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New DEE Director Dives In, Getting to Know the DA of Today and Planning for Tomorrow
Story by Jason Mundy
Director of Diversity, Equity and Engagement 

It has been a pleasure getting to know the Durham Academy community over the course of the last few months as I have settled into my role as the school’s director of Diversity, Equity and Engagement (DEE). DA is a busy place filled with dedicated and loving faculty and staff, motivated and earnest students, and supportive families. I can’t thank you all enough for the warm welcome.

Diversity Equity and Engagement Night

A special thank you to everyone who visited with me during the “Get to Know the New DEE Director” meetings over Zoom and before school in September. I met more folks at the four back-to-school nights and then got to chat with the nearly 70 people who registered for our Engagement Night held earlier this week. Based on these conversations, we will work to add programming and learning opportunities for parents and caregivers to come together in conversation not just about DEE-related topics but also about the hard work of raising and parenting children.

I’ve also been working to get to know students as quickly as I can. I’ve seen student talent and leadership on full display in assemblies, club meetings, concerts and the fall production of The Wolves. I worked with students who asked to create an interfaith prayer room in the Upper School, cheered for DA paddlers at the AsiaFest Dragon Boat races, watched some intense tennis matches and explored the great outdoors with sixth-graders at Camp Hanes. But none of these activities has been so conducive to my meeting students as just having an ever-present candy bowl on the corner of my desk.

Last year, Durham Academy was fortunate to have a talented group of DEE professionals serving as division-level coordinators. This group shepherded existing projects while working on new innovations like the parent/caregiver affinity groups. This year, student affinity groups are well under way, and we celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month in each division. There were special speakers; music and dance performances; soccer tournaments; and a visit by members of the Hispanic/Latinx Parent/Caregiver Affinity group at Lower School drop-off. Other assembly presentations reminded our community about the significance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and Dr. Cindy Moore led a group of students to Atlanta for an HBCU (historically Black colleges and universities) tour.

DA’s Strategic Vision reaffirms the community’s commitment to “broaden and deepen our work with Diversity, Equity and Engagement.” This is a lofty goal for a school where DEE is already core to the mission. Over the course of this year, I will be working with the DEE team and the DEE Committee of the Board of Trustees to craft a DEE plan to guide our efforts over the next three to five years. In the meantime, there are a few projects that have been front of mind for me as I started my work in July.

It is important to continue our work to widen the perspectives and voices included in already academically strong course content at every grade level. We know that what we teach reflects the people and topics we believe matter — and that every student deserves to see a positive reflection of themselves and others in the topics they are learning. This fall, faculty members have been putting into practice the lesson plans they worked on last year to connect course content with the DEE transfer goals (the desired outcomes for specific knowledge and skill mastery) of identity, diversity, justice and action. These curricular enhancements include:

  • more authentic Native and Indigenous voices in Lower School history lessons

  • the inclusion of changemakers in English classes that span different races, religions and cultures

  • and discussions of how mathematicians and scientists continue to solve real-world problems that impact equity. 

We will continue to hone the skills needed to enrich our curriculum through additional professional development in the late winter and early spring 2023. Working within the existing curriculum, rather than having DEE topics introduced as pull-out programming, special assemblies and speakers, is the way to broaden and deepen our work with Diversity, Equity and Engagement.

Getting ready for the upcoming hiring season has been another area of focus. We’re working to widen our reach when it comes to getting the word out about potential openings in faculty and staff positions. Division directors and other senior administrators will be attending a virtual workshop titled “Overcoming Obstacles to Recruiting Faculty of Color” in order to think creatively about the search firms and organizations Durham Academy partners with in finding talented and diverse candidates. We’ll also better standardize our hiring procedure to ensure equity and to help every candidate understand our commitment to cultural competence and diversity in all its forms. I welcome any suggestions from the community when it comes to finding and recruiting talented teachers.

Last year, members of the DEE team were working to create more efficiency in the reporting and tracking of bias incidents on campus. I picked up this task in July and have been working with the Upper School deans and others to finalize new report buttons to be housed on the student Veracross page. This will supplement but not replace existing methods that students have been using to talk to us about incidents of bias, namely conversations with trusted adults. We know that when young people feel welcomed, empowered, responsible and safe, they are more likely to thrive intellectually and socially in an academic community. We are committed to providing a way for students to report incidents of bias and harassment in order to foster a safe and inclusive learning environment. We also know that there is tremendous potential for continued education and personal growth in the school’s response to incidents of bias and harassment on campus. After we iron out the last details, we plan to introduce this reporting mechanism to students, reminding them that reports are not anonymous. Anonymous reporting does not allow the school to successfully address the issues and concerns reported in a bias incident. A message with more information will go out to Upper School families after we speak to students.

As I work with the DEE team to flesh out the promise of DA’s Strategic Vision, I very much look forward to meeting each of you, engaging you in candid conversation and continuing to operationalize practices that value and celebrate the contributions of all members of the DA community.