Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: A Committee of Action

Stuyvesant recently established the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee to promote anti-racism and anti-discrimination within the school community.

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With former Principal Eric Contreras’s support, guidance counselor Sandra Brandan spearheaded the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee to centralize efforts toward combating systemic racism and discrimination within the Stuyvesant community.

Amidst the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement, members of the school community have re-examined themselves and the school environment to address the longstanding—and often overlooked—issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The new DEI Committee amplifies the voices of pre-existing advocacy groups at Stuyvesant by encouraging collaboration between the SPARK Coalition, Black Students League (BSL), staff members, and the general student body.

Currently, administrators of the DEI Committee include Brandan, guidance counselor Kristina Uy, Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services Casey Pedrick, college counselor Jeaurel Wilson, and chemistry teacher Patrick Sunwoo. The DEI Committee will also work closely with Principal Seung Yu, Director of Family Engagement Dina Ingram, SPARK advisor Angel Colon, and the rest of the school counseling department to expand their outreach and encourage all members of the Stuyvesant community to get involved.

Though the DEI Committee was recently established, conversations surrounding the implementation of similar groups are not new. “We’ve been talking about this behind closed doors for a very long time, speaking to our students who are complaining and disheartened. Some students have transferred to other schools because the environment has been so toxic for their development. We’ve had conversations with [the] administration, which has landed on deaf ears for years. We’re not changing the wheel here, but [the] climate of the world right now—with the civil unrest that’s happening in our streets—really spearheads what’s happening [within Stuyvesant],” Wilson said.

The DEI Committee hopes to centralize their work and implement action-based goals to produce tangible results. “We’re working on something, and another group might be working on the same thing. [By] collaborating to ensure that our goals come about, we enhance [each other’s] work instead of duplicating [it],” Brandan said.

The DEI Committee hopes to spark new discussions about curriculum, activities, and seminar content through smaller action-based subcommittees. Forming subcommittees within the DEI Committee is open-ended and dependent on the proposals of the Stuyvesant community. “Anybody can come to [the DEI Committee] and say that they see an issue. If we say that [it] is an important issue, we will create a subcommittee [based] on what you're most passionate about,” Pedrick said. “If there is an issue that was addressed by this subcommittee […], we can [then] dissolve that committee.”

The first established subcommittee was the Allyship Summer Group, a voluntary summer program facilitated by Uy and guidance counselor Sarah Kornhauser. Approximately 25 staff members joined Uy and Kornhauser in weekly Zoom meetings in which they completed a 30-day coursework and discussed issues regarding race, diversity, and equality. “One of the things we learned about in our Allyship Summer Group was that allyship means education, empathy, and action,” Uy said. “None of us are experts in this field, but we all have things to gain.” They closed their last meeting with a more concrete vision for how to approach professional development for other staff members in the upcoming school year.

The DEI Committee has also outlined many of its goals for the upcoming school year, the first of which is to establish a declaration of Stuyvesant’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in hopes of holding the school accountable for instances of discrimination. “We are hoping that we can hold the school accountable for the positive changes, and when I say accountable, I don’t want to say punitive; it’s more [so] restorative,” Brandan said.

Such restorative efforts involve changes to Stuyvesant’s curriculum, such as the addition of the new English elective, Black Lives in Literature. “Conversations that we started having in the BSL and ASPIRA groups are wanting to make changes in the curriculum […] starting with the English department in hopes of trying to bring in more literature that has been written by people of color,” Wilson said. “Moving forward, [the DEI Committee wants to] implement more things within the history department as well in respect to the Latinx community, Latinx writers, and Latinx students.”

In addition to improving the curriculum for students, the DEI Committee intends to strengthen Stuyvesant’s partnerships with affinity, identity, and alliance groups, increase the diversity of employees, and provide a platform for anti-racism training. “We’re a school of 75 to 78 nationalities, and we always try to celebrate every one of them, either through their own particular month of observance, celebrations, and/or cultural milestones. That’s always been our effort in letting people know we’re a community, [and that’s] why we reiterate this idea of Stuy UNITY,” Colon said.

Despite the DEI Committee’s efforts to educate the community and celebrate different cultures, the core to achieving these values lies in individuals themselves. “The thing that’s not built into the conversation around race is—oftentimes—emotional intelligence, which encompasses empathy and compassion,” Sunwoo said. “If I, as a teacher, am going to serve Black and Latinx students, I really need to be willing to move outside my own thinking and challenge my own behaviors. I need to learn along with the DEI Committee, as well as other staff members.”

To encourage students to be more critically conscious of issues regarding diversity, the DEI Committee plans to create a Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) section in the library, to be named “The Eleanor Archie Diversity BIPOC Reading Corner” after former Assistant Principal Eleanor Archie. From there, Stuyvesant’s librarians can recommend readings and resources to both staff and students. In conjunction with the Allyship Summer Group, the DEI Committee plans to facilitate and provide faculty with voluntary workshops for professional development, suggestions on how to implement positive classroom culture, and a safe support group to lead discussions about implicit biases.

Senior and BSL Co-President Falina Ongus hopes that the DEI Committee is a step in the right direction for the Stuyvesant community. “[The DEI Committee] provides a way for the school to be accountable for its inaction and really start to address racism and bias at Stuy. That being said, I think we have yet to see what the DEI does and if it will really bring about change in this school,” she said in an e-mail interview. “While there is potential for it to have an impact, there is also potential for the DEI to become the administration’s version of ‘performative activism,’ which I think they should try to avoid as much as possible.”

For senior and ASPIRA Co-President Melissa Lopez, it’s important that the DEI Committee creates a safe space for students. “High school is supposed to be a place where you figure out who you are and who you want to be in the future. Lack of accountability prevents safe spaces from being created, and in a high school as prestigious and vigorous as Stuyvesant, these safe spaces are needed for students to thrive,” she said.

In order to create these safe spaces, Wilson believes that the Stuyvesant community must be united regardless of background. “As a Black woman in a building where I’m not represented fully in my own career, it’s important not only for me to speak up, but [also] for me to have allies that don’t look like me to speak up,” Wilson said. “[Having Pedrick] be someone who is speaking up on this and [having Uy], who is so passionate and wants nothing more than to make this change, is what convinces me that this DEI Committee is going to be phenomenal.”

Many of the staff members support the establishment and mission statement of the DEI Committee. “There is a lot of openness in the DEI Committee to getting staff involved, and I’m really proud of this committee because [there’s] just been this active effort to bring staff in and to get them involved in the work,” Sunwoo said. “Aside from whatever you come from or whatever your background is, it’s just about humanity and equity in its most fundamental form.”

While specific details and goals of the DEI are still being fleshed out, staff members are enthusiastic about creating a more welcoming environment for the community. “Overall, the DEI is cultivating a united diversity and united conversations. A lot of things are still going to be in the works, whether we do it remotely or in-person,” Colon said. “It’s great getting to come together, brainstorm, and collaborate with students, staff, faculty, and parents. I’m really looking forward to reading things through the DEI updates and allyship.”