 boys from 28 states and 14 countries. His work has been highly beneficial to faculty. The commitment of faculty to the boys they serve and love has motivated and sustained honest and, at times, uncomfortable reflections and conversations throughout the year.

Growth for faculty and staff involves the task of exploring who they are individually and investigating how the school culture works, or does not work, well for all of its members. For teachers – whose job is often a significant part of their identity because of the extent to which they invest themselves in day-to-day interactions –  it can be a wrenching experience to realize that what they have believed and done for so long may not have generated the outcome desired for every student. “Hearing from alumni who hold identities which may not have been as supported has been powerful,” said Sumner McCallie of conversations with Black and gay alumni. “Hearing from men who love McCallie deeply but whose experiences were marred provided the personal and professional realization that we, as a faculty, had work to do. Finally-heard voices and stories galvanized faculty to think about our culture.” These insights proved for many to be painful, humbling, and challenging. Sumner McCallie explained, “To devote one’s life to an approach and then learn how that approach has alienated various individuals and groups can shake one’s confidence in great measure.” 


We want our faculty to continue to grow in their understanding of who is in this community and what stories they bring with them.


Instead of retreating to a defensive posture, McCallie’s administration and faculty chose to accept responsibility and to learn new approaches to ensure future students do not experience disconnection or hurt. “The fact that McCallie faculty love the young men they teach, coach, and mentor has been clear from the very first of our conversations and has been the guiding principle behind all of our steps,” said Sumner McCallie. “What was surprising to me,” he continued, “was how this clarity meant that we did not struggle to find a direction. From the beginning, we were motivated by the question: how can we create a space where every young man as he is knows that he is loved?” This framing provided the task force a guide for planning professional learning for faculty and staff and a way to dive quickly into the reality of what was working and what was not, resulting in a broad and extended consideration of practices. “The will to do this work,”  added Sumner McCallie, “comes from the core element of community and brotherhood at McCallie:  relationships.” The work included professional learning for all faculty and staff, as well as over 50 faculty and staff members serving on one of several task forces, whose leaders met regularly with Head of School Lee Burns.

Over the course of the school year, faculty and staff have developed a better understanding of how school culture can affect a student positively or negatively. Guided professional learning discussions started with self-reflection on implicit biases, exploring different historical perspectives, and learning language central to racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual identities. Individuals representing diverse identities shared their experiences in various forums, and faculty and staff delved into specific case studies and daily examples where careful, intentional, and nuanced actions create better student connections and outcomes. An important takeaway was how one’s words or actions may have a negative impact on others, even though there was no intent to do so. Being more mindful of the stories and perspectives of others can help avoid or mitigate unintended hurts.

Demographic data points were also shared in order to demonstrate the diversity that exists in the student body and to broaden awareness of what emotions, perspectives, and sensitivities  need to be considered as teachers design lessons and learning experiences. Some of the data points reviewed were race, faith, learning differences, family composition, composition of students in AP and Honors, and grade distribution overlaid on demographic information.

  The goal is for faculty and staff members to have the necessary skills to listen to students who feel marginalized, the background and willingness to understand these students’ perspectives, and the ability to engage students with diverse identities more fully. Professional learning going forward will continue to offer a range of voices and perspectives that exist but are not always heard. “We want our faculty to continue to grow in their understanding of who is in this community and what stories they bring with them,” shared Sumner McCallie. “Furthering honest, open, and challenging conversations can strengthen our community and its positive impact on all boys.”

Honoring, Including, and Celebrating Our Students

Valuing students for who they are and for the perspectives they have is at the heart of honoring students from a diversity of backgrounds and identities. Engaging thoughtfully in intentional and inclusive conversations with sensitivity to those historically marginalized because of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or for any reason, provides a path for McCallie to grow fully into a community that values the uniqueness of one another and appreciates the blessings of diversity. In his role as Dean of Community and Brotherhood, Ricky Thomas has led work throughout the year focusing on supporting students. The focus has been on having conversations about difference and diversity, like race and sexual orientation, in numerous ways for the purpose of enhancing listening and learning while seeking to make stronger community connections. “Since last summer,” reflected Thomas, “a thoughtful and committed group of faculty and staff has provided support for our students through affirmative and inclusive dialogue and activity.”

Everyone in the school community can learn from listening to one another and becoming genuinely curious about backgrounds and experiences other than their own. Engaging as a community with awareness of our own blindspots and biases makes the school community more fulfilling and supportive for all students. Raising awareness and providing ways to learn the skills of listening, reconsidering stances, and empathizing provides an opening for growth. “The Alexander Dumas theater project and the painting of the Frederick Douglass mural are two intentional creative expressions that furthered conversations about race and invited the involvement of the school community to reflect,” said Thomas.

mural of Frederick Douglass

This mural of Frederick Douglass in the Hunter Arts Building (shown here in progress) was conceived to include as many participants as possible.

Over the summer, attention will turn to planning the following and other activities for next year:

1.   Spoken Word Poetry Night and VOICE

      (Value Others In Connected Expressions)

2.   “Real Talk” Book Club with middle school students 

3.   Chattanooga History Field Trips for middle school students  

4.   Community Mural Painting

5.   Outdoor Adventure and Hiking

6.   Ten Minute Plays and a Theater Project 

7.   Film Production Project 

8.   Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration

A strong and connected community that values individuals, each with their unique identity and background, is a safeguard against any group of students internalizing negative messages of stereotyping, exclusion, or inferiority based on race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual identity, socioeconomic class, or other identities. Building up our community-wide skills of sensitivity, care, and connection helps every boy feel safe, validated, included, and celebrated as full members of the school community. “Collaborating with students to help facilitate positive and meaningful experiences while encouraging the whole community will help us make lasting progress,” says Thomas.


A strong and connected community that values individuals and their identities and background, is a safeguard against any group of students internalizing negative messages of stereotyping, exclusion, or inferiority based on race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual identity, socioeconomic class, or other identities.


Creating opportunities for students to have honest and open dialogue provides a safe and supportive environment for boys to deepen their understanding of themselves and to negotiate their interactions within the larger school community. To this end, McCallie established the Alliance for Belonging, Identity and Brotherhood, which is open to all Upper School students as a forum where they can discuss community and brotherhood at McCallie and share their own stories, perspectives, and challenges as they listen to, love and support one another. The Head’s Council for Diversity, Inclusion, and Brotherhood was also formed this year and meets with Head of School Lee Burns and Assistant Head of School Kenny Sholl to discuss identity-related issues, concerns, and possibilities within the school community.  The long-established Black Student Union continues to be a forum to support students and further strengthen the overall school community.


Adult Role Models For Every Boy

In order for all boys to have adults like them with whom to connect, McCallie is committed to recruiting and retaining diverse individuals who are prepared to support and advance the school’s mission. “Because McCallie has so little turnover, expecting to make significant progress in this goal in the first year is unrealistic,” explains Thomas Hayes ‘88, Dean of Faculty for Recruitment and Human Resources and General Counsel. However, he is pleased with the first year’s work of recruiting and developing leadership in diverse faculty and staff. Changes in the hiring process have been made to effectively communicate the school’s intention to have a more diverse candidate pool, and ultimately faculty and staff members. “I was pleasantly surprised,” he said, “by how much impact simply making a few changes to our recruiting website, the application, and interview process had. I know it is hard to judge from a single recruiting cycle, but the changes we made seemed to make a difference, and we have recruited a more diverse group of faculty and staff for next year.” 

Invaluable insights were gained from conversations with the Black Alumni Steering Committee. “A group of us spent one session walking step-by-step through the hiring process which included a review of job descriptions, the application, and the interview process,” he said. “The Black alumni’s collective experience with race allowed them to share different perspectives and nuanced insights with us. From that one conversation, we gleaned some very helpful and practical advice.” Next, conversations will take place with parents, more alumni, and external organizations to continue to expand thinking around recruiting and developing diversity within our faculty and staff. The hope is to create new procedures, strong new partnerships and networks to regularly ensure a diverse pool of candidates, mentor diverse faculty and staff members for fulfilling careers at McCallie, and develop leadership opportunities for diverse faculty and staff within McCallie. Key strategies in these efforts include developing personal connections with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and, potentially, establishing a fellows program for young teachers.


Providing Mirrors and Windows for Students

Through its academic curriculum and extracurricular offerings, McCallie strives to offer its students materials, information, and experiences that are positively reflective of their identities and culture. This is vital to healthy development. The educational program must also provide a window or frame of cognitive skills and values that students can use to view and explore the ideas and experiences of others. The school’s academic curriculum across all grade levels and disciplines will benefit from more fully including voices and works from individuals that have been historically excluded. 

Keeping a curriculum relevant, current, and impactful requires continuous effort. Critically examining the school’s educational program through the lens of diversity and inclusion provides an opportunity to improve the experience of historically marginalized students. Giving students an opportunity to discover new perspectives based on different cultures and identities is essential to preparing them for the complexity of the world. Chris Carpenter ‘96, in his role as Dean of Student Academics, and Scotty Jones, Middle School Principal, led the year’s efforts to validate the strong parts of the school curriculum and identify opportunities for improvements. Their work was energized as teachers’ understanding of bias and inclusive teaching practices expanded throughout the year. Carpenter explained, “McCallie teachers want to do right by all of our students, and this was reflected in our work. A different way of thinking about what we teach, whom we teach, and why we teach will result in appropriate and beneficial additions to our materials and approaches.” 

Designing an educational program that recognizes and values the many peoples and perspectives in the school community and the world is a challenge that needs to proceed slowly so that the outcomes will not be faddish and will be lasting and that we continue to benefit from the many strengths already in our curriculum. Humanities are a logical place to start introducing various identities, cultures, perspectives and experiences. Encouraging conflicting ideas and points of view is essential to giving students rigorous opportunities to develop their own ideas and arguments. This immersive practice in thinking through complications provides opportunities for open and honest discussion and debate, growth, and overall high quality learning. The year’s look at the curriculum positively introduced conversations about diversity topics and authors as well as how often people of color, women, minorities, and marginalized groups were celebrated or discussed. “I am excited that we are not just ‘talking the talk,’ but are ‘walking the walk’ by digging into the curriculum that our teachers create and having conversations about reaching all students in how we teach," said Scotty Jones. Reflecting a greater diversity of thought and experience deepens analytical skills and prepares students to tackle contemporary questions of inclusion, racism, and social justice.


Engaging and Extending Community

The McCallie community and brotherhood extends beyond current students, faculty, and staff to past and present parents, alumni, and friends of the school, and the Chattanooga community. Bess Steverson, in her role as Director of Development for Special Initiatives, facilitated various conversations and projects within the extended school community throughout the year. Of particular note is the organization of a group of approximately 25 Black alumni from various generations into the Black Alumni Steering Committee. This group has shared their experiences and insights with faculty, administrators, and students throughout the year in insightful, meaningful, and impactful ways. Some of their ongoing discussions center around how to identify mission-appropriate prospective students and faculty of color, best ways to serve as ambassadors to prospective families and students of color, providing speaker and training recommendations, developing Tornado Term and internship opportunities, mentoring current Black students, alumni outreach, and developing funding opportunities around diversity. Their love and commitment to McCallie is impressive and inspiring. While aspects of their time in school were difficult, their overall gratitude for what McCallie provided them has not been deterred. They are passionate about being part of McCallie and bettering the experience of current and future black students. 

Service opportunities and community partnership beyond the gates of McCallie offer the possibility of providing students with hands-on experiences to learn more about other cultures, heritages, communities, life experiences, and perspectives. In turn, demonstrating to the broader Chattanooga community the potential talent and leadership that exists in the young men of McCallie is important as well. A number of upper school students are working with a Community Engagement task force to analyze the demographic, economic, and social make-up of the Ridgedale community where McCallie is located. The goal is to build connections and relationships with the school’s neighbors and to identify useful projects that the boys of McCallie can manage or participate. The first step is for students to collect the stories and history of Ridgedale, culminating in a presentation at the beginning of the school year to interested McCallie students, parents, alumni, and Ridgedale residents. Embodying the practices of researchers, interviewers, analysts, and engaged community citizens develops and prepares students mentally, socially, and emotionally far beyond what a one-off service day can do, and it creates a model for developing interdisciplinary community service projects as part of the curriculum and McCallie educational experience. 


Giving students an opportunity to discover new perspectives based on different cultures is essential to preparing them for the complexity of the world.


How We Treat One Another

McCallie believes every individual is made in God’s image and, therefore, values the inherent dignity of each member of the school community. How we treat one another is how we show respect and communicate that everyone belongs. How we treat one another is how we live our shared values. Though McCallie boys overwhelmingly treat each other with respect and kindness, at the start of the school year, changes were made in the student handbook, called The Blue Book, that specifically addressed racism and harassment based on race, religion, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, or any other form of identity. The handbook statement strongly articulates that derogatory remarks of every type, including on social media or in imagery, dishonor the school’s beliefs about brotherhood and community and will not be tolerated. Having a safe, supportive, and encouraging community that every McCallie boy can rely on encourages healthy identity development which is the central defining task of adolescence. Practicing and promoting responsible behavior and citizenship within the school community by elevating how we treat one another fosters the development of the mindset and skills boys will need throughout their lives in diverse, complex, and multicultural communities, beginning here and now.  


A Strong Start 

The work that McCallie has undertaken begins with each person better understanding themselves, their backgrounds, and their own beliefs. A new awareness gives each person new sensitivities by which they can scrutinize the rest of their work:  their curriculum, teaching, and interactions with students, colleagues, and parents. The process of examining beliefs for dozens of individuals, all at different starting points, and aligning to current day realities is not a small endeavor. There is not one path through this journey. Each person begins his or her own journey and joins with others in the community’s journey. What holds the work together is committed adults vested in doing what is right for the boys they love and serve. What holds us together is McCallie. 

There have been lots of positives this year. In ways consistent with its mission, institutional ethos, and identity, McCallie has named and given light to issues that have not been given public scrutiny before. At schools around the country, challenges of diversity and inclusion ripped the bonds and fabric of community. Not at McCallie. These challenges and conversations have pulled us together and deepened our commitments to community and brotherhood. A clear sense of identity, mission and enduring foundational commitments, along with a deep love for McCallie, have enabled us to move forward together. We will keep moving. We are McCallie. We are all McCallie.