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Building a Community: The Foundation of Equity and Inclusion

Building a Community: The Foundation of Equity and Inclusion
Rachel Nagler, Director of Community, Equity and Inclusion

Being a community is one of the highest values and priorities we hold. It is the precursor to equity and inclusion. Those of us who do this work are always asking the questions of why  does community matter, how does it happen, what nourishment do we need for it to thrive?

Community at Dana Hall means developing the self, co-creating our identity within the context of others. We want students to be self-sufficient, have a strong sense of character and morality in the face of challenges, but we also want them to be collaborative, empathic and think of others. This is two sides of the same coin. For adolescents, their job is to think about themselves, and to be completely self-involved. At the same time, they have a deep desire for affirmation and are highly attuned to and sensitive to their peers' attitudes and behaviors. Often they face outwards to learn about what is happening inwards. 

When we approach Community, Equity, and Inclusion we must embrace the developmental possibilities of this age and build authentic community from that location. We design our programs for students in a way that they must ask themselves questions about how they identify, what allegiances they have, what they value. We also ask them complex questions about how to share resources and work across differences. We do this in a multitude of ways. At Dana, we believe in Data. Data collection, particularly data that allows students to self identify in a variety of ways, helps us maintain an objective metric about how our students are doing and what we can be doing better to improve upon their experiences. In that process of self-identifying, students struggle to figure out where they fit in and where they belong, what to challenge and what to embrace. This also allows us to design with greater precision programming that responds to and reflects the community we have as it evolves from year to year.

The programming that we offer both in our curriculum and beyond allows students to make choices about where they want to be, what needs they need met, who might have things in common with them and ways in which others are different in a genuine and constructive way.

This also allows them to name joys and achievements and harm as they have witnessed or experienced it. These are all developing skills that will serve our students and our community for a lifetime. Our Affinity spaces allow for the connection with others who share the same identity, but are extremely diverse in nature. Alliance groups allow our students to connect across differences but to engage around a particularly meaningful identity. Interest groups allow students to engage and co-create around a shared love of something. This wide-ranging programming is important scaffolding. Some students are driven, and lead with clarity. Some students explore while some students never choose to engage. However, the entire community benefits from such a process and practice. All of our students can see that identity matters to us and that we are open to exploring the ways that might express itself over the years at Dana Hall. Identity can be solid and enduring, but it can also be fluid and malleable, shapeshifting through time and space.

When I think about community, I envision a safe landing spot, a warm embrace. I envision a place where the door is always open. You may walk away from it and you may always return. Your actions impact the group, your contributions are noticed and felt. You matter, you belong in all your forms. Like all people, our students are seeking acceptance. Sometimes they go about it in a way that only a pre-teen-teenager can. We are here for all of it.