You need to enable JavaScript to run this app.
Deerfield Updates 2020-21 Inclusion Action Plan
Neha Jampala '23 Associate Editor
November 16, 2021
Credit: Annabelle Brennan

Over the course of the past five years, 2020 and 2021 have been the most prominent years of the administration’s engagement with the ideas of “inclusion,” “strengthening campus culture,” and “creating a more diverse community.” The Strategic Plan of 2016 received a comprehensive revision when Head of School John Austin released the report for 2020-2021 Action Plan to Strengthen Equity, Inclusion, and Campus Culture. Since last year’s Scroll article analyzing changes made between the 2016 and 2020 reports, many new additions and enactments from following up on goals have been made. All six outlined goals from the 2020-2021 Action Plan have been fully or partially accomplished, with many changes ranging from new hires and alumni outreach to official policy changes. 

Dr. Austin’s recently released statement in the Action Plan Progress Report acknowledges the work of inclusion to be far-reaching, so the administration developed a team-based model: “one in which leadership and accountability are collaborative, embedded throughout the school, and distributed across key areas of the student experience.” 

The first most significant addition to the Student Life Office is Director of Inclusion and Community Life Steven Lee, who actively supports and guides students in community inclusion efforts through involvement with student alliances, residential faculties, and student advisors. In Mr. Lee’s Opening Days presentation during the first school meeting, he lists the following as his key responsibilities in helping students: “understand identities, develop emotional intelligence, build authentic relationships, foster a culture of grace and forgiveness, and commit to living courageously.”

As his work permeates throughout the entire school community, Mr. Lee hopes to learn every student’s name by the end of the year, stating that one of the primary challenges is to truly take time to understand the culture of the school. 

“Inclusion is a noun, but we should really conceive of it as a verb,” says Mr. Lee, “That is, a community of belonging depends upon every individual mindfully performing acts of inclusivity throughout their daily lives.”

Goal One of the 2020-2021 Action Plan lists four key tasks: appointing the first Dean of Inclusive Teaching and Learning, implementing new classes and a curricular review, institutionalizing the “Deerfield Forum,” and appointing an Associate Dean of Faculty. 

Over the past two years, due to frequent schedule and course syllabi revisions, implementing coherent curricular changes has been difficult for academic departments. Hence, at the moment, Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs and Strategy Ivory Hills mentions that there is a pause on making any revisions to the course catalog, due to the room for more modifications in the coming years. Potential new additions include specialized Capstones and inter-disciplinary courses, combining seemingly different topics, such as dance and anatomy or journalism and statistics, alongside more teacher collaboration. 

Dr. Hills says, “Part of being inclusive is being inter- and multi-disciplinary to include many perspectives. By making these modifications, we are attempting to tackle the board topic of inclusion from various approaches.”

The recruiting of a Dean of Inclusive Teaching and Learning was unsuccessful, but the administration plans to relaunch the search in the new future or a “Dean of Teaching and Learning” instead. Dr. Hills mentions that this role would fit into a nice “triumvirate” with Director of Inclusion and Community Life Steven Lee, and Associate Dean of Faculty Abe Wehmiller. The three heads would work together from different offices more effectively with the capacity to move quicker with their own allocated resources. 

Cover of the 2021 Action Plan to Strengthen Equity, Inclusion, and Campus Culture

Overarchingly, the Dean for Teaching and Learning would “help the teachers refine their practice in developing inclusive pedagogical teaching practices,” by fostering more learning for teachers as well. Dr. Hills says there is a need to “build, in parallel, an institute for teacher learning […] if students are expected to be life-long learners, then teachers should also be life-long learners.” 

Consequently, this need to develop community learning through “productive and constructive dialogue” will be addressed with the initiation of the Deerfield Forum on April 19, 2022. Speakers Jonathan Rauch, Ronald Crutcher, and Jiayang Fan ’02 will be invited to model scholarly and civic engagement on the ideas of the three pillars of knowledge — journalism, higher learning education institutions, and the law — as outlined in Rauch’s book, The Constitution of Knowledge. The forum will be moderated by Libby Leist ’97, Executive Producer of the Today Show, and will organize a dialogue that models the paradigm of inclusive discussion. 

Dr. Hills says the point of the forum is to ensure that students can witness conducive and respectful conversations from diverse perspectives to engage people in ways that can allow mutual learning. 

The newly appointed Associate Dean of Faculty, Abe Wehmiller, will serve as a key member in recruiting, hiring, and retaining faculty of color. Mr. Wehmiller will also help improve inclusion practices and aid Deerfield in better reaching its goals since the 2016 Strategic Plan. In an interview from 2020, Dean of Faculty John Taylor said, “We are confident that these efforts will allow us to make significant progress towards diversifying our faculty.”

With regards to his specific goals, Mr. Wehmiller says, “Our Action Plan outlines a focus on three key areas: recruitment, hiring, and retention… this means diversifying the pool of candidates who apply for jobs at Deerfield, executing a hiring process that is reflective of the goals we set for each hire, and making this a place where all our faculty and staff are thriving and want to stay.”

Mr. Wehmiller notes how prominent schools like Deerfield require careful thought and consideration. Reflecting on a conversation with Former Inclusion Consultant Roland Davis, Mr. Wehmiller recalls how he “described making change here as being like turning an aircraft carrier: it doesn’t happen quickly. [This] can be a real challenge, especially when students are often eager for change to happen on a shorter timetable… We have to find ways to balance that sentiment with a need to take the long view.” 

Subsequently, Goal Two of the Action Plan mainly highlights the task of creating a task force from various academic departments, staff, students, and trustees to review Deerfield’s disciplinary process, led by Assistant Head of School for Student Life Amie Creagh. The task force reviewed Deerfield’s handbooks, policies, and disciplinary practices, “informed by concerns, feedback, and proposals initiated by students and alumni, by the Academy’s longstanding commitment to the highest standards of conduct and accountability, and by our belief in the promise of all Deerfield students.” The efforts were completed by May 2021 and the task force reported to the Head of School with an executive summary and recommended changes. Specifically, in July 2021, rules on Conscientious Speech and Expression were incorporated into the student handbook (Rules and Expectations).

The second half of Goal Two focuses on the hiring of a Director of Institutional Research to collect and analyze data on students’ social and academic growth to later supplement future initiatives. In the Action Plan Progress Report, Dr. Austin describes “five key elements of the student experience: a sense of belonging, student attitudes towards difference, feelings of self-efficacy, engaged learning, and openness to diverse perspectives and viewpoints… [all are] critically important to a young person’s well-being and to building an intellectual climate that supports active learning. ”

To carry out the objectives of Goal Two, the first Director of Institutional Research, Kesley Naughton, was appointed to work closely with various departments to track and study each of the outlined areas using regular “pulse” surveys alongside an annual climate survey in the spring. The surveys will be compiled and analyzed for creating a “dashboard of student flourishing” that serves to inform and report to the Board of Trustees on decision-making and resources allocation. The first distribution of the Student Thrive Survey received a 92% response rate, an engagement that Ms. Naughton reflects “only happen[s] in communities with passion and engagement.” Ms. Naughton will also support efforts in collecting internal data ranging from student health and achievement to enrollment and recruitment. 

Describing her role further, Ms. Naugthon said, “This year, and in upcoming years, I seek to understand how students are doing and how each student fits into the life of Deerfield. I have already begun to do this by participating in many parts of community life here. You may have heard about how Mr. Lee and Mr. Wehmiller are doing this as well, in part through interviews and focus groups. Once I have a strong understanding of community life at Deerfield, I will work with interdepartmental teams to quantify and operationalize indicators of student thriving. ”

Co-Chair of the Asian Student Alliance Jean Jin ‘22 reflected on Deerfield’s alliance culture, which serves as a safe space for students to “thrive”, as one that is quite prominent amidst suggestions on ways it can be even stronger. 

Jin says, “Some simple improvements regarding inclusion culture is inter-alliance collaboration, emphasis on bonding, and inter-woven support from the larger community. Also, I wish that  non-affinity Deerfield members of an alliance would become interested and excited in pursuing this collaboration and sharing of cultures and ideas that are different from their own.”

Moving to Goal 3, which outlines the creation of a Deerfield Academy Diversity and Inclusion Alumni Advisory Board, Dr. Austin and Chief Advancement Officer Ann Romberger both share the sentiment that the Board of Trustees made great progress. Ms. Romberger describes a constitution for the Advisory Board outlining terms, administrative and Board of Trustee liaisons, and the Advisory Board President’s role as an ex officio member of the Inclusion Committee of the Board of Trustees. Throughout the fall, such administrative work will continue alongside the recruitment of members for the inaugural Advisory Board.  

Finally, Dr. Austin’s 2020-2021 Action Plan includes the appointment of Associate Director of Multicultural Recruitment Issa Lopez, who will work with Associate Dean of Admission Jeff Armes in the outreach and recruitment of a diverse student body. In last year’s interview regarding this topic, Mr. Armes mentioned the need for recruiting an Associate Dean was to bring in new perspectives on continuing to address “the challenges we face in further moving the ball forward in attracting and yielding a diversified student population (particularly during these most difficult times).” 

Over the past year, the Deerfield administration has made strides toward its commitments to fulfill the majority of goals outlined in Dr. Austin’s 2020-2021 Action Plan for Inclusion to Strengthen Equity, Inclusion, and Campus Culture. Although administrative efforts will play a key role in advancing inclusive practices across academic and social realms, significant progress can only be achieved in tandem with fostering more inclusive relationships and behavior within the student body.