Students and teachers gather in the park for a workshop called "What's Your Story?"

The Why of DEI: Reflecting on InCommon Day 2021

By Jack Stedman

Why does diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) matter? 

That was the focus of this year’s InCommon Day, Commonwealth’s annual celebration of diversity and our community. Like any inquiry at Commonwealth, this question led students, faculty, and staff through the nuances of myriad topics, from neurodiversity and disability to representation in literature to misogyny in hip-hop. 

“Our focus was on why we all think DEI work is important, not just in a personal context, but in a broader societal context, with the goal of understanding how racism—institutional and interpersonal—negatively affects everyone,” said Sophia Meas, Commonwealth’s Director of College Counseling and one of the day’s organizers.

"We wanted to make education a central part of the day especially amidst the many changes happening in the school and world as a whole because they can be hard to navigate," Ryan '22, a student organizer, said.

And so student- and staff-led workshops on critical issues filled classrooms with spirited and thoughtful discussion.

One InCommon Day workshop, presented by history teacher Melissa Glenn Haber ’87, explored the notion of “dream hoarding,” the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which privilege is accumulated, or hoarded, at the top of society. (For example: legacy college admissions.) What does social mobility look like right now, the group pondered. Why is it “sticky” at both ends; i.e., people at the bottom have a harder time moving up, while those at the top tend to stay there? And what should social mobility look like?

In a student-led workshop called “Disney on a Spit,” Sol ’21 and Sophia ’22 examined multiculturalism in Disney’s Moana and Coco. They examined some of the stereotypes in the movies, considered the ramifications of presenting the cultures depicted as monoliths, and asked what Disney’s obligation is, as a global powerhouse, in fostering more authentic cultural dialogue.

Anchoring the event was a poignant keynote speech from Dr. Rodney Glasgow, Head of School at Sandy Spring Friends School. Having led several past DEI events at Commonwealth, he returned to school (virtually) with his trademark insight, panache, and, of course, bare feet. (Bare feet make you feel at home! And that level of comfort is important in setting the stage for deep conversations.) Recounting his experiences being young, gifted, and Black in an impoverished area of Maryland, he set an intentional and reflective tone for the day. 

So, why does DEI matter? Like Dr. Glasgow said, “DEI is important because when you do it right it allows everyone to feel at home everywhere they go.” And the “why” of DEI can be asked and answered in innumerable ways. It’s in your personal stories and identity. It’s in the movies you watch and the music you listen to. It’s in your history classroom and your English classroom and your science classroom, too. (Another InCommon Day workshop took a closer look at “reference man,” a 30-year-old white man often used to represent the “average” human in many scientific studies—with deadly consequence.) 

The hope is that a day like InCommon Day pushes us forward, urging all to incorporate these themes and these intentions into every day, not just one. 

“We want to keep the momentum going through shared experience and story-telling,” Meas said. “The more we know about our friends and neighbors, the more we can embrace who and what we bring to the table.”

Learn more about DEI at Commonwealth