MERRILLVILLE — Andrean High School celebrated its diversity last week by stressing the school's mission of fostering positive ideals in the wake of some racially related incidents in recent years.
The event was for the school's Formation Day for February.
Racist graffiti specifically targeting black students and a swastika drawing were found on the boys bathroom walls two years ago. Then in February 2016, during a basketball game between Andrean and Catholic-school rival Bishop Noll Institute, in Hammond, students from both schools engaged in racially charged chants, upsetting parents and some students.
Fast-forward to last week, when the school focused on diversity and unity.
One group of the school's 450 students took a day trip to Chicago to visit four museums including the DuSable Museum of African American History and the Civil Rights Heritage Center, and about 100 stayed at school for a retreat.
They listened to a presentation by James Wallace, director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Cultural Affairs at Indiana University Northwest. Then they divided into groups to talk about community, solidarity, inclusion and empathy.
Wallace held the students' attention as he addressed the school's Catholic mission.
"Andrean's mission statement tells you the purpose of this institution and why you are here," he said.
"Reading from the mission statement, it says it seeks to develop its students' awareness of the ideals by which our country was founded and a desire to safeguard and promote those ideals such as truth, justice and human rights, not only in the U.S. but throughout the world."
Andrean Dean Jaycob Knazur said, "Focusing on diversity was a request from our student diversity committee, and it's connected to Black History Month and our greater Catholic mission."
He said the school's Formation Days are about the school's mission of dedication to faith, learning, leadership and service.
Freshmen Aliayah Robinson and Dorian Harris both said they needed to hear a speaker like Wallace.
Harris said the new class of freshmen has made the school even more diverse than it was.
"I think they did a good job of putting this program together. I had heard about the things that happened over the last couple of years," Harris said.
"It's good to have someone who is experienced talk to us about these things. Everyone just wants to be treated equally. You can disagree on some things, but just treat everyone equally. Having programs like this is a step in the right direction," he said.
Junior Taylor Menke and senior Peter Galanos also enjoyed the presentation and said it was food for thought for the conversations on diversity with one another.
Menke said, "This is new and I think it's going to help the school a lot in understanding each other. We need to have more of these meetings to keep people informed and break barriers."
Galanos said it's also a great way to get everyone involved.
"It pulls it all together and gives us common ground," he said. "It's a great, new initiative. We've had our issues in the past. It brings diversity into our community and people will not feel isolated. The school needs to get people involved and make sure that everyone feels appreciated."
In 2017, Andrean High School administrators met with the Anti-Defamation League of Chicago to assist with growing concerns about possible racism at the school, and this week's program was a result of that.