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From the Quad

Guest Interview: Schools Expand Diversity Practices

In recent years independent boarding and day schools have significantly expanded initiatives relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The emergence of a major civil rights movement in 2020 brought increased visibility and urgency to this work. Conversations have transpired on campuses and social media about the variety of ways in which these schools reflect systemic racism in our broader society, how they can better serve students of color, and what they can do to deliver an education that is actively antiracist. In the guest interview below, AJ Yates shares some of the initiatives that make The Thacher School a leader in this field.

AJ Yates,
The Thacher School
Senior Associate Director of Admission,
Co-Director of Multicultural Outreach

How does Thacher approach this work?
We recognize this as ongoing work. We have been taking steps for a while, and now we will be even more upfront and dedicated. It’s important to have commitment at every level of the institution, which is why our head of school has published a list of commitments for long-term strategic action and our board has created its own DEI task force. UCLA professor Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson, who is in residency on our campus this year as a visiting scholar, is leading a year-long series of antiracist and antibias professional development for faculty. She is working alongside our Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Matt Balano, who is in his fourth year at Thacher.

What is an example of a successful DEI initiative at Thacher?
A few years ago, we noticed that accepted students of color were less likely than their peers to enroll at Thacher. We also noticed that accepted students who had been able to visit our campus were the most likely to enroll. We allocated resources to begin a student of color fly-in program, where students from across the country were invited to interview on campus and experience a day of programming. This has been very effective, and currently students of color, including international students, make up 51% of Thacher’s student body. This year’s program is virtual, but we look forward to bringing students of color onto campus early in the application process.  

What are some ways Thacher plans to better support students of color on campus?
This fall we added several new therapists to ensure that our counseling team reflects the diversity of our student body. Going forward, we will post faculty openings in a broader range of places to recruit more candidates of color. It’s powerful for students of color to have faculty who look like them or have shared life experience because that reinforces the connections and mentoring relationships that boarding school is all about.

What are some other new initiatives for students this year?
We also have hired restorative justice practitioners Quetzal Flores and Omar G. Ramirez to open up a dialogue among our students and among faculty. It is vital to create a safe space where both underrepresented groups and students of privilege can feel heard and better understand each other. The response has been overwhelmingly positive to these activities. Beginning next year, we will develop a new multicultural resource center for students.

What do you want students to take away from these and other DEI initiatives?
We hope students will understand that all forms of diversity—relating to race, gender, and socioeconomics—are a strength in education and in future life endeavors. We want students to know that when they come to Thacher, they will find a safe space. That means they can bring their whole selves to the school and also get the most out of their school experience.

Holly McGlennon Treat specializes in helping families interested in independent junior and secondary boarding schools. She can be reached at  holly@thebertramgroup.com

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