Race and Diversity in Jesuit Schools

Hurtado Scholar By Peter A. Musso, EdD

In a recent, monthly conference call, leaders of the province’s secondary and pre-secondary schools discussed diversity, racial inclusion and other matters of race.

The hour-long conversation is a regular meeting of the diversity, equity and inclusion directors of USA Central and Southern Province’s secondary schools.

Among their questions were:

  • If a school has a diversity director, does that mean the school environment is inclusive and conveys equity and diversity?  
  • Is there a comprehensive approach to managing issues of race, diversity, equity and inclusion? Is there a team within the school working to educate the adult community (and school stakeholders) on the importance and relevance of the work? 
  • Do the faculty and staff of province schools know how to work with and guide students of color, especially when it comes to the admissions and financial aid processes (both for high school and college)?
  • While working toward a more diverse student body, what are school admissions standards when it comes to academic qualifications? Are schools prepared to educate all students they accept? 

    A recent province document known as Three Calls says that Jesuits and their lay associates are called to the service of faith and promotion of justice as well as “apostolic agility,” reconciliation and advocacy of people on the margins. 

    Heightening awareness of these calls is one of the aims of the monthly conversations on diversity and inclusion. 

    How does the province creatively live this today in its pre-secondary and secondary schools? Each school develops its own approach through targeted services and programs. 

    Targeted Services 

    Loyola Academy of St. Louis aims to end the cycle of poverty through education. A Jesuit-sponsored middle school, Loyola serves families at or below the poverty level. Most of its students identify as African American. All go on to high school.

    El Williams
    El Williams, director of graduate support, Loyola Academy, St. Louis

    Elbert “El” Williams, the school’s director of graduate support, defines success more broadly. A 2003 graduate of Loyola Academy – wise for his age – Williams looks for ways to serve Loyola families so they can serve others in the future. 

    Williams said Loyola students and alumni face both environmental and financial challenges. 

    “For our graduates, going from a small, structured and highly supportive environment with peers who look like them and have similar backgrounds to schools where our students are the minority in terms of both race and socio-economic status is tough,” he said. “All the while, our families negotiate financial expenses for their sons that other students in private high schools take for granted, such as paying for lunch, paying for school fees, paying for technology and books – it’s a struggle.” 

    He notes, though, that Loyola students who attend high schools such as De Smet Jesuit and St. Louis University High School generally acclimate to high school more quickly, because of relationships among the Jesuit-sponsored institutions. Each of the schools is dedicated to working hard to meet student needs and live the Jesuit mission. 

    Williams’ work doesn’t stop when Loyola’s students graduate. He advocates for them along their path into high school, during high school, and well after high school – on to college. 

    “We tell incoming Loyola families that ours is a seven-year program: three years in middle school and four in high school.” 

    Students at Loyola Academy

    Two years in, William’s job has already evolved: while he works with Loyola Academy’s admissions process and financial aid, he also works closely with local Catholic high schools. He mentors eighth-grade students at Loyola, preparing them to apply to the high school that fits their needs, and he communicates with families and high school admissions offices. “I do a lot of traveling to the various college prep high schools and act as both an advocate for Loyola Academy alumni and an ambassador for the middle school.” 

    He communicates regularly with high school diversity programs, as well as school counselors and Loyola grads in high school, “making sure Loyola alumni are as successful as they can be at the college prep level and performing and graduating at rates comparable to those non-Loyola alums in area high schools.” 

    There is still a lot of work to be done at Loyola, he adds, “like educating area high schools about college access programs that many area school districts already have in place to help students.” He admits that it is a continuous effort to help Loyola grads with their journey to college and success beyond high school.

    Targeted Programming

    The first class of Hurtado Scholars at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Mo., are freshmen this academic year, and they are doing well. A few years ago, Rockhurst launched the Hurtado Scholars program as a way of diversifying its student body. Fifth-grade boys from Kansas City urban schools got a leg up on academics and social experiences through a summer program at Rockhurst. When they entered high school last fall, they had a smooth transition. 

    Hurtado Scholars is a middle school mentoring program offering college preparatory education and preparation to those for whom it might not be otherwise possible. It was founded by Fr. William Sheahan, SJ, in collaboration with Principal Greg Harkness and Fr. Terry Baum, SJ, school president. Hurtado Scholars partners with Kansas City diocesan grade schools.

    These students typically come from challenging economic situations with annual household incomes of less than $16,000. Nearly 90 percent of the students receive free and reduced lunch, 25 percent have special needs, and 43 percent are English-language learners.

        Hurtado Scholars at Rockhurst High School, Kansas City, Mo.
    The first class of Hurtado Scholars are now all freshman at Rockhurst High School, Kansas City, Mo. 

    The program is named for Alberto Hurtado, SJ, a Chilean saint who worked in the mid-20th century in Santiago, Chile. Among his many ministries, he worked with homeless youth and started the Hogar de Cristo there. 

    The Hurtado Scholars program seeks young men beginning the summer of their fifth-grade year who show academic potential but for whom a Rockhurst High School education may be difficult. 

    Marvin Grilliot, program director, says, “Most of the young men we accept would be the first in their families to attend college, many are from immigrant families, and many have financial challenges, but all of them demonstrate a commitment to Catholic education.”

    The after-school program, housed at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, gives students access to a college campus. In addition to helping students strengthen their academic and study skills, Hurtado Scholars helps student leaders grow spiritually and socially. 

    Looking to the future, Grilliot “hopes that the scholars become mentors for future scholars and that they graduate, enroll, and complete college – to become conscientious leaders in their communities.” 

    Still More to be Done

    In addition to targeted services and programming, province schools collaborate with other provinces, in the spirit of continuous reflection of best practices. 

    In October, the province’s High School Leadership Group met at Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston. In her keynote speech, St. Louis University High School faculty member Danielle Harrison challenged school leaders to understand their own biases when it comes to race and inclusion in Jesuit schools. “Where do we see God and where do we fail to recognize God?” she asked. 

    Students at Loyola Academy
    Students at Loyola Academy, St. Louis, Mo.
    In the spring of 2015, half of all participants at the North American Diversity Directors Cohort Gathering in Philadelphia were from the Central and Southern Province. Since then, the province has instituted a support system for province secondary school leaders. 

    Every month, the group meets by conference call to discuss such topics as defining common language, examining school structures of inclusion and diversity, exploring Jesuit mission, examining student experiences and the roles of faculty, and creating safe communities.

    This spring, the province will partner with schools from the Chicago-Detroit and Wisconsin Provinces of Jesuits for a gathering of directors of admissions, diversity and graduate support, to explore ways to serve students better. 

    Finally, the province is working with school leaders and diversity directors around the country to consider adapting for Jesuit schools national guidelines on inclusivity and multiculturalism.

    It would help schools track awareness of issues of race, diversity, equity and inclusion, establish baseline data, and measure growth over time. 

    The province and the schools’ work is just beginning. During that recent conference call with diversity, equity and inclusion directors, specific challenges called educators to continue to reflect, act and evaluate:

    • How are province schools acknowledging shortcomings, both contemporary and historical, when it comes to race and culture?
    • How do schools commit to improving and celebrating diversity, while addressing the racism that many students of color and their families experience daily? 
    • How do province schools form students to address structural racism in their communities?
    • Is racism – and the history of racism in the U.S. – adequately and accurately covered in school curricula?

    Peter Musso is the USA Central and Southern Province’s director of school support. School leaders Elbert Williams and Marvin Grilliot contributed to this article.


    Ignatian Spirituality Center
    The Ignatian Spirituality Center of Kansas City gives, fosters, and witnesses to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola by giving the Spiritual Exercises in various forms, offering ongoing formation in Ignatian spirituality and discernment, and training prayer guides to give the Spiritual Exercises.