Racial education offers an antidote to racism and poor cultural understanding that can fester in schools. Deerfield Academy has made strides to become a more culturally competent and inclusive community with the help of students leader groups, such as the Cultural Competency Ambassadors, MLK student planners, and alliance leaders. Their goal is to address and raise awareness on issues surrounding culture and race.
“One important goal for the Office of Inclusion is to work collaboratively with student leaders to develop shared experiences that educate and involve the entire Deerfield community about inclusion,” said the Director of the Office of Inclusion and Community Life (OICL) Marjorie Young.
Elaborating on the office’s role, Ms. Young said, “We also work with student leaders to establish cultural competency initiatives and projects like ‘Cross the Valley’ poster campaigns.”
As cultural competency is considered to be an essential part of Deerfield’s mission statement, its ambassadors have led training sessions with proctors and new faculty members. They have also held meetings with ninth-graders in the Village; their discussions are meant to reinforce and educate the community about inclusion.
Cultural Competency Ambassador Kareena Bhakta ’20 shared, “The current goal of the cultural ambassador program is to raise awareness about certain social issues around campus.”
There are, however, many challenges that follow the implementation of such goals. “Some challenges [that we’ve encountered] include thinking of new mediums to spread the word around campus. Besides posters, some developments have been stickers and sit-down table cards,” Bhakta said.
“Events happen and issues arise and we often have reactive conversations,“ Nikita Pelletier ‘20, a Cultural Competency Ambassador, expressed when discussing the difficulties of the ambassador group. “There is definitely always the issue of keeping dialogue relevant.”
Similarly, alliance group leaders have found trouble balancing the conversation topics with the alliance’s own goals.
“Jovial and lighthearted conversations and activities are necessary but insufficient in helping us achieve our goals,” ASA leader Kishor Bharadwaj ‘19 admitted. “Likewise, uncomfortable and intense discourse is also necessary, but insufficient.”
He continued, “We have had to think critically about using different venues for different activities to help us achieve our goals.
For example, we try to keep our school meeting presentations as funny and entertaining as possible, but reserve more intense and meaningful discussion for affinity meetings.”
Over the past few years, both the OICL and students have seen progress made within the community. “With this year being my third year in the program, I have noticed that many of the ‘Cross the Valley’ campaign slogans have been mentioned and even discussed in some of my classes, showing how well the program has been integrated within the Deerfield community. People are showing a heightened awareness toward these issues,” Bhakta said.
Pelletier agreed by sharing, “From my experience in the Village, there has been a big increase in inclusion. I appreciate their willingness to take these topics seriously.”
DBSA leader and Cultural Competency Ambassador Alexia Baker ’19 expressed a similar confidence: “I believe we still have a long way to go in some of our areas of growth; however, in my four years here, I’ve seen Deerfield make a greater effort to incorporate the cultural competency values into our everyday lives… I’m sure, as time goes on in the next few years; the program will grow and expand and make Deerfield an even better community to be a part of.”
There is no simple solution to bringing inclusion into Deerfield. While the school is statistically diverse, there are still ways for the community to improve and become more socially conscious. While buying into a culturally inclusive community appears to be the obvious choice, it can be hard to fully implement such ideals. Nevertheless, given the diverse student body itself, the school should continue finding ways to bridge the underlying racial gap.
“Being included in any community is a privilege which comes with responsibility,” said Bharadwaj. “So let’s expand the conversation from just privilege to both privilege and responsibility.”
Although it is the Office of Inclusion that serves as the official force pushing for improved cultural competency efforts on campus, it has to start on the individual level first. It only takes one ripple to make a tidal wave,.While the Inclusion Leaders have certainly made those ripples, the rest is up to the community.