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Academy Strives for Faculty Diversity
Sunshine Chen '23 Associate Editor
February 2, 2022

While student diversity has historically been a significant marker of a school’s inclusiveness, diversity of faculty also plays a prominent role in shaping the student experience, especially in an immersive boarding school. Director of Office for Inclusion and Community Life Steven Lee said, “It’s important that the faculty in some regards reflects the student diversity. Studies have shown that if students share the same cultural background with faculty members, they feel more comfortable in classrooms and actually learn better.”

The federally enacted Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires Deerfield to collect data on identity markers, including the sex, race, and ethnicity of faculty members at the point of hire. According to reported data, Deerfield has 158 faculty members (including full-time teachers, administrators, part-time teachers, and non-teaching faculty) during the 2021-2022 school year. Out of the 158 total faculty members, there are 78 female-identifying faculty members and 75 male-identifying faculty members. 128 members (83.6%) are white, and 25 members (16.33%) are people of color. Without double-counting, there are 9 (5.8%) faculty who identify as Asian American, 6 (3.92%) who identify as African American, 6 (3.92%) who identify as Hispanic or Latino, and 4 (2.61%) who identify as multiracial.

According to the Associate Dean of Faculty, Abe Wehmiller, this data, however, “doesn’t paint a complete picture” when it comes to faculty diversity. He noted that the reporting mechanisms do not fully capture, for instance, a person’s gender or racial and ethnic identities. “When you ask people to self-identify,” Mr. Wehmiller said, “There are people who self-identify in different ways that may not be reflected in the methods we currently [use to] measure diversity… So we’re not necessarily going to be working with reliable data. That’s something we — and many other institutions — are working on.”

Associate Dean of Faculty, Abe Wehmiller // Credit: Anne Duong

Under the 2021 Strategic Plan for Inclusion, Deerfield Academy aims to foster a community that “values and affirms the distinct identities and differences of each person.” With regard to faculty members, though the Strategic Plan does not establish a specific quota, the Office for Inclusion and Community Life has been focusing upon four major pillars to evaluate and increase faculty diversity.

Ensuring a large and diverse applicant pool: Under the EEOC guidelines, applicants are not required to provide information about markers of identity during the application process — employees only provide the information at the point of hire. As a result, Mr. Wehmiller said, “We can’t say with 100 percent certainty that we’re doing really well in terms of recruiting a diverse group of applicants for any given position.”

To address the issue, the school is considering adding an optional section to its application asking candidates to self-identify. Mr. Wehmiller said, “That’s an ongoing conversation [and] we need to figure out what information we’d want and how to manage that information when we collect it.”

Over the past few years, the administration has actively partnered with different faculty sourcing firms to broaden its application pool. For example, the school regularly utilizes Carney Sandoe and Associates, a Boston-based independent schools sourcing firm, and NEMNET, a firm dedicated to recruiting underrepresented minorities. Mr. Wehmiller said, “We communicate with these firms about what we’re looking for in all our searches, including our goals to further diversify our faculty.”

Hiring culturally competent faculty : As potential candidates arrive on campus for their final interview, Mr. Lee and Mr. Wehmiller interview them, with a specific focus upon their cultural competency, aptitude for inclusion, and experience with diversity.

Candidates are asked questions such as “Talk to us about your experience with issues of diversity and inclusion in your current role.” and “What have you not gotten to do yet that you’re interested in doing in terms of diversity and inclusion?” Other questions range from “Give us an example of a time when you’ve been able to create a meaningful relationship with a student from a different background.” to “When you have done something that didn’t go right, how did you move forward and learn from it?”

Mr. Lee emphasized the significance of hiring culturally competent faculty, explaining that if a diversity, equity, and inclusion-related incident happens in the classroom, two types of injuries can occur. The student may feel disrespected and emotionally hurt by the comment but “oftentimes, the fact that the adult [in the room] doesn’t do or say anything to address the incident is actually more harmful because impacted students may doubt if they can trust the adult to intervene on their behalf in the future.”

Increasing cultural competency in hired faculty

Although Deerfield has not formally held cultural competency training for all faculty members, Mr. Lee said that “the school actually has to have the right conditions in order to hold serious conversations [on controversial topics]… It requires a lot more preparation and infrastructure than [people] might imagine… You need to have enough adults on campus who are comfortable themselves engaging in such conversations, and the school must develop teachers’ ability to facilitate those discussions in a safe and productive manner.”

The school seeks to establish these infrastructures through relaunching its hire of the Dean of Teaching and Learning. Currently, Mr. Lee is in charge of diversity within student life, while Mr. Wehmiller is in charge of diversity within faculty members. Last year, the school tried to hire a third person, the Dean of Teaching and Learning, who would work with Mr. Lee and Mr. Wehmiller to coordinate professional development. The Dean of Teaching and Learning would essentially be in charge of events such as anti-bias training and increasing cultural competency. Though Deerfield was not able to hire a Dean of Teaching and Learning last year, it is continuing the search this year.

Supporting faculty of color who are hired: Currently, no formal structures exist at Deerfield that are specifically designed to support faculty of color. However, according to Mr. Wehmiller, “Those discussions about how we can be more inclusive and supportive, even when they’re not formal, are happening in small pockets all the time.” The school’s goal, then, “is to create structures to make sure that work happens reliably and consistently.”

For example, this school year, ten faculty members participated in the National Association for In- dependent Schools People of Color Conference in December and attended various workshops and presentations on inclusion.

In addition, following the suggestion of Science Teacher James Perry, faculty and staff members who identified as Black or African American gathered as an affinity group for dinner together during the fall term. Although the group didn’t have a concrete plan for what was going to happen at the event, Mr. Wehmiller said, “We didn’t want the fact that we didn’t have a plan to stop us from taking the initial step.” After the success of the first affinity dinner, Black and African American faculty members have agreed to continue the dinner series again during this winter term and the upcoming spring term.

“If that’s something that black faculty enjoyed, and felt supported in, then that may be something that other affinity groups on campus would like to do,” said Mr. Wehmiller, “We can get together regularly and talk about something more serious.” Mr. Wehmiller suggested that, in the future, the school might be interested in exploring affinity and alliances for faculty members to create more safe spaces. For now, Mr. Wehmiller and Mr. Lee’s main goal this year is to “meet new people” since “diversity work is all about building relationships and forming trust.”