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Has Deerfield Upheld their Action Plan Promises
Neha Jampala '23 Associate Editor
October 31, 2020

Despite Deerfield’s promising announcements, an assessment of progress made since the enactment of the 2016 Strategic Plan for Inclusion is due, especially with the release of the updated  2020-2021 Action Plan to Strengthen Equity, Inclusion, and Campus Culture. 

Upon the recent resignation of the former Director of Inclusion and Community Life Marjorie Young, the future of Deerfield’s culture regarding inclusion and coordination of events such as MLK Day remains a question for many students. Head of School John Austin, says in his response to Ms. Young’s resignation letter: “As the school’s first and pioneering Director of Inclusion and Community Life, Marjorie’s accomplishments are many: the planning—and execution—of the school’s first Strategic Plan for Inclusion; collaborative work with the Board of Trustees; championing of cultural competency and other educational initiatives… dedicated and caring support of students and affinity groups; work in admissions and outreach to alumni and parents; and everything she has done to create a greater sense of belonging and community here at Deerfield.”

In June, when Black Lives Matter protests broke out across the nation, Deerfield students began to voice their long-held concerns about the political culture and racial injustice on campus. After endless requests sent to the administration to reform the disciplinary system, several student-led inter-alliance meetings, and limelight on social media accounts sharing the reality of racism on campus. Students decided to push more emphasis on the DEER petition and create the Deerfield Anti-Racist Coalition. 

In turn, the administration has created a timeline for reviewing and implementing  a version of DEER. Additionally they have released the 2020-2021 Action Plan to Strengthen Equity, Inclusion, and Campus Culture. On October 7, Assistant Head of Student Life Amie Creagh verbally agreed to the students’ demands for transparency and expressed the administration’s commitment to advocate for marginalized students. 

Under the Academic Deans’ goals in The Strategic Plan,  there was mention of incorporating and reporting on ways in which the departments promote inclusive practices and discussions in classrooms and school wide community events. 

Academic Dean Ivory Hills notes the “very challenging” aspects to undertaking this goal. “We have teacher course expectations and course descriptions and training, but historically we don’t have the ability to visit every classroom and watch every class,” Dr. Hills said. “It’s a bit like Heisenberg’s uncertainty physics principle; when you watch the class—it changes the class dynamic when the teacher and students start behaving differently.” 

However, Dr. Hills does believe that the English and History departments have made valuable supplements to the courses over the years, and much of the materials and readings have a more diverse gender, ethnic, and racial representation in authorship. 

Dr. Hills continued, “But this is relatively an ongoing and highly challenging task we are trying to undertake. Hopefully when we hire our director of institutional research, they will be able to help us progress with this goal.” 

In accordance with Goal #1 from the 2020-21 Action Plan mentions hiring a Dean for Inclusive Teaching and Learning. The timeline for hiring the Dean will range from November to the end of February, in hopes of finding a qualified professional who can do an extensive curricular review for Deerfield. This review will include determining whether the right classes are being taught, and if they are taught in a manner promotive of inclusivity with new ideas that are holistically connectable to course material. 

The presence of Dr. Roland Davis as a consultant will also provide a helping hand to understanding the dynamics of student life and inclusion of campus. Dr. Davis is not considered a Deerfield employee, and his exact responsibilities remain unclear. 

In addition to the appointment of a Director of Institutional Research, Goal #2 in the 2020-2021 Action Plan to Strengthen Equity, Inclusion, and Campus Culture, the Human Resources department is currently reviewing the job description for appointing a Director of Institutional Research, who will work closely with Dr. Hills. The Director will most likely be an experienced teacher who will bring more exposure to the research-related skills for incorporating inclusive curriculum design, and coaching and initializing the best practices in the areas of inclusive teaching and learning. 

The new Deerfield Action Plan referenced “data collection” many times, in instance of Goal #2 which states: “Collect and analyze data on student growth though educational efforts and supplement future initiatives.” 

In response to this goal, Dr. Hills said, “Part of the challenge with Goal 2 is that we don’t feel we have started to measure all of the relevant data. We have yet to develop a full data collection process that we are happy with, because the things that matter most are not easily measured.” 

Much of the data which Deerfield currently keeps tabs on includes quantitative statistics of percentage of students and faculty or color; but Deerfield is still working towards creating a system which considers qualitative data of student learning, students’ comfort on campus, student growth over 4 years, etc. “From my perspective—I want to have information and data that helps us make decisions, so that later we can measure the same information and data to figure out if we are improving,” Dr. Hills said.  

In terms of statistics, Deerfield has been clear on keeping a record of the increase in faculty of color on campus. Under the Dean of Faculty’s goals, The 2016 Strategic Plan for Inclusion states “Encourage faculty participation on a rotational basis in professional development opportunities related to diversity, inclusion, and cultural competency.”

In 2016, the administration wrote an extensive and ambitious plan called  “Attracting, Hiring, and Retaining Faculty of Color,” with the primary goal to “recruit and retain employees who are committed to diversity, inclusion and cultural competency and who represent the diversity of Deerfield’s student body.” 

Dean of Faculty, John Taylor, seeks to increase the percentage of faculty of color (FOC) from 14% to 20% by June 2021. Although Mr. Taylor acknowledges that Deerfield has made visible improvement in hiring and retaining faculty of color over the course of 4 years, he believes that they have fallen short. Since his 13 years of working at Deerfield, Mr. Taylor notes that it was this year Deerfield had been most successful at recruiting the most diverse faculty of color — 24 out of the 144 faculty members (about 18%) — but feels that there is still much work that needs to be done. 

Additionally, Goal #2 of the 2020-21 Action Plan discusses the appointment of an Associate Dean of Faculty to work alongside Mr. Taylor. Currently, the hiring committee is creating a job description for the position, and will continue the hiring process between Thanksgiving time and mid-March, during which collection and review of resumes and interviews will take place. The Associate Dean of Faculty will be an expert in the fields of recruiting, hiring, and helping retain faculty of color; they will also help improve inclusion practices and aid Deerfield in better reaching their goals since the 2016 Strategic Plan. Mr. Taylor says, “We are confident that these efforts will allow us to make significant progress towards diversifying our faculty. ”

Working as a liaison between students and administration, the Disciplinary Task Force which Assistant Head of Student Life Amie Creagh leads, meets weekly, to effectively discuss decisions about cultural competency campaigns and training, events such as MLK day, and alliance support planning. However, Ms. Creagh notes that with the departure of Ms. Young, logistics have become more difficult. “Hopefully, with the work that needs to be done, we are not missing a beat,” she says, “But we are certainly missing [Ms. Young].”

In terms of the well-voiced students’ requests for transparency, Ms. Creagh plans to share regular updates with the student body via emails and during school meeting presentations. She also scheduled time for Focus Groups with students in the task force to meet with Mr. Davis, which enables student participation in the process. Ms. Creagh also emphasized her encouragement for students to feel free to send questions, ideas, and input to members of the Disciplinary Review Task Force. 

The Disciplinary Task Force plans to read through the revamped DEER proposal. Ms. Creagh says, “For the October 20th meeting, each Task Force member is also looking at policies and processes from peer schools to identify if there are any gaps in our policies and why that may be, while also being critical towards our processes. I would like to prioritize a review of DEER early, because it’s important and I know students want to see that. But at the same time, I also want to keep a very open mind about where the solutions might be. Therefore, I have a little bit of [apprehension] of leaning quickly towards the solution that DEER provides, because I want it to be one of the solutions we want to consider, but I do not want it to preclude other possible solutions.” 

Since 2016, another one of Deerfield’s main goals has been “To attract and yield a diverse student population,” listed in the 2016 Statgic Action Plan and Goal #4 of the 2020-21 Action Plan. Senior Associate Director of Admissions Jeff Armes says, “We certainly need to continue addressing the challenges we face in further moving the ball forward in attracting and yielding a diversified student population (particularly during these most difficult times).” 

To progress on the goal, the Admissions Office increased travel budgets which help aid “additional recruitment outreach and relationship building opportunities within communities of diverse demographics.” The Diversity Round Table (DRT) has also held considerably more presentations and events in joint partnership with Deerfield. The Ten School Network created the DRT as a collaborative organization to focus on boarding school exploration for families and Students of Color.  Additionally, Mr. Armes notes that there has been a significant increase to the Academy’s Supplemental Aid budget which provides all students equal access to Deerfield Programs. In order to strengthen Alumni of Color participation, the Admissions Office increased efforts in resourcing and captizing recruiting functions and events throughout the country. 

Student Body President, Chijioke Achebe says, “The administration has done a lot since the Strategic Plan was introduced. Now I wasn’t here in 2016, but in my time here I’ve been able to see the work that they’ve done. The little things count, in my opinion… The administration has tried valiantly to create a more inclusive campus in general, but it’s hard work. You can’t magically wave a wand and make that happen.”

It is evident that, over the past four years, since Ms. Young’s execution of the 2016 Strategic Plan for Inclusion, Deerfield has made notable progress; however, as many members of the administration acknowledge, there is still much room for improvement – whether it may be increasing efforts in hiring and retaining faculty of color, recruiting more students of color, reforming disciplinary policies and promoting community events, or incorporating more visible representation in authorship and racial topics in the academic realm. Most importantly, Deerfield’s greatest steps towards creating an inclusive and diverse campus culture may lie in developing more advocative and supportive relationships between students, faculty, and administration.