Diversity, Equity & Engagement
Throughout its history, Durham Academy has recognized that diversity enriches learning. Co-ed since its founding in 1933 and one of the first schools to integrate in Durham, DA has committed itself at every level — from the boardroom to the classroom — to the dual pursuit of excellence and diversity.
Our welcoming, dynamic and interconnected community provides students with the support to prepare them to live and thrive in a diverse world. Learn about Durham Academy's early days as a leader in integrity and inclusion through the reflections of DA alumna Valerie Kennedy Miller '81.
- 44% of Durham Academy's students identify as a member of the Black, Indigenous or Person of Color (BIPOC) community, putting DA in the top third among peer independent schools for diversity.
- 22% of DA teachers are faculty of color.
- DA has increased student diversity by 24% over the last decade.
- DA awarded more than $4.5 million in financial aid for the 2021–2022 school year.
- The school's financial aid budget has more than quadrupled in size over the past 20 years.
- 20% of DA students receive financial aid.
- Need-based financial aid awards range from $1,000 to nearly a full year's tuition and do not have to be repaid. The average award in 2021–2022 was $18,416.
- The Sheppy Vann Preschool Scholarship Fund and the Beth Crawford Lower School Scholarship Fund are need-based scholarship funds, making the Preschool and Lower School accessible to a wide range of families.
- DA Parent Affinity Groups
- Affinity Group FAQs
- DA Diversity, Equity & Engagement Newsletters
- Social Media
Parent Affinity Groups at Durham Academy
DA's DEE Mission Statement: Diversity enlivens, improves and enriches the intellectual and social environment of an academic community and encompasses all aspects of humanity including racial identity, sex, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability age and gender identity. We are committed to an ongoing process to increase the diversity of our community and to implement policies, programs and practices under which all members of our community feel welcomed, empowered, responsible and safe. Amidst our diversity we stand united in the pursuit of academic excellence and development of individual capabilities.
Objectives: DA aims to provide parents with a structure for meaningful conversations and activities related to their families’ cultural identifiers (i.e., gender, religion, race, age, ability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity). The school hopes these groups will provide our community with space to build relationships and gather in support of our diverse identities.
Durham Academy is a community: It is a community of people from different socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, family structures, religions, and races. In this community, we acknowledge, celebrate and promote each other’s differences. Parent affinity groups support the very notion of an inclusive community by boldly stating that diversity is a value welcomed and promoted at DA.
Affinity groups expand the school’s capacity to build an inclusive community: Parent affinity groups facilitate the school's ability to go deeper on issues of race, family structure, sexual orientation and identity, disability or other concerns and engage the full community in a thoughtful, representative and inclusive manner.
DA students have set the example: The example DA students have set is one parents should follow proudly. Student affinity groups have existed successfully at the Middle and Upper Schools for several years. These groups have provided critical support to students in pursuit of their own identities. Affinity groups have offered a space for them to identify issues, propose solutions and organize community conversation. They have also been a space for students to have a lot of fun. DA envisions parent affinity groups providing the same types of forums and yielding the same results for Durham Academy parents.
Adapted from The Episcopal School of Los Angeles, Lakeside School and Seattle Girls' School
What is an affinity group? It is gathering of people who share a particular identity. That identity can be based on race, gender, sexual orientation, language, nationality, physical/mental ability, socioeconomic class, family structure, religion, etc. Affinity groups help participants connect with and learn more about their identities and share their experiences within that context.
Who can be part of an affinity group? Only people who can speak from the “I” or “we” perspective with that particular group can be a part of it.
Why can't I just listen in? It is true that we learn much from hearing stories from individuals. However, some affinity group members have historically faced the burden and frustration of having to “teach others” about their experience or being asked to “represent” their group’s perspective. Affinity groups allow for a space safe from that burden and frustration. To have folks from other groups present could result in participants curbing the conversation for fear of being misunderstood or offending. Affinity groups are not designed to gossip or put down other groups – they are designed to affirm the group that is gathering. A well-run affinity space resists labeling of other groups and blanket assumptions of other groups. A better way to learn about another’s experience is to build genuine relationships and ask questions from a place of humble curiosity.
What are the benefits of affinity groups? The main purpose of an affinity group is to promote diversity and inclusion. Within the group they can connect, share experiences, exchange resources and talk about challenges or support that has impacted their ability to engage with others or with an organization. Research has demonstrated that affinity groups are important for the healthy development and sustainability of educational organizations.
Aren't affinity groups exclusive and divisive? Everyone benefits from interactions with people who share common identities or experiences. For people who are in the numerical minority of a larger community, these bonding interactions may only occur during an affinity group. During affinity group meetings, people can share freely and without inhibition about their experiences. These groups make them feel more visible and more included in our community and in doing so, enhance our broader commitment to inclusivity. We commonly self-segregate in every day life based on interests, beliefs, sex, etc. Affinity groups are just another form of that optional self-segregation.
How can I support affinity groups I don't belong to? It's just as important to have affinity groups as it is to have groups of people working together toward creating equity for all. Allies are people who do not identify with a certain affinity group but want to support the equal rights of people from that group. Ally work and affinity work are both important aspects of creating social equity.
If I am a member of a so-called privileged group, why don’t I have an affinity space? There are privileged-identity affinity groups who come together to discuss privilege and use that privilege for a specific purpose (Anti-Racist White Allies, National Organization of Men Against Sexism, etc.). If you are interested in starting such a group, please speak up!
Shouldn’t we stress similarities rather than differences?
Research on bias, prejudice, and stereotypes show that our brains naturally tend to categorize, compare and create mental models based on limited information. Unfortunately, as much as we don’t want to, we internalize misinformation about groups of people from an early age. Not talking about it doesn’t improve attitudes; even talking about similarities doesn’t. What does seem to improve attitudes is explicit conversation: talking about differences, examining our attitudes, learning about oppression and privilege, and rejecting false notions. These conversations aren’t easy or comfortable, but they are necessary.
Wouldn't everyone benefit from having dialogue all together rather than in separate groups? Having conversations in affinity groups allows us to examine some of the roots of why we may see the world the way we do, allowing us to acknowledge that we may experience the world differently than someone else. This understanding engenders greater acceptance of other perspectives, allowing for more fruitful cross-cultural dialogues. Several people can be in the same room and experience the same thing, yet a woman might notice things differently than a man. A person of color might be impacted differently than a white person. A young person may interpret the situation differently than an adult. Often, we engage in intercultural dialogue without examining our own identity frames and stumble into conflict because someone else does not see the same things we do.
Don’t affinity groups make people only hang out with people like them and not reach out?
Students already create pseudo-affinity groups at the lunch tables and in friendship groups at school. These groups naturally form out of a deep desire to connect across similarities and understand identity. The difference with these unstructured groups is that there aren’t any adult facilitators, norms or privacy. These unguided conversations can easily devolve into stereotype reinforcement, in-group chauvinism, or identity play that misleads or alienates others. They also often do not always meet the needs of identity development and thus become a stagnant place where youth gather, feeling both the relief of not having to explain their experience and the dissatisfaction of a desire unfulfilled. Affinity groups allow for a school sponsored and facilitated space where youth can explore identity, celebrate shared identity, and debrief common challenges and experiences that members of the identity group face. Having this need met, they are psychologically more ready to seek relationships outside the group. Shored up with the self-confidence that comes from healthy identity development, youth engage more in healthy risk taking like making new friends.
- My Role in a Social Change Ecosystem
- Teaching Your Child About Black History Month (PBS)
Durham Academy's Diversity, Equity & Engagement Mission Statement
Diversity enlivens, improves and enriches the intellectual and social environment of an academic community and encompasses all aspects of humanity including racial identity, sex, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability, age and gender identity. We are committed to an ongoing process to increase the diversity of our community and to implement policies, programs and practices under which all members of our community feel welcomed, empowered, responsible and safe. Amidst our diversity we stand united in the pursuit of academic excellence and development of individual capabilities.
(Adopted by the Durham Academy Board of Trustees in 2004 and updated in 2008)
Durham Academy's Director of Diversity, Equity and Engagement creates events and activities throughout the year to increase cultural awareness, sensitivity and knowledge with the purpose of preparing students for a diverse society and forming a more global perspective. The director also works with school division directors to ensure the school's diversity curriculum focuses increasingly on breaking down stereotypes and encouraging invigorating classroom discussion on diversity, responsibility and community. DA's diversity programming provides academic, emotional and social support for its faculty, staff and students/families of diverse backgrounds.
African-American History Month and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Each division observes in age-appropriate ways. Lower Schoolers are introduced to daily facts about notable African Americans throughout history. In the Middle and Upper Schools, guest speakers are invited to address students at assemblies. In observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day each year, Upper School students present "This I Believe" speeches centered around themes related to King.
Hispanic Heritage Month
In September and October, all divisions celebrate the contributions of Hispanics and Latinos throughout American history. Assemblies and documentaries introduce students to Latin culture. In late September, parents of Hispanic and Latino students attend a meet-and-greet event hosted by the Office of Diversity & Multicultural Affairs.
International Night (Preschool)
Preschool students and their families come together each year for a night of cultural exchange. The informal event features food, music, crafts and camaraderie. Each Preschool classroom represents a different continent and/or country and culture.
International Lunch (Upper School)
Each spring, Upper School parents and other DA community members work together to provide a very special lunch for students: a smorgasbord of dishes representing countries around the globe. Students sample a wide range of cuisines and have the opportunity to learn more about the countries from the chefs.
Minority Parents Night Out
DA parents of minority students gather for an informal off-campus social outing. Current parents across all four divisions are able to meet and form a social network.
What Matters to Me Workshops
Each spring, a morning is set aside for Upper School students to share their passions with their peers through "What Matters to Me" workshops. With foci ranging from Bhangra dance to the importance of diversity in lacrosse to a campaign to stop sexual assault, these student-led workshops are eagerly anticipated by fellow students and faculty.
Rise Against Hunger & Schoolwide Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration
Each January, DA honors the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by organizing a day of service. Hundreds of members of the DA community — students, parents, siblings, faculty and staff — work together to package meals for international hunger relief agency Rise Against Hunger, which distributes food and other life-saving aid to children and families in countries around the world. Following the service project, a program related to Matin Luther King Jr. is organized; the 2019 program included a screening of Maynard (a documentary film about Maynard Jackson Jr. (the first African-American mayor of Atlanta) followed by a question-and-answer session with the filmmakers.
Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC)
Each year, several DA Upper School students attend this annual conference, joining with more than 1,300 students from independent schools from around the nation. The SDLC is an inclusive, multiracial, multicultural gathering of student leaders grades 9–12 from around the country that focuses on self-reflection and community building. A diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators helps participants develop an appreciation of their own identities, build effective cross-cultural communication skills, better understand the nature and development of effective social justice strategies and practice expression through arts while networking with peers.
Triangle Diversity Alliance Conference
Durham Academy is part of a consortium of five independent schools providing an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to affirm their identity, share perspectives and cultivate leadership skills. Schools take turns hosting, welcoming a couple hundred middle and high school students from around the Triangle to examine media representation of minorities.
Reel Perspectives Film Series
A cultural awareness movie series provides the DA community with a fun and informal setting to view and discuss entertaining and thought-provoking documentaries from around the world. Recent showings have included Maynard, The (Dis)Honesty Project, Althea, 120 Days and I'm Not Racist ... Am I? Screenings are typically followed by question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers, and are open to the public
Durham Academy continues to be proactive and progressive in celebrating diversity. Durham Academy’s diversity, equity and engagement team includes Board of Trustees members, administrators, division coordinators, faculty members, current parents, students and alumni all working together to drive and support the school's mission of diversity.
Sheppy Vann Preschool Scholarship Fund
In 2014, Durham Academy honored the legacy of long-time Preschool Director and kindergarten teacher Sheppy Vann by establishing a need-based scholarship to make the Preschool accessible to a wider range of families. Vann's career at DA spanned 30 years as a kindergarten teacher and 24 years as director of the Preschool. During that time, she championed diversity as one of DA's top priorities, especially at the school's largest entry point.
Beth Crawford Lower School Scholarship Fund
In 2016, a scholarship fund was established in memory of Beth Crawford, who served as Lower School administrative assistant for 20 years. Crawford's sons, DA alumni Andy '97 and Matt '99, created the fund to honor their mother’s commitment to the Lower School and to demonstrate how much Durham Academy has meant to their family. The fund is perpetual and provides aid each year to a deserving Lower School student.
Several affinity groups — comprising students who are drawn together based on shared experiences and interests — exist for Middle School and Upper School students. All affinity groups have been created at the request of students; if a student wishes to be part of a group that does not yet exist, they are encouraged to contact their division's diversity coordinators so that a new group can be established.
Upper School RAISE Club
The RAISE (Raising Awareness for Inclusion and Social Equity) Club strives to promote a more inclusive and equitable community schoolwide, pre-kindergarten to Upper School. Club members present at student assemblies in all school divisions about religious and cultural holidays, as well as other topics related to inclusion.
Gender and Sexuality Alliance
The Upper School Gender and Sexuality Alliance works to raise awareness about issues facing the LGBTQ community and works toward making the DA community an ever-more accepting place for all students, faculty and staff.
Durham Academy has created valuable partnerships with the following institutions and associations:
- Triangle Independent Schools Consortium (TISC) member schools work together to host a school fair each fall to recruit students of color to local independent schools. Several Durham-area TISC schools jointly host a diversity hiring fair each year to recruit faculty of color as well.
- Durham Nativity School aims to educate and empower each child to reach their full potential. Without regard to race, religion or ethnicity, the school provides a tuition-free, enriched learning environment and an 11-year support system for middle school boys who have the ability and commitment to achieve, yet lack the resources to attend a quality, independent school. Founded by Joe and Ann Carole Moylan (parents of six Durham Academy alumni), Durham Nativity School is now led by a board that includes DA alumni, trustees, current parents and parents of DA alumni. DA has enrolled several DNS graduates and the school offers financial aid guidance to DNS families applying to independent day and boarding schools.
- Jack & Jill of America (Durham Chapter) is a mothers organization that dedicates its resources to improving the quality of life of children, particularly for African-American children, by providing social, cultural and educational opportunities for youth. The Durham Chapter was founded in 1945 by a group of mothers on the campus of North Carolina College, now North Carolina Central University. Today the Durham Chapter is comprised of 58 families and 98 children, with a platform of various service programs and activities for children to stimulate their growth and development.
- The Lerner School provides students with an outstanding secular education, infused with a strong Judaic Studies and daily Hebrew program. Students are empowered to explore their world guided by a rich integrated curriculum and caring teachers. They are members of a strong Jewish community that values compassion and encourages tzedakah (charity), g'milut chadasim (acts of loving kindness) and kavod (respect). DA attends an annual school fair at the Lerner School to recruit students that would add to the religious diversity of DA's community.
- Maureen Joy Charter School is a K-8 public charter school in Durham. Students of color make up 98% of the scholars at Maureen Joy. The school demonstrates increased academic strength and is dramatically outperforming other public and charter schools in the area. Durham Academy is invested in the success of Maureen Joy students who are interested in applying and enrolling at an independent school. In 2012, DA began hosting an annual event at Maureen Joy to help families with questions or concerns about DA's application or financial aid process.
- Mocha Moms (Durham Chapter) is a support group for mothers of color who have chosen not to work full-time outside of the home in order to devote more time to their families. The Durham chapter was chartered in December 2002. The organization serves as an advocate for these mothers and encourages the spirit of community activism within its membership.
- Student U is a college access organization offering year-round, free, academic enrichment for Durham Public Schools middle and high school students. The program is hosted at Durham Academy and staffed by undergraduates and educators from Duke, North Carolina Central University, UNC-Chapel Hill and Durham Academy, and is funded by the universities, Durham Public Schools, DA, and private foundations and individuals. Student U creates a pipeline of services in the summer months and after school to support students and ensure they develop the academic skills and personal well-being needed to beat the statistics and succeed. Student U welcomed its first class of 50 students and 16 teachers in the summer of 2007. In May 2014, 40 students from that inaugural class announced their intended college during Student U's first College Signing Day, to a Carolina Theater packed with supportive friends and family there to celebrate their success. Throughout the 2013-14 school year, Student U worked with 340 students (grades 6-12) and their families.
- Durham Academy is a member of Triangle Diversity Alliance, a consortium of five independent schools providing an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to affirm their identity, share perspectives, and cultivate leadership skills. Member schools include Cary Academy, Carolina Friends School, Durham Academy, Ravenscroft School and St. Mary's School.
- Other DA partnerships include the Hayti Heritage Center, El Centro Hispano, Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill and other community agencies.
Faculty of Color Recruitment
In 2013–2014, Durham Academy launched an aggressive initiative to recruit faculty of color. In the years since, the school has partnered with global and national recruitment firms for independent schools, and school representatives have traveled to take part in several independent school recruitment fairs. Along with several other Durham-area independent schools, DA helps host a diversity hiring fair each year to recruit teachers of color.
New faculty and staff receive intensive diversity training upon joining the Durham Academy community. The school's commitment to cultural competency is reinforced through regular professional development days featuring speakers such as American Promise filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, diversity expert Rosetta Lee and DA parents. Trainings have centered around discussions about the realities and impact that race, class, culture, gender, religion and ability have on students in the Durham Academy community.
People of Color Conference
Each year, several DA faculty and staff members, representing all divisions of the school, attend the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference (PoCC), joining more than 2,000 participants from across the nation as well as international attendees. DA sends a group of faculty and administrators who are committed to equity work to the extraordinary annual conference.