By Lian Wang ’21, News Reporter
Each year, Mercersburg Academy chooses a theme to guide conversations and actions within the community. This year, the theme is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, or DEI. The decision for our 2019-20 theme was, as Head of School Katie Titus puts it, “The happy convergence of two distinct conversations on campus.” First, the student life office proposed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as this year’s theme. Simultaneously, another group was seeking a way to recognize the 50th anniversary of gender re-integration at the school. As this year also commemorates 55 years of black student integration and 30 years since the creation of the Black Student Union, DEI became a crossroad of these milestones in Mercersburg’s history.
But what does having a theme mean for the community and for the individual? DEI celebrates the progress in our acceptance of difference and the diversity of race, background, and voice present in our school community. However, the theme also gives us a platform to reflect upon our shortcomings and continue to grow. Titus acknowledges this: “We are a very welcoming community, but we are not perfect. How can we ensure that we are serving our mission and values effectively in a complex and changing world?”
Through hearing the stories both within and beyond the community, all can better understand and learn from the diversity that we want to celebrate. Over the summer, students and faculty read books that portrayed the struggles of women in the military, in the suffrage movement, or at home. In addition to Robin Benway, author of Far From the Tree, the school will hear from the authors of other sponsored books as they share the members of the community beyond the exposure they get in just their classes, PGAs, and dorms. On Friday of Family and Alumni Weekend, Ernest Green, a member of the pivotal Little Rock Nine, was welcomed to engage in an honest conversation with leaders in our community.
To Selina Xue ‘20 “[DEI] is like the foundation for all future conversations; DEI establishes certain baselines for future themes and conversations in school.” She believes that these discussions inspire the students “to start thinking about not just being a student in a school, but also being an individual in a community and embracing what’s outside of just academic and extracurricular activities, in order to really go out of their comfort zone and talk to people who they usually don’t.” Xue sees DEI as as an opportunity for students to connect with each other, but also with the local community. These are conversations meant to burst our Mercersburg community bubble in order to stay grounded in the changing world.
In the celebration of diversity, inclusion must follow. Xue echoes this sentiment: “I think it’s more about how to push through rather than staying at the conversation level. There are a lot of inspiring speakers coming in and talking about their experiences, but it’s really what is the next step, what is the follow-up from the school.” DEI urges everyone to take action, and to be more proactive in including and valuing every member of Mercersburg. Emma Shuford ‘22 believes that the theme fosters this spirit: “For people who maybe aren’t feeling part of the community quite yet, [the theme] really shows them that everyone’s trying to help them and help make that process easier.” She says, “We do a pretty good job of helping new students, especially the 10th, 11th, and 12th graders who are new to the community… [we should] focus on these things and ask current students what would have helped them as they came into the community.”
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion celebrates the history of our school; at the same time, it is a starting line for future conversations and growth. Titus anticipates that this theme will be embodied in our actions this year and beyond: “I hope we will take the time to reflect on ourselves, being willing to understand our individual and collective privilege, so that we can best serve our whole community and inspire our students to lead and serve the world.” The theme of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is a call to action for every individual in the community: it is both a responsibility and an opportunity to reflect, learn, understand, and make change.