Harpeth Hall remains an all-girls school as gender questions arise | Opinion

·4 min read

All-girls schools have never been more important.

For more than 155 years, Harpeth Hall has been an all-girls school. That will not change.

In a world that continues to serve up a double standard and uneven playing field for women, girls still face challenges in maintaining respect and obtaining equal opportunities. Harpeth Hall has always been focused on giving girls the foundation they need to rise to these challenges successfully.

In 1865, when Harpeth Hall’s predecessor school Ward Seminary opened in Nashville, it was decades before women had the right to vote.

At that time, providing a girl an equal educational experience to what any young man would experience was a radical idea. Centuries later, the idea of an all-girls education is just as important. Harpeth Hall’s mission remains relevant and vital today as female students confront new obstacles in our increasingly complicated modern culture.

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Read this: Harpeth Hall reiterates focus on girls, will handle gender diversity admissions case-by-case

The conversation on gender expression is evolving

In recent years, the evolution of self-expression has had implications for our understanding of gender.

Harpeth Hall is an all-girls school in Nashville. According to the Head Jess Hill: "Girls are at the center of Harpeth Hall's work, and they always will be. We are leading a national conversation on the place for girls in an ever-evolving world."
Harpeth Hall is an all-girls school in Nashville. According to the Head Jess Hill: "Girls are at the center of Harpeth Hall's work, and they always will be. We are leading a national conversation on the place for girls in an ever-evolving world."

Conversations about gender expectations and gender expression are happening in Nashville and across the country — at schools both public and private, from elementary through college. Throughout these conversations, and especially in the midst of societal change, students deserve respect and the opportunity to develop their unique sense of self in a safe environment.

To that end, for the last 18 months, Harpeth Hall’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and Board of Trustees collaborated to create a philosophy that provides greater clarity and transparency around gender identity at our all-girls school.

The conversation was not easy. Collectively, the two leadership groups are composed of diversity of all types, including race, religion, political affiliation, gender, and age.

Two fundamental truths about where we are

As individuals, the committee members — parents, alumnae, and school and community leaders — each approached the discussion with their own personal viewpoints and understanding of gender identity and engaged in open inquiry and respectful debate.

After employing the same discourse skills that we teach Harpeth Hall students, the committee and the board agreed on two fundamental truths:

  1. Harpeth Hall is an all-girls school. That will not change. Harpeth Hall’s longstanding admission practice requiring that each student’s family check a box when applying to the school indicating that the student is female will not change. Students who join and remain at Harpeth Hall do so because our mission as a school for girls resonates with them.

  2. Harpeth Hall will continue to approach gender identity with understanding and open communication and provide a safe environment to partner with each student and family to consider the needs and requests of the student on an individual basis within the context of our all-girls school — just as we do with all personal matters.

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We embrace diversity and open dialogue

In June, at the DEI Committee’s recommendation, the Harpeth Hall Board of Trustees affirmed the school’s ongoing commitment to the intellectual growth of girls and young women by adopting a gender philosophy statement.

Our philosophy affirms the history, mission, and presence of Harpeth Hall as an all-girls school while reflecting the fundamental principles of inclusion and belonging upheld by the school. We recognize that conversations about gender identity are new for many of us.

Our students, faculty, parents, and alumnae continue to ask good and important questions. We are a school that embraces a diversity of viewpoints and encourages open dialogue. We will continue to engage in conversation with our entire school community. That is who Harpeth Hall is and, I believe, why people love it – we are focused on excellence always, and that includes how we engage and communicate with the people who matter to us.

We remain committed to the education of girls

Girls are at the center of our school’s work, and they always will be.

Having educated girls and young women for generations, we unequivocally know that when girls feel they are taken seriously they come to school each day ready to engage and they feel confident in who they are and who they want to become.

Harpeth Hall alumnae affirm this truth as they share with us their experiences in college and the professional world after graduating from our all-girls school. We uplift the female voice and perspective. We want our girls to have the confidence to walk into any room — classroom, conference room, and boardroom — and be a leader.

We believe that through our intentional and thoughtful communication about gender identity, Harpeth Hall leads the national conversation with our commitment to preserve a place for girls within a world that is ever-evolving on this topic. It is our hope that universally girls will soon be given the respect and opportunities they deserve, just as our founders envisioned more than 155 years ago.

Jess Hill is Harpeth Hall's head of school

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Harpeth Hall remains an all-girls school as gender questions arise