Dear Dwight-Englewood School Families:
In my four months here, I am already moved by the centrality of the school’s mission and how it calls us to community. Nevertheless, recent weeks have exposed the difficulty of genuinely being together in a remarkably diverse school. Many of us have chosen to be at D-E because it champions the value of difference. At the same time, our diverse experiences, worldviews, and expressions invite us to do the hard, essential work of building relationships in a way that considers difference an asset.
It is not a foregone conclusion that we will do this high-quality, relationship-building work well or at all, but our choice to be present at D-E signals that we are interested, and we might. This letter is intended to share some of my initial community observations and provide a peek into how those observations might inform our school’s emerging efforts to cultivate a culture of belonging.
In September, I began a listening journey to learn more directly about the Dwight-Englewood School community. Already, it seems clear that our DEIB efforts will benefit from an emphasis on the “B” – belonging. These conversations will inform a strategic framework for our DEIB Department, which is slated to be released in August 2024. This framework will help us define what we mean when we say we intend to cultivate a culture of belonging at D-E. In turn, this framework will guide our school’s belonging agenda ahead.
Although I have more listening to do, some insights are already becoming clear. By way of preview, some of my reflections to date are found in these verses of poetry I’m currently calling “On Belonging”. As you take in these reflections and consider your own experience at Dwight-Englewood, I welcome your feedback.
I invite you to (re)read our recently released commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging on our website at d-e.org/diversity.
This position statement foregrounds the significance of each person’s unique sense of belonging within our decidedly diverse community. Our strategic framework for belonging that I referenced earlier will honor the spirit of these intentions.
Toward A Knotted Community
As mentioned, relationships have recently been put to the test (again). While reflecting on the strength of connections and the worthy challenges of building community at Dwight-Englewood, I started thinking about knots. On the one hand, a knot can represent difficulty; on the other, it symbolizes how to keep stuff together. Truly, worthwhile communities have experiences of both.
Recently, D-E faculty and staff gathered to assemble a branded carabiner and knotted cord for our students. The impetus for creating these keepsakes is to visibly represent the knotted nature of authentic community – the good and the challenging. It is also an opportunity to communicate connection and solidarity with one another without the trappings and failings that sometimes come with words. We hope that seeing these keepsakes around on backpacks, belt loops, and the like will remind us that our community is a gift that requires our consistent effort to hold it together.
Programmatically, Lead School Psychologist Dr. Deirdre O’Malley and I will be guiding an institutional initiative to help our students and staff cultivate skills that enable belonging. While there are currently pockets of excellence across the school that provide some learning opportunities, this initiative will design a scope and sequence for skill-building that links across ages and stages of development. Skills of focus include but are not limited to self-awareness, resilience, perspective-taking, and conflict-management. Our evaluation and planning phase begins in January.
Moreover, the spring term will provide an opportunity to explore the formation of a curiosity series/summit that will engage each of the academic divisions in meaningful ways. Whatever shape it takes, this initiative will respond to the emerging agreement from my listening journey that a posture of inquiry and curiosity are essential elements to a culture of belonging. Developmentally appropriate sources and content are being considered to help emphasize the valuable contributions that curiosity can make to our specific belonging efforts and the D-E educational experience more broadly. More to come.
A Parting Reflection
Fifteen years ago, I was part of a team of university educators who taught a summer course about social stratification while we traveled with undergraduate students on a bus through six states in the American South. When we were in Louisiana helping record oral histories from residents who had experienced first-hand the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the variety in their stories about trauma, loss, struggle, and recovery prompted me to get my first tattoo.
I selected a yin-yang design to represent that an “either-or” approach to life and story can impede the possibilities of the “both-and.” Yes – it is possible to see the yin-yang as perfectly balanced, opposing forces; it is also possible to center the relationship between the forces and explore “how much of each” might inspire stability.
As we work to cultivate a culture of belonging at Dwight-Englewood, I invite us to acknowledge the “either-or” and pursue the “both-and”. Such a holistic approach is less linear, more challenging, and maybe cumbersome; likewise, I believe it is a worthy endeavor that is conceivably more sustainable. This is the knot’s message. May we strive toward a knotted community ahead.
In the last edition of D-E Today, readers were introduced to our new DEIB Director, Dr. Marcus Ingram, and provided witth the School’s most current D-E Statement on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB). The following is excerpted from the latest communication shared by Dr. Ingram with D-E families earlier this fall. For more on current DEIB initiatives at D-E, including Dr. Ingram’s belonging-related listening journey, “Toward a Knotted Community” video, and more, please scan the QR Code or visit d-e.org/diversity.