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Creagh: “Communication is Critical”
amie creagh assistant dean of students
October 12, 2011

If I’m honest, my comfort zone is in sweatpants and a t-shirt, but I wear blazers because they’re part of our dress code, and, to me, the dress code is one of the things that make Deerfield, Deerfield.

Comfort zones and a willingness to step outside them are important. A lot of growth happens when we’re challenged or uncomfortable. It’s never easy, and for this to happen most successfully at Deerfield, communication is critical. In my estimation, this is where the summer’s angst over dress code and housing lies.

With the dress code, our literal comfort zone, students felt blind sided. Many were unaware of the Dress Code Committee’s formation and the months of work that went into the revisions that were mailed in August. The changes felt imposed and aggressive because students did not feel consulted. We fell short in communication. I’m confident that an understanding of that mistake will guide any subsequent revision process.

Dress code always presents a fair challenge, but housing, our figurative comfort zone, is more difficult still.

Over the course of last year, faculty and trustees repeatedly shared their apprehension over growing homogeneity in dorms. Students, they said, were missing one of the unique opportunities Deerfield offers: to live with classmates from different states, countries, backgrounds, and perspectives.

Responding to these concerns, we developed a hybrid process that used lottery picks as a guide while introducing enough oversight to ensure that each corridor accurately represented Deerfield’s increasingly diverse population.

In this particular instance, communication did take place. Mr. Emerson shared the details of the process via e-mail, and we deans had countless conversations with students. The results, though, saw mixed reactions. Some were thrilled. Others were devastated. A perfect balance may be impossible, but, in my estimation, the configuration of this year’s dorms has moved solidly in the right direction. If diversity and heterogeneity are, indeed, guiding principles, we’ve made significant progress.

How, then, do we begin to bridge the gap that a discussion of these “comfort” matters can produce? Let’s start by saying that we’re going to continue to communicate with one another. Let’s agree that these topics warrant conversation, and let’s set aside time for it. Let’s then move into what we love about this school.

What’s on our lists of the things that make Deerfield Deerfield? Is a dress code there? How about being out of our comfort zones (be they literal or figurative)? Should we at Deerfield be nudging one another in that direction? Into two layers and a blazer, even if it’s a little stiff? Into a diverse corridor and out of friend enclaves, even if it makes us feel “other”? Into the new and out of the familiar?

Though we may not agree on all of the ideas and practices that make Deerfield unique, an open conversation moves us in the right direction.