Faculty-Run Groups Work to Discuss Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) and Andover White Anti-Racist Education (AWARE) are two new faculty groups which give adults on campus the opportunities to converse about the needs of students. SEED works towards social justice at the personal and institutional levels, while AWARE, now in its second year, is a discussion group for white-identifying faculty.

Dr. Peggy McIntosh, Senior Research Scientist of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, founded the National SEED Project in 1987. According to its website, the National SEED Project consists of “peer-led” seminars amongst teachers to discuss issues of equity and diversity on their campuses. Andover conducted a SEED seminar two years ago, but none have occurred since then. After attending training this past summer, Deborah Olander, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, & Computer Science, and Susan Esty, Director of Wellness Education, decided to recontinue SEED sessions for the year.

“The program sort of expanded to look at all systems of oppression in the settings of schools and help[s] educators think about how they can build supportive communities that break down systems of oppression,” said Olander.

According to Olander, the group meets once or twice a month in ninety minute sessions. Topics include race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, ability, class, and socioeconomic class. Besides directly confronting social issues, the group also builds a great community, and helps the faculty learn more about each other.

“It’s a way for faculty and staff to get to know each other better and to get to know what our backgrounds are and that we come from very different backgrounds. We do a lot of personal reflection and sharing of that,” said Olander.

In an email to The Phillipian, Esty wrote, “Faculty discuss issues of equity and inclusion a lot of the time. I think it’s both normal for this campus and important for any school community to be having conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion. I’m grateful to have so many colleagues who value this work.”

AWARE was started by Olander for white-identifying faculty to discuss their roles as allies and educators on a multicultural campus.

Olander said “I didn’t see a formal way for white people to come together and talk about their racial identity and the role that they can play in creating equity on campus. There are a lot of well-intentioned people on campus thinking about those things, but there’s no formal organization around that. I felt [that] faculty of color were doing the most heavy lifting in terms of identifying issues or looking for ways to create more equity, so [AWARE] sort of formalizes that.”

Faculty in AWARE work on increasing their understanding of white supremacy, and how racism functions in modern society. One of their priorities is learning and practicing active and effective allyship.

“In AWARE, we are discussing our own understanding of our racial identity as white people, the role we play as white people, and the role that whiteness plays in society. We’re doing our own education, and we’re also trying to identify places on campus where we might be able to have an influence. It remind[s] [us] that we need to be in solidarity with people of color on this campus and [it] identif[ies] opportunities for us to play a more active role,” said Olander.

AWARE currently includes almost fifty faculty members. According to Olander, this number is around three times higher than the number of participants last year. Caleb Blackburn-Johnson ’22 feels that these types of groups are extremely important to have, and that with many faculty members involved, the themes discussed can “trickle down” to the student body and have a larger impact.

“I think [these groups are] a really important thing, especially because if we want to have a community of inclusion and diversity, that leadership needs to come from the top. And if teachers are willing to discuss these issues, then they’ll be also willing to bring it into the classroom, which is really essential towards cultivating community acceptance,” said Blackburn-Johnson.

As part of the efforts of creating and running SEED and AWARE, Olander uses historical context in recognizing the Andover institution as a unique and necessary space to have conversations about inclusion and multiculturalism.

“The Andover community was established in 1778 for wealthy white men, and we carry on the legacy of that kind of institution. We have to be very intentional about what remains from that history and acknowledge that history. We built this beautiful multicultural community, but it’s not perfect yet. It’s not perfect anywhere yet, but I think it has to be a very intentional effort to build a very healthy multicultural community,” said Olander.