Marist: Teacher who gave controversial reflection not returning

With reference to racism, teacher Cathy Harmon-Christian triggered wrenching discussion that still reverberates

Several people reached out to me Monday morning after the Marist School announced in an email that teacher Cathy Harmon-Christian was not returning to the school. She was placed on leave in November and has apparently been in ongoing discussion about whether she would return.

Marist confirmed today the teacher will not be returning. Supporters say she wanted to remain at Marist, but the school made that impossible.

I asked for a statement from Marist on that allegation and received this from school president Rev. William Rowland today:

Dr. Cathy Harmon-Christian will not be returning to Marist School.

We are grateful for her service to Marist and its students, and we wish her the best in her future pursuits.

Harmon-Christian was the theology teacher who set off a firestorm in the fall with a morning reflection and prayer where she referenced an alleged racial incident. That led Marist to place her on leave, saying her reflection was well-intentioned, but “publicly embarrassed” students, something Marist faculty are not supposed to do.

Harmon-Christian’s attorney Raeburn Josey said he was surprised Marist announced she was not returning as they have been in negotiations with the school with hopes of her being able to return to the classroom.

“We are now negotiating with them to try and create some sort of win both for Dr. Harmon-Christian and Marist,” said Josey. However, Josey said it’s unlikely she’d be back at Marist at this point. And that’s a shame, he said, since Marist has committed to improving diversity and inclusion to “try and mend the wounds that Dr. Harmon-Christian’s reflection revealed.”

African American graduates contacted me at the time to express dismay over the school’s repudiation of the teacher for her words. Those grads formed Marist Graduates of Color, and, within days, had 60 members, all of whom supported Harmon-Christian.

My column on their concerns set off another firestorm with upset white Marist parents contending there were no racial issues, that I was listening to extremists who saw racism where none existed.

I talked to more than two dozen parents, alums and  students of color who disagreed and said their experiences and voices had long been discounted at the elite private school.  They said Harmon-Christian had exposed racial fault lines at the school.

“When I read her prayer, I had trouble seeing where she said something that was out of line,” said Thomas Vance, a 2017 grad and debate star now at the University of Michigan.

Marist held a meeting with African American families that led Marist President Rowland to then release this statement:

Recent incidents have brought to light concerns about a lack of racial sensitivity within our school community. At Marist School, we are heartbroken because creating a community of inclusion that respects race is very important to us. Inclusiveness is a core Marist value that we strive to live by every day.

Although we have been taking steps toward creating a diverse and inclusive campus, it is sobering and disappointing to realize we have a long way to go to achieve this goal.

“I was hopeful to get her back creating safe spaces for children of color and LGBT students at Marist. Having her back would have been a boon to Marist in its new eyes-wide-open approach to diversity and inclusion,’’ said Josey. “For some reason, I believe there was a constituency at Marist that put pressure on Kevin Mullally {principal of Marist} and Father Rowland to not bring her back.’’

Once the negotiations with Marist are complete, Josey said Harmon-Christian would speak out about the saga. Given how tight-lipped Marist has been over the incident and the fallout, would the school insist on a non-disclosure agreement from Harmon-Christian?

“I am negotiating those issues right now,” said Josey. “I hope the answer will be ‘no.’”