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Four years ago, Winchester Thurston hired its first Director of Equity and Inclusion to develop and implement school-wide structures that have become more deeply rooted with each passing year. Today, WT expands the work by engaging The Glasgow Group, noted experts in the field.

“The opportunity to have external consultants push us in this work is important,” states Assistant Head for Education and Strategy Adam Nye. “They come with a fresh set of eyes, as a neutral third party. I look forward to The Glasgow Group helping us to confront the challenges and obstacles that have held us back.”

The decision to involve an external consultant was precipitated by the departure of Director of Equity and Inclusion Diane Nichols, and informed by feedback from WT alumnae/i of color after the murder of George Floyd.

“Hearing from our alums of color really let us know that we needed to have an outside group that could take a look and be honest and objective with us as we work toward our goals,” says Head of School Dr. Scott D. Fech. “Diane left us with a strong infrastructure, and we wanted support as we continue our work and while we look for her successor.” The alums helped determine priorities for The Glasgow Group’s agenda, says Fech. “Listening to stories from both alums and current students, and hearing where we’re not serving students of color as well as the call for improvement, helped us identify places where we know there’s work to be done: Are our Handbooks reflective of inclusive practices or are they holdovers from a prior age? Does the curriculum provide mirrors to what students are doing in the classroom? And, are we doing the kinds of employee training that is needed to become an anti-racist community?”

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Assessment

It is The Glasgow Group’s mission to find answers to these questions. The consortium of consultants is helmed by President and Principal Consultant Dr. Rodney Glasgow. “Our deep connection to schools allows us to keep our finger on the pulse of school climate and culture,” asserts Glasgow. “This context will inform our assessment and recommendations for WT. We will take a fresh look through key documents, core policies, practices, and procedures, as well as conduct various focus groups to interrogate the lived experiences of the school.”

Feedback will also come from surveys, adds Nye, noting that the data-driven work will involve the full WT community and result in an actionable plan. “It would be impossible to engage in this work and to transform our community if we do not listen to, and honor, the lived experiences of every constituent—despite the discomfort that will accompany this work.”

The photos in this article show a range of experiences throughout the curriculum that bring diversity, equity, and inclusion front and center at WT. Please note that these photos were taken prior to the pandemic.

Focal Points of Growth

Newly-appointed Director of Academics Desiree Jennings oversees diversity, equity, and inclusion from a curricular standpoint. As such, she is responsible for documenting and refining WT’s curriculum.

Jennings believes that teaching is, itself, “diversity, equity, and inclusion work, and that curriculum and instruction are critical vehicles for pushing that work forward and holding it back, to varying extents…depending on our commitments to the work, both as individuals and as an institution.”

The Glasgow Group will assess WT’s curriculum to identify how the diversity of WT’s student community is reflected through what is taught, and how. “We will look for where and how skills such as empathy-based inquiry, honoring varying viewpoints, and identifying opportunities for social action exist across the scope and sequence of the curriculum,” shares Glasgow.

Regarding handbooks and discipline, the Group will examine how policies and practices create an environment of equity, justice, and belonging. “Are the policies aligned with the goals around inclusivity and diversity? In discipline, we will look at how the discipline process addresses incidents that involve bias, identity-targeting, bullying, and harassment, focusing on how the issues are investigated, the strength and effectiveness of disciplinary consequences, the role of anti-bias education in the discipline process, and how the process focuses on repair of relationships and support for those who have been targeted.”

And finally, regarding alums of color whose raised voices helped shape the process, Glasgow explains, “We are focusing on hearing their experiences and using that to identify ways the school can better serve its current students of color. We will also seek, through a reparative process focused on the healing of negative experiences, to bring alums of color into tighter and better relationship with the school.”

The Daily Work of DEI

“People understand that we all have responsibility for this, as opposed to it being ‘the Director of Equity and Inclusion’s job’ to do it,” says Fech. “It has become part of our regular discourse. We don’t announce, ‘oh, now we’re going to talk about diversity.’ We’re just always talking about it. There’s always more to learn, and we’re going to make mistakes—but making mistakes doesn’t mean that we stop the work. It means we need to do the work even more.”

With change on the horizon, Fech anticipates the next steps of WT’s DEI journey. “All of this work—the survey of the community, understanding where we are with our curriculum and handbooks, processing and acting on the experiences of our alumnae/i and students—will help us to identify what our needs are for the next Director of Equity and Inclusion,” he reflects. “When Diane was hired four years ago, she had to lay the groundwork for this. We’ve educated the community in the importance of this and how this needs to impact our day-to-day work. Now the question becomes: What are the qualities needed in a person to take this work to the next level?”

Fech underscores the point: “This is lifelong work. There is not an endpoint to equity and inclusion work. We’re always going to continue to improve and grow in it.”

A Call to Reconnect
Dear Fellow Alums,

Established during Reunion 2019, the Alums of Color group was formed to be an advisory committee for WT around topics of race, social justice, equity, and inclusion, and to create a space for us to have a clear voice in this conversation.

After several leadership meetings over the past year, and the call to action that the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and numerous other victims of police brutality spurred across the country and around the world, we have focused our efforts to help prevent negative experiences at WT, especially those that can be attributed to inaction.

Collectively, we can do this by highlighting the issues at hand and working to offer WT clear, progressive steps forward – not just to improve for the future, but also to reach a point of reconciliation with the past. We’re fortunate to include two WT Board members in this group, Brandilyn Dumas ’99 and Tiffany Sizemore ’95. We are grateful to have their support as Trustees behind our efforts. We also are delighted that current parents Linsey McDaniel A’96 and Mary Martin ’88 (also a WT faculty member) are voices in our group.

As co-leaders, we are only one part of this group. We hope to engage with other alums of color and welcome them in this ongoing conversation. We will share your thoughts with WT’s leadership team, and with The Glasgow Group.

Please contact either of us at alumsofcolor@winchesterthurston.org to add your voice to this important undertaking.

Don Michael Mendoza ’06 and Joy Titus-Young ’92
Co-Chairs, WT Alums of Color Group