NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — As topics like racism, inequality, and discrimination lead conversations around the country, alumni at a Nashville catholic high school are asking for changes in curriculum and even a name change.
“For me, specifically it was jokes about how the landscaper was my cousin and I should go make sure he was doing a good job for my family,” Matthew Benenson Cruz told News 2.
Benenson Cruz graduated from Father Ryan High School in 2009. After recent events, including the death of George Floyd, he says he began to reflect on his high school days.
“I think that there is a lot of value from the education that I received that, but I think this aspect was a big blind spot, for me,” he explained. “As I went into college, as I went into my adult life, I did not feel like I was well prepared at all to understand the complexities of racism in America.”
The school’s been through a lot of changes, opening in 1925 as ‘Nashville Catholic School for Boys’ — an all-white school, then desegregating after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
It was renamed Father Ryan in 1928, after Abram Ryan, a Confederate chaplain and newspaper editor. According to historians, Ryan decried equality for African Americans.
“Words matter, names matter, the power that you give them matters, and, to continue, for the school to espouse the ideals that it does, I think it’s important that it also acknowledges the history of the person that it’s named after,” Cruz said.
He and several other alumni are asking the school to make changes in curriculum to teach more diversity and inclusion, and, ultimately one day, a name change.
“There’s nothing at least, as far as we can tell, to suggest that there’s any sort of active aspect of Father Ryan in the classroom or out, to combat the discrimination or racism that exists,” he said.
The Diocese of Nashville runs the school.
“We’ve been aware of comments from alumni groups from both of our high schools, and that’s just led us into this process to take a look at all areas of the high school experience,” said Rick Musacchio, the director of communications, for the Diocese of Nashville. “We have a nationally recognized consultant who deals with issues of inclusion, diversity, and racism, and he’s going to guide us through this process to take a comprehensive look around inclusion and racial interactions in our schools.”
“If I can be at all a part of shaping the life of future students, so that they get to have all the good things I did while still, at the very least, having a better understanding of racism in their community and in this country, that would be great,” Cruz said.
Musacchio said they are in the establishing stages of bringing in a consultant to review diversity and inclusion, as well as foster discussions in both of their high schools. The Diocese issued a letter to the public, as well.
Polls on the alumni Facebook page, where the discussions began, showed the majority of alumni were not in favor of a name change. Many of the comments regarding diversity on the page have been removed by administrators who say the page is not a place for opinions.
Father Ryan also issued a letter to the public.