As always, the health and safety of our community is our top priority. Therefore, we must pay close attention to our school culture as it directly affects the emotional and physical safety of our community members. Oldfields should always be a place that feels warm, welcoming, respectful, accepting, and inclusive of all who step foot on campus. This spring, the voices of our alumni helped us understand—more so than ever before—how this has not always been the case for all students at Oldfields, and particularly not for many students of color. These voices came in the form of individual communications from Black alumni, an open letter to the School, and social media posts on a grassroots Instagram account, Black@Oldfields—all of which shared the experiences of our Black alumnae. We deeply appreciate the courage they demonstrated in speaking up and giving the School an opportunity to demonstrate humility in acknowledging past harm and possessing the largeness of heart and courage to help build a better Oldfields for the future. The voices of alumni and our current students provided the impetus for the creation of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Action Plan that outlines the initiatives designed to ensure that Oldfields is a place where everyone feels seen, heard, valued, and loved.
The first step was to commit to listen to and value the lived experiences and truths of our students, alumni, and community members. We must be willing to reflect and acknowledge how we've fallen short as a community if we are to create and implement strategies to improve campus culture and create a truly inclusive environment.
In a recent letter published in the Oldfields Magazine published in November 2020, Head of School David Perfield wrote:
Through the lens I have as Head of School, I recognize we have caused harm to the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) members of the Oldfields community, and we have significant work to do in order to combat systemic racism on campus. Moreover, I would like to publicly and sincerely apologize for the harm and hurt you or one of your classmates may have experienced under our School’s care.
As the 2020-2021 school year began, Oldfields committed to initiating dialogue around DEI. We provided space for discussions to occur around current events, varying beliefs, and the lived experiences of our students and faculty. It quickly became clear that the Oldfields community would greatly benefit from sharing norms of engagement in order to navigate these sometimes difficult but vital conversations. Our norms are rooted in Courage, Humility, and Largeness of Heart and are designed to be implemented in all aspects of our community—classes, community forums, club meetings, faculty meetings, athletics, and residential life.
Oldfields hosts monthly community-wide forums and workshops that emphasize one of the nine community norms during each workshop. With the help of faculty leaders Bez Wallace and Shawn Wright, students lead breakout sessions and encourage dialogue around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We are very proud of our students for leaning into these courageous conversations and look forward to continuing workshops that will focus on a different norm each month. Past programs include:
September: "Open minds and hearts" was the first norm explored. Student leaders facilitated workshops titled: “Identity and Me,” “I Can Do and Be More,” and “How Can I Define Myself?”. The goal of this programming was to empower our students to speak from the heart and to listen with empathy.
October: "Listen as if you might be wrong" was the central norm as we kicked off a three-year partnership with The Social Institute, an online learning platform that empowers students to positively navigate their social media world, including how to evaluate, process, and discuss the barrage of information on current events to which they are exposed. The Social Institute provides our students and faculty with a tool kit for engaging and navigating dialogue surrounding emotionally charged topics. Students are presented with a variety of topics to stimulate discussion in their advisory groups as advisors help them utilize the resources to navigate the challenges they face on and offline in today’s complex environment.
November: "Distribute what you learn" was the norm encouraged as student leaders of the Diversity Committee led interactive workshops focusing on BIPOC contributions to the arts. Through introducing students to influential BIPOC artists and social dances, students learned about the impact and influence these performers have on American culture.
Students and faculty now have the option of participating in affinity groups once a week during lunch. Affinity groups provide important opportunities to connect with other people who share aspects of their identity, especially in situations in which they are in the minority or are marginalized. Affinity groups allow for an exploration of one’s own identity, celebration of shared identity, and debriefing of common challenges and experiences.
Realizing that our students learn in and out of the classroom—often on the fields, courts, and stage—Oldfields’ coaches participated in a workshop titled Dialogue in Athletics, a six-session program facilitated by former Oldfields coach, Jill Kochanek, M.S. and Oldfields alumna Davida Palmer '18. Jill and Dalvida are thrilled to put their passion for social justice to work through this program for student-athletes and coaches. Jill is a trained facilitator and has led dialogues with high school and college athletes as well as sports professionals for several years. Adapted from Michigan State University’s MSU Dialogues, Dialogue in Athletics is a leadership and social justice education program that aims to teach student-athletes and coaches skills to foster inclusive, empowering, cultures and experiences in sports.
Faculty and Staff
All faculty and staff participated in the reading and discussion of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald. The exchange of ideas opened the door to deeper conversations and prepared us for two intensive DEI workshops with The Wells Collective. The Wells Collective is a collaborative of diversity practitioners focused on social justice, power and privilege, and ways to build a more equitable community. The workshops were so impactful that we brought The Wells Collective back in early October to facilitate a workshop with our Board of Trustees.
Realizing that our students learn in and out of the classroom—often on the fields, courts, and stage—Oldfields’ coaches participated in a workshop titled Dialogue in Athletics, a six-session program facilitated by former Oldfields coach, Jill Kochanek, M.S. and Oldfields alumna Davida Palmer '18. Jill and Dalvida are thrilled to put their passion for social justice to work through this program for student-athletes and coaches. Jill is a trained facilitator and has led dialogues with high school and college athletes as well as sports professionals for several years. Adapted from Michigan State University’s MSU Dialogues, A student workshop is planned for January in which they will experience the leadership and social justice education program that aims to teach student-athletes and coaches skills to foster inclusive, empowering, cultures and experiences in sports.
The first week in December, key faculty members will be attending the NAIS People of Color Conference, which is the flagship of the National Association of Independent Schools' commitment to equity and justice in teaching and learning. The mission of the conference is to provide a space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. PoCC equips educators at every level, from teachers to trustees, with knowledge, skills, and experiences to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate in their schools, as well as the attending academic, social-emotional, and workplace performance outcomes for students and adults alike.
Board of Trustees
Recognizing that change has to start at the top of any organization, Oldfields invited four leading alumni to join the Board of Trustees—providing new expertise and new perspectives. As a result, Jennevee Crespo ’01, Jamila Hubbard ’11, Dominique Mejia ’04, and Rayven Vinson ’10 were each invited to serve on the Oldfields School Board of Trustees in August 2020. Each of these new members provide a unique perspective in their position, both from their experiences as Oldfields students, their professional expertise, and the intersectionality of their identities as women of color. By volunteering to serve on our Board, they commit to leading our community in being anti-racist on campus and in the world at large. Learn more about our new trustees >
In addition, the Board of Trustees officially created a standing DEI Board Committee during the October 2020 board meetings. This committee serves to guide, ensure, and support Oldfields’ commitment to DEI in all aspects of school life.
Oldfields’ leadership recognizes that a specific focus on DEI in the Strategic Plan is essential to enabling systemic change at Oldfields and must become a lens through which all aspects of Oldfields School’s operations and governance is filtered if we are to be an institution that is equitable and inclusive of all. The DEI Committee will be developing a three-year action plan to ensure our sustained commitment to these efforts.
Additionally, the School will launch a global search to hire a full-time Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion who will focus on student support, educational programs, and training. This leadership position will also provide counsel to the work of the DEI Board Committee.
It’s too early to applaud the commitment our community has made to ensure the experience of all of our students is better—and most importantly, safer. As we all know, our actions will speak louder than our words, and time will tell a new story for Oldfields. We ask that you stay connected to the School and the work we are doing. More specific actions will be forthcoming so we all can join together as students, faculty, staff, alumni—all community members worldwide-- united to ensure an anti-racist and anti-discriminatory educational experience for all.
No matter the topic or differing opinions, humanity will always be at the center of what we do—and we will always strive to empower each and every one of our girls!