Faculty Profile: David Blue

Faculty Profile: David Blue
Providing a rigorous education rooted in equity, collaboration, and a Catholic worldview is core to Central Catholic’s mission. We are guided by our Catholic identity and faith to live out this mission and engage our students in equity and collaboration. At the center of our guiding principles is the embrace of Catholic Social teachings, which implore us to protect all human dignity and rights. Throughout Central Catholic’s 80-year history, our community has worked to actively live out our faith and be advocates for others. In recent years, however, Central Catholic has taken a more dynamic role in working to improve and amplify diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within our community, and make explicit that this work is for, and involves, everyone. Vital to this work and momentous growth has been the efforts of David Blue, Central Catholic’s first Diversity and Inclusion Director. He has helped develop our community into one that takes an active role in addressing and working towards diversity, equity, and inclusion.

David’s ties to Central Catholic stem not far from 24th and Stark. He was raised in SE Portland and attended school across the river, part of the last all-boy class at Jesuit High School. He graduated from Jesuit in 1993, got married, and moved to Northern California to attend William Jessup University, where he enjoyed a successful collegiate basketball career and earned a bachelor degree in Business Management. He remained in Northern California until 2008, when David and his family moved back to Portland and he began working in youth advocacy. Shortly after his return, he accepted a position as the assistant boys basketball coach at Jesuit.

Around that same time, Jesuit High School and the Jesuit Schools Network were starting conversations about diversity and inclusion and increasing their initiatives within the school. After some restructuring internally, Jesuit’s Diversity Director position opened up. David was encouraged to apply for the position, even though he never considered working in this type of role. “I don’t know who ever thinks they’re going to be a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Director at a young age,” he says. But his family, who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama in the 60s, the height of the Civil Rights era, as well as his Catholic education, helped to instill in him a sense of empathy for marginalized groups of any community. “I always wanted to make an impact on society,” he says. His background and desire to help others led David to apply, and he was selected and hired for the position.

David immediately became immersed in the work, going to diversity conferences and being an active member of the network of diversity directors. He also began collaborating with other area high schools, including Central Catholic, and invited them to join the events and conversations in which they were participating. Central Catholic did not have this type of programming at that time, and David became a resource to the administration and built relationships with school staff. Throughout this process, David started to learn about the intersectionality of Catholic Social teachings and DEI work. His eventual long-term work in DEI within a Catholic setting was beginning to take shape.

David’s relationship with Central Catholic spurred his interest in a head coaching position that opened up for the Rams boys’ basketball team in 2015. However, basketball was a hobby for David and this was only a part-time position. Central Catholic’s administration looked inwardly to see where David’s talents and expertise could be utilized full-time. The administration and Board of Directors recognized there was always a need for work in diversity and inclusion, and Central Catholic is diverse, especially amongst demographics that are under-represented in Catholic communities. Acknowledging that need, school leaders took a leap of faith and created the position of Director of Diversity and Inclusion. David took that leap of faith with them and made the difficult decision to leave Jesuit High School. Although it was a tough decision, David was excited about the new opportunity. “I saw myself in Central Catholic’s demographics,” he recalls. “I saw the opportunity to really make an impact within the community and come in on the ground floor and create something that was impactful.”

David joined the community a couple months into the 2015 school year, and right away began building relationships and having meaningful conversations with students, teachers, and families. Central Catholic had never had someone working specifically in diversity and inclusion, and so it was critical for the school community to understand why DEI work was important. David shares, “The work promotes learning and helps students to prepare for a diverse society, understand the people they interact with, and learn different perspectives.” This preparedness takes place when people are exposed to diverse populations, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints. As Central Catholic’s community is diverse and the students come from a wide range of backgrounds, this work becomes even more vital. “It’s so important for us to be able to make sure that we open our eyes and lens to the experiences of all our students...and for our students to feel valued and appreciated for who they are authentically,” he adds.

In conjunction with continuous relationship-building, David immediately jumped on opportunities to engage in diversity conferences and build student leadership teams. The first year he also focused on putting the infrastructure of DEI work in place, which included professional development. He had conversations with faculty and staff, asking them what their visions and hopes were for DEI work moving forward, as well as identifying opportunities for growth for their students. “We have a lot of faculty and staff who are great allies and accomplices in the work,” David says. “We really challenged a lot of narratives and had positive, but difficult conversations.” Although the first couple of years weren’t always easy, he set in motion the work of DEI for the entire school community. It is vital to the mission of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion that it serves all members of the school community. David makes clear that DEI work involves everyone. “It’s not just about helping marginalized communities accommodate to the school. That’s not what the goal is,” he reiterates. The intention is to educate the entire community and provide opportunities to be engaged and learn, not just about race, but about all difficult conversations of social justice and advocacy.

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion has many goals that serve various facets of the school. For the student body, David explains, “Our goals are to empower our students to be open, to listen, learn, provide a safe environment for their peers and one another, and celebrate individuals for who they are.” These goals can largely be achieved through programming, which is the foundation for DEI work. “It’s what sustains everything,” David says. “You can bring students of color from varying backgrounds into the school, but if there are no programs for the students to be advocated for, no resources for them to be successful and have a place and voice at the table, then it’s not sustainable.” Many of the goals have been centered around creating programs for all students to have access to a Catholic education that is inclusive and celebrates each one of them.

One successful program David brought to the school was the Brown Bag Character Conversations. These conversations are led by students and they focus on pertinent issues of social justice. Everyone is encouraged to attend, and over 100 participants show up to listen and be engaged for each event. These opportunities have also been an integral part of empowering students on campus, especially students in different affinity groups, who have taken a more active role in leading the conversations. David explains, “These conversations empower students who normally wouldn’t feel like they had a voice within our community.”

Character Conversations also offer a space where students can be their authentic selves and respect one another, even if they disagree on issues. “Conflict and discomfort are our opportunities for growth,” David says, and these difficult topics are important to delve into, as it provides steps to work towards change. “It’s really important to educate about systemic racism and systemic oppression, because you have to understand what the system is in order to dismantle it,” he explains. Having discussions about topics such as cultural competency, bigotry, microaggressions, and cultural appropriation will help students, teachers, and staff to respect one another and be better members of the community and society as a whole.

As a result of David’s vision and initiatives, and with school administration being fully on board, Central Catholic has had some incredibly successful events. One of the first major events was hosting an Equality Alliance Symposium on campus in 2016. This event invited Catholic and private high schools in the Portland area to come together and have conversations about the barriers and struggles that the LBGTQ+ community experiences. This event created safe spaces, advocated for, and celebrated the human dignity of all students. “We received the Oregon Safe Schools Award for that symposium,” David shares. “For our administration, that was a great accolade and honor to have been recognized for.”

Another successful program David helped bring to the school was an all-school human dignity summit called Central State of Mind. Central Catholic hosted its first summit in January 2020, which had two keynote speakers and more than 30 breakout sessions that explored issues of justice. “That had been a vision of mine for more than eight years, to have an entire day where all students are engaged in civic, social justice, diversity, and inclusion conversations,” David shares. The response from the school community was overwhelmingly positive. “I think it inspired a lot of conversation, and I look forward to what it does in the coming years,” he adds. 

Over the past few years, the work in DEI has permeated school and academic systems, establishing a more equitable environment for Central Catholic’s diverse community. The administration has implemented a model of grading for equity and has worked towards an equitable learning environment. The goal is to meet the needs of all students, while still challenging them academically. This takes into account student’s various resources, such as access to technology, a quiet space to do homework, or even commute time getting to and from school. Central Catholic also considered a student’s circumstances when forming its tardiness policy. Recognizing that some students may have to take public transportation, while others have their own car, can impact their ability to get to school on time. Understanding these different circumstances helps to create a more equitable environment, and not punish those who do not have access to the same resources.

This DEI lens has also been embedded in the culture and demographics of the school community. At the start of the 2020-2021 school year, the administration added a new anti-racist policy to the handbook that stated the community will work to be actively anti-racist. This past summer, Central Catholic also hired new faculty and staff members, many of whom are individuals of color. This inclusivity in hiring has been more than five years in the making and a result of the work of inclusivity that permeates all aspects of the school. “Over the past several years, we’ve been able to create a culture where BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and persons of color] professionals actually feel like they can see themselves working, thriving, and celebrated in a Catholic school,” David explains.

David has been instrumental in implementing DEI work within Central Catholic over the past several years. Not only has he spearheaded and pushed many initiatives, he has also instilled a sense of responsibility amongst all members of the community. The work of creating a diverse and equitable system is not possible unless all members of the community work to accomplish it. When that happens, Central Catholic is able to live out its mission and embrace Catholic Social teachings. “We want to help build and mold students who will go out to a global society and live out the gospel. That is rooted in our mission as a Catholic institution,” David explains. “And so our goal is to listen and validate the diversity of opinions, thoughts, and choices. All of those things are embedded in human dignity.” David’s work within the school has helped Central Catholic more clearly live out its mission and shape our students to be integral members of society that supports, lifts up, and advocates for all human dignity.