1 February 2021
I was delighted that last week, even in the midst of our current lockdown, the Head Girl’s Team ran a very successful first ever ‘Calne Cultural Week’ – many congratulations to them and to all who took part and helped to facilitate it. We had morning chapels and other events focusing on a range of different issues, ideas and traditions, from the importance of learning different languages and the role of music in different cultures (and how that has influenced the Western tradition), through to what can be learnt and must never be forgotten from historical tragedies like the Holocaust and more recent genocides. Ras Benji, a Rastafari historian, spoke to us about social justice, his own background and family history, and the history of the fight for freedom and independence in Ethiopia.
The overall aim of the week was a simple one: to ‘celebrate our human diversity and instil a global outlook’. It was primarily about awareness raising among the girls, including their awareness of the different histories and traditions within our international school community, and in that way it also reinforced the importance of what girls are taught about living as part of such a community when they join the school.
One of the privileges – and responsibilities – of being involved in education generally is, with every new group of students, having the chance to provide formative experiences and opportunities in many aspects of life. At St Mary’s we take that responsibility particularly seriously when it comes to culture, diversity and inclusion, and we base our approach on a positive and balanced form of multiculturalism, which values the differences between people while also emphasising the need for common ground between them. Our key values aim to capture that common ground and one of these is to foster a learning environment which is characterised by warmth and openness, providing a nurturing and supportive learning environment for every girl, whatever her background – all of course with the overarching values of being a Church of England Foundation.
Global events continue to show on a large scale how challenging and painful it is to strike the right balance in a multicultural world. While US politics has returned much closer to ‘normal’ since the inauguration of President Biden, the underlying inequalities and lack of social justice that led to the events of summer 2020 have been there for many years and have clearly not gone away. It was only back in 2019 that Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric had his supporters chanting ‘send them back’ about a group of four Members of Congress, all of them women of colour. That disgraceful incident came back to me very strongly when, in one part of Ras Benji’s talk, he recounted his own childhood experiences of being told on the street in the UK to ‘go home’ or ‘go back to his country’.
The first Calne Cultural Week has been a really positive opportunity for us to value differences while also emphasising the common culture that we all share within the school. I very much hope that the girls who took part in and attended the events of the week will build on what they learnt and think more broadly and deeply about the complexities and sensitivities of the issues they discussed in their daily lives over the years to come.
Dr Felicia Kirk, Headmistress, St Mary’s Calne