A brief history of the ICIE

Jude Herwitz, Staff Writer

In 1992, the Committee on Valuing Difference (CVD) held its first meeting on how to increase inclusivity at the school. Since then, diversity initiatives have found a new home at the Office of Identity, Culture and Institutional Equity (ICIE), and discussions of identity permeate many classes at school.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, the student body was around 98% white, and the school started realizing that its lack of diversity was a “fatal flaw,” Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly said during his State of the School address earlier this month. The CVD had about 20 members from across departments and discussed how to increase inclusivity both in individual classes and in the school as a whole.

For English teacher Rebecca Bahr, who became part of the committee after joining the faculty in 1998, it also served as a support group for people who understood the importance of diversity.

“It was nice to talk to people who had similar takes on diversity,” she said.

The CVD advocated for and was instrumental in the creation of the now-defunct Director of Diversity in 1998, which was the first position that dealt with inclusion at the school, said co-Director of the ICIE Patricia Zuroski.

The first Director of Diversity, Cheryl Scott-Mouzon, collaborated with Head of School Dr. Eileen Mullady and the admissions office to develop a strategy for increasing diversity and making sure that the school was attractive for students and families of color, Zuroski said.

Scott-Mouzon also worked with coordinators in the Nursery, Lower, and Middle Divisions to include diverse material in curriculums, such as a study of Harriet Tubman in the Lower Division.

Since 2003, the number of self-reported students of color enrolled at the school has increased from 419 in the 2003-04 school year to 708 last year. In addition, the percentage of admitted students who identified as of color rose from 30% of students admitted for 2005 to 45% for 2018.

Markell Parker, the Diversity Coordinator for the Nursery Division beginning in 2000, was tasked with finding ways to increase inclusion and diversity. By 2009, the need for a dedicated space to support inclusion efforts and students of color became clear, Parker said. Even though there were many families and faculty at the school who identified as members of minority groups, they reported that they did not feel like they were part of the community but instead just guests, he said.

“As the population of families of color in the school grew, it became clear that when you do this kind of work, you’re not just looking at admissions to get them to come to Horace Mann, because then there’s this question of how you get them to stay and how you get students to succeed,” Zuroski said.

Other independent schools across the nation also started recognizing the importance of diversity positions in the 1990’s, but the school was one of the first to establish an independent department, Co-Director of the ICIE John Gentile said.

Zuroski, Head of the Nursery Division at the time, and Parker, were recruited by Kelly to start the Office of Diversity in the 2009-2010 school year with the goal of providing constant support to students, families and faculty of color, she said. Parker split his time between the Office of Diversity and working as an Assistant Director of Admissions.

“It was increasingly clear to me that the individual or individuals charged with carrying out [diversity work] needed doing the work to be their primary responsibility,” Kelly said.

Much of the initial job of the Office of Diversity was figuring out how the office would work, Zuroski said. While they knew it would operate as an independent administrative office with the advancement of inclusion, diversity and social justice as its sole goal, they spent some of the first year figuring out how to integrate their work with the primary fields of students and academics.

“One of our initial goals was to understand how this work was going to fit into the academic work of the school,” Zuroski said.

Though there were supporters, at first, most of the students and faculty saw the diversity work of the Office as irrelevant to them, Parker said.“We were building the language and the data, both statistical and anecdotal, to make the case that the school had a big problem, a big hole in its education that it was reluctant to address,” he said.

Elliot Weinstein ’12 started working with the Office of Diversity during his junior year at the school. He tried primarily to raise awareness about the issues which affected “diverse groups,” he said, such as offensive language. His senior year brought with it an interactive activity at the Poetry Assembly, in which students on stage read unscreened prompts submitted anonymously by other students, including derogatory slurs.

Afterwards, the Office of Diversity and the Union co-hosted a discussion about the event, which packed the Recital Hall, he said.“That was a defining moment of my senior year, where I began thinking that our community is starting to really understand the importance of these conversations and being open with each other and really trying to support all members of the community,” Weinstein said.

“Students today are much more confident in discussing these issues and faculty are more interested in leading discussions in their classrooms,” Weinstein said. Last year, Weinstein worked at the school as a fellow with the ICIE, he said.

In 2017, the Office of Diversity changed its name to the Office of Identity, Culture and Institutional Equity, or ICIE. That name change came about from a sense that “the word ‘diversity’ sort of felt like it was not everybody’s work,” Gentile said. The current title is more inclusive so that everyone in the community can feel part of the Office, he said.

Now the school is at the forefront of diversity work at independent schools as shown by the two presentations given by students and faculty at the recent Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) and People of Color Conference (PoCC), Kelly said.

The two, together known as SDLC-PoCC, are national conferences organized by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) dedicated to advancing diversity and equity in independent schools.

At PoCC, Deveraux Mackey (12) delivered a presentation on the pioneering Striving toward Engagement and Peaceful Solutions (STEPS) mentoring program, which connects students of color in the Middle Division with Upper Division mentors who are also students of color, Charles Simmons (11) said.

In addition, English teacher Chidi Asoluka spoke about the New Community Project, a 12th grade English course which brings together the action of studying literature about service learning and creating projects which help the community, Simmons said.

“[The conference] was a lot about finding how to connect with people on a personal level and being more true to yourself,” Adam Frommer (10) said.

Simmons, who came back from SDLC with an increased passion for addressing issues of diversity at the school, said that ICIE has been incredible in advancing efforts for equity, such as through the Affirmative Action forum, which took place in the fall.

“It is only in the last five or six years that social justice and equity have become part of the HM lexicon,” Parker said. “I largely credit the students that attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference over the years and came back to school changed.”

The members of the office, including Zuroski, Gentile, and ICIE Associates Sharina Gordon and Candice Powell-Caldwell, now make up a “critical mass” to make the most positive change, Gentile said.

Last year, the ICIE introduced the course Seminar on Identity (SOI), mandatory for all juniors, which gives students practice in thinking about who they are and the place they occupy in society, Gentile said.

“We thought this was a curricular moment to pull teachers in to an interdisciplinary framework that allowed us to have this time with juniors because juniors are starting to think about their time beyond Horace Mann,” he said.

The curriculum has been tweaked from this year to last year, partially in response to student feedback, such as complaints about the length of work in preparation for watching the film Class Divide.

“There was a spectrum of feedback from ‘I want this class to meet all the time’ to ‘I don’t know why I’m here,’” Gentile said.

Eliza Bender (11) enjoys SOI, and unlike other juniors, does not find the free period she would otherwise have to be wasted, she said.

“Obviously the conversations that we are having are difficult, and sometimes I question the productivity of having them in randomized groups, but I do feel that it is an important class,” she said. “I have an older sister who had a previous version called Quest, and in conversations with her I feel like SOI is definitely a more structured program.”

Next year the ICIE plans on dedicating effort to assessing what their impact has been so far, and strategizing their overall goals and possible initiatives for the next 10 years, Gentile said.

From the birth of the Office of Diversity to the creation of the ICIE today, the culture of the school has shifted towards acceptance of discussions about diversity and a greater inclusion of those discussions in every day life, Gentile said.

“They used to come to us for ideas,” Zuroski said. “They used to ask us, ‘So what should we talk about, what should we think about,’ and I think, more and more, students come in and say ‘I’m thinking about [something].’ That’s progress to me.”