Peddie is doing more to advance diversity, equity and inclusion on campus
Head of School Peter Quinn and Peddie’s board of trustees are tackling an uncomfortable truth: Changes to the institution and interpersonal relationships within it must happen to ensure an equitable and inclusive experience for all school community members.
Indisputably, Peddie has a diverse student population. The transformative power of Walter H. Annenberg’s ’27 historic $100 million gift of more than a quarter-century ago is visible in today’s geographically, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse student body. According to the Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism (AIM) survey conducted earlier this year through the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), less than 50% of Peddie’s student body identifies exclusively as white.
But numbers don’t tell the entire story, according to Diku Rogers ’12, English teacher and Peddie’s interim director of diversity, equity and inclusion. “I recognize that the student body is even more diverse than when I attended Peddie, but I can still see that some of our students are struggling in ways. Numbers don’t necessarily mean access, equity and inclusion,” she said.
Numbers don't necessarily mean access, equity and inclusion."
Quinn agreed. “We focused on enrolling a student body united only by excitement, curiosity and character over nearly three decades, which has made the community more inclusive. We have made inconsistent progress in building a faculty as diverse as our student body; furthermore, we also need to improve our support for candid, specific conversations about treating each other with consistent respect.”
With the trustees’ support, Quinn and others are working to identify and end Peddie’s structural inequities. “We’ve got work to do to align the highest quality of citizenship with a diverse, equitable and inclusive community,” Quinn said. “These values are inextricably linked to our mission.”
An enlightening summer
Quinn announced in early June that Peddie would hire a director of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to “assist Peddie’s leadership and employees in enhancing the school’s focus on issues that affect its marginalized students.”
Rogers, who did diversity work as an undergraduate at Middlebury College and the TEAK Fellowship in New York, and is an active supporter of student affinity groups at Peddie, assumed the DEI director role in an interim capacity in late August.
Quinn also committed to forming a DEI Council of school leaders and students and enhancing Peddie employees’ professional development.
“These steps are just the beginning,” he said in a letter to the Peddie community on June 5. “These are the first steps towards eliminating racism and all other forms of bigotry from our community.”
Structural (Institutional) Goals
Increase cultural competency and awareness.
- Develop a formal reporting system for biased and discriminatory behaviors.
- Create a DEI Council of students and faculty members.
- Examine and reevaluate DEI metrics for essential aspects of the Peddie experience.
Community (Interpersonal) Goals
- Embrace DEI work as a continuous effort to learn and grow as a community.
- Provide each other with the support to better understand issues of privilege, oppression and marginalization.
- Navigate challenging conversations with empathy, respect and awareness.
That same week, spurred by the brutal killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, Peddie’s Black Student Union and Amnesty International teamed up to host “12 Hours of Action.” The virtual event featured student-led presentations and discussions on topics including privilege and allyship. Hundreds of community members and representatives from other schools tuned in to the event. Peddie faculty and staff held debriefing sessions in the weeks afterward.
“The extraordinary efforts of students in bringing ‘12 Hours of Action’ to our community were inspiring, and their citizenship was exemplary,” Quinn said.
“A huge part of my role is to continue to support our students and stand beside them and the wonderful things they want to do, like ‘12 Hours of Action,’” said Rogers. “But the adults in the community also need to take the lead. And to do so successfully, they need to be more equipped and prepared to uplift and support the authenticity that our students bring to the table.”
Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism
In January, Peddie administered the NAIS Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism (AIM) survey to students, faculty and staff. The school’s curriculum committee recommended that Peddie use the AIM survey, a confidential survey designed to elicit feedback on school climate and culture, as an extension of an internal, departmental diversity audit. After a delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NAIS released the survey results to Peddie this summer.
“On a positive note, scores for school morale and satisfaction with multiculturalism and inclusivity were all within a healthy range,” said Kari Hart ’02, Ph.D.
As the school’s institutional researcher (Hart is also a math teacher), Hart worked with Rogers and a faculty steering committee to analyze the AIM survey results and develop both long-term recommendations and goals for the 2020-21 school year.
“We also saw a need for us to think critically about how we cultivate inclusive teaching and advising practices, how we foster access for all of our students, and how we can more fully integrate multiculturalism throughout our entire curriculum,” said Hart.
According to Hart, some survey respondents reported being teased because of particular aspects of their identity. “I think that highlights the importance of establishing an incident reporting system,” she said.
Peddie will implement a bias incident reporting system this school year. It will consist of an online form that allows for anonymous reporting. “Part of the purpose is making sure that students are talking to us in some capacity so we can support them, that they are not holding on to something and internalizing it and carrying it with them,” said Rogers.
“The reporting system will also provide us with valuable data about how often incidents of harassment are happening, when they’re happening, and to whom they are happening so we can address those issues accordingly and monitor how those figures change over time,” said Hart.
Hart shared her big picture takeaway from the AIM survey.
“We need broader support for some members of our community. We need to foster skills for interpersonal and cross-cultural dialogue. And we need to consider some structural changes that will foster a greater sense of belonging and inclusion for all members of our community.”
Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity
Peddie has partnered with the National SEED Project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) to implement professional development for faculty and staff. The SEED program relies on peer-led seminars to help drive more inclusive teaching methods, curricula and community interactions. Rogers and Hart attended the online SEED New Leaders Week this summer to prepare them to lead SEED seminars at Peddie.
“SEED is a wonderful opportunity to build self-awareness, learn about others and think about how you can carry that awareness into your other aspects of work,” said Rogers.
Participants attend a series of bi-weekly, two-hour seminars — with alternate weeks of asynchronous work — where they explore their own education related to race, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, sexual identity, abilities and age, and how these factors currently impact the school, classrooms and community.
We are excited and fueled by the level of interest from faculty and staff."
“It draws a lot of emotion and a lot of deep thought as you go through the process,” said Hart. “Honestly, it was some of the most challenging professional and personal development I’ve done. But also some of the most worthwhile in terms of what I walked away from that space with.”
There are currently two cohorts undergoing SEED training, Peddie’s administrative team and a group of 17 faculty and staff across multiple departments. The plan is to develop additional cohorts and expand the program over the next couple of years.
“We are excited and fueled by the level of interest from faculty and staff,” said Hart.
Diversifying the curriculum
The next step to diversifying Peddie’s curriculum, according to Rogers, is thinking about whose story is being told and who feels represented.
“We’ve been having a lot of discussion in our curriculum committee about access and how to make our curriculum more inclusive,” she said.
Rogers appreciates that Peddie has built a more inclusive curriculum and believes that educators’ work with SEED will take things further. “By navigating our own identities and thinking about how that affects the way we teach our subject, we’ll hopefully have the awareness to think about how our students are considering their relationships to the material they’re learning,” she said.
“If we remember how personal education can and should be,” she added, “then we can better address moments when issues of identity rise to the surface.
A constant recommitment
Quinn, Rogers and Hart agreed that Peddie’s commitment to DEI is perpetual.
“It’s a constant recommitment professionally and personally to do this work,” said Hart. “But it will allow our community as a whole to better deal with issues that arise, as they arise, in a kind of natural way that supports our community values and allows us to do some meaningful work.”
DEI work has to be part of the fabric of Peddie, something that we talk about naturally."
“There are things we are doing right now that can make an immediate difference for our community,” she added. “There are some things that are going to take a bit longer.”
Rogers wants the Peddie community to embrace DEI goals as continuous everyday effort. “We’re never going to get to a point where we say, ‘we’ve done all the work, and we’ve checked all of the boxes.’”
“These goals are eternal,” said Quinn. “They’re never going to go away. DEI work has to be part of the fabric of Peddie, something that we talk about naturally. It has to be something that’s always on our minds. It can’t be onerous in our minds. It ought to be liberating in our minds.”