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Celebrating the Inauguration of the Bezan Chair for Community and Inclusion

by Maslen Bode Ward ’16
On December 9, 2022, 140 members of the Winsor community gathered to celebrate the inception of the Bezan Chair for Community and Inclusion and the inaugural chair holder, Julian K. Braxton. The Bezan Chair, a permanently endowed chair that will ensure Winsor’s continued commitment to inclusion and belonging, was made possible by the vision and generosity of Diane and Allan Bezan.
 
In 1975, Diane Bezan began working at Winsor as a part-time math teacher. Soon recognized as one of the school’s most talented educators, Ms. Bezan became a full-time teacher, as well as a Class VI Discussion and Choices leader. Ms. Bezan was a member of the search committee that chose Carolyn McClintock Peter as Winsor’s 6th Head of School, and soon after Ms. Peter started at Winsor, she saw Ms. Bezan’s potential and named her head of Upper School. Ms. Bezan later became the associate director of the school, and in 2000, she was awarded the Virginia Wing Outstanding Teacher Award. After 30 devoted years at Winsor, Ms. Bezan stepped down due to health reasons in 2005. She passed away on January 15, 2007.
 
In 2011, Diane Bezan’s beloved husband Allan shared, “Planning for Winsor’s support seems the most natural thing to do — a way of giving back and enriching as many lives as I can. Winsor is special! To be part of Winsor’s success in any way, no matter how small, is a reward in itself and I hope honors the memory of my dear wife.” The Bezan Chair for Community and Inclusion will honor Allan and Diane Bezan’s love of Winsor and Diane’s long-standing commitment to transforming Winsor into a community of inclusion and belonging.
 
In her 1998 Upper School report, Ms. Bezan wrote, “As we work to create an inclusive community, we renew our commitment to build and support a diverse school. … The faculty needs to reflect the broader community in order to embrace the true richness of diversity.” She wrote these words one year before she recruited Julian Braxton to Winsor. Mr. Braxton began his career at Winsor as a history teacher, and he and Ms. Bezan worked together for many years. Together, they were on the small subcommittee that authored Winsor’s Principles of Diversity in 2003. The next year, Mr. Braxton was named as Winsor’s second Director of Diversity.
 
During the ceremony celebrating the inauguration of the Bezan Chair, Mr. Braxton recounted the story of how Ms. Bezan convinced him to give Winsor a chance when they met at a career fair. Julian shared, “[Ms. Bezan] had me sold pretty much, then she said, ‘It’s an all-girls school,’ and I started to walk away ... and she followed me. She said, ‘Julian, just come visit,’ and I came to visit the next week. That was in 1999, and I’ve been here ever since.” He recalled finding the community Ms. Bezan described, “full of love, passion, and grace.”
 
As his former student, I found it interesting to learn Julian initially walked away upon hearing that Winsor was an all-girls school, because to me, he embodies the ethos of all-girls’ education. His classroom is a space for students to learn to trust their own thoughts and to engage in dialogue without apologizing for taking up space. Julian is an incredible listener who models what true listening means: remaining open to the possibility of transforming one’s core beliefs.
 
In her remarks, Head of School Sarah Pelmas quoted faculty member Valentina Paez, who talked about how Mr. Braxton’s “rare ability to empathize with everyone — and I mean everyone” brings students, faculty, staff, and alums alike flocking to his office for a “chat.” Not only does Mr. Braxton welcome others into his office, but he also asks us questions, listens to us, transforms his beliefs through dialogue, and shares those moments of transformation — ensuring each person who walks into his office knows they belong at Winsor.
 
At the end of the inaugural celebration, for the first time ever, former Heads of School Carolyn McClintock Peter, Rachel Friis Stettler, and current Head of School Sarah Pelmas took the stage to discuss the arc of DEI work at Winsor throughout the decades. Mr. Braxton moderated the panel as Ms. Peter, Ms. Stettler, and Ms. Pelmas discussed their collective vision over the years into transforming Winsor into a more equitable and inclusive community. During the discussion, Mr. Braxton shared how his title has evolved over the years, from Director of Diversity to Director of Community and Multicultural Affairs and now as the Director of Community and Inclusion. Mr. Braxton joked he’ll “probably have a proposal for another one soon,” yet even the transformation of this title demonstrates how Julian, and Winsor, are constantly learning and growing. Mr. Braxton said, “At the core of all three titles, it’s really about belonging.”
 
When Ms. Bezan recruited Mr. Braxton to Winsor almost 25 years ago, she had a vision for a more diverse and inclusive Winsor, one where everyone felt as though they belonged. It is thanks to Diane and Allan Bezan’s generosity that Winsor will permanently support the position of Director of Community and Inclusion, and it is thanks to Ms. Bezan’s vision for what Winsor could be that Julian Braxton came to work at Winsor decades ago. There is no better person, educator, or friend than Julian Braxton to hold the inaugural Bezan Chair for Community and Inclusion, to honor Diane Bezan’s legacy.
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