Overview: 3/11-4/16

Hi guys!

Super quick update today!

Before creating my surveys, I contacted Mr. McKenna who gave Mr. Beck the list of alumni emails from 1996-2018. Mr. Beck and I then created two surveys, one for the alumni and one for current DA Upper School students. When I was done completing the survey, Mr. Beck and I (but mostly Mr. Beck) made a domain email that covered all of the alumni emails I previously mentioned. Many of you reading this blog will have (or have already had) the chance to take the survey this week. I also just decided to create a survey for the faculty in which we will measure the feelings of prejudice within the current faculty and how those feelings have changed through time. All of the surveys will likely close on April 30th, so after that, I plan on comparing and creating conclusions on the data gathered. 

Thanks for reading!

Overview: 2/25-3/8

Hi guys!

I hope you’ve had an awesome spring break!!

For the past couple of weeks before spring break, I went through the archives with Mrs. McNamara and I also started creating and finding survey questions. I also think I’ve decided to only survey the alumni/students post 1996, which is when DA’s diversity and inclusion statement was published.

First of all, here are just some of the notes I’ve taken while looking through the archives. The notes I’ll include are from DA’s student-run newspaper, The Green and White.

April 1997 Edition

  • Middle school section
    • Another viewpoint on race (a student’s reflection on Mrs. Moore’s assembly)
      • Assembly by Wanda Moore
        • Talked about segregated America
  • Stereotypes alive and well at DA (a student-written opinion piece) 
    • Might think DA is openminded, multi-ethnic society where nobody has a racist grudge against anyone
      • But racism and stereotypes are floating about the school
    • Thinks that only a few people are actually racist
      • Stereotypes and phrases are heard elsewhere and people just repeat them without really knowing what they mean
    • Think what they’re saying isn’t hurtful, but it actually is to someone

December 1997 Edition

  • Rabbi Friedman visits DA (a student’s reflection on Rabbi Friedman’s assembly)
    • freshman learn more about the jewish religion and culture on November  11 when rabbi John Friedman from Judea reform congregation, visited DA
      • Talked about the beliefs and practices of the religion
      • Main aspects of it and the importance of his religion

From just the few notes I’ve included, you can see that DA was already starting to be a “progressive” school. A student noting that stereotypes are prevalent and hurtful highlights this. I also think it’s really cool that DA had assemblies featuring different religions like they do today.

I also got some AIM survey information from Mrs. Nonez. This survey “was designed to gather information on the attitudes and impressions of students ages 9 through 11 about inclusiveness and multicultural issues.” Additionally, it includes information on DA participant’s (364 students) demographics. This will likely be a large part of my presentation, so I’ll share what I learned from the survey here when I complete my presentation.

As far as what I’ve done for my survey questions go, I’ve taken notes and written down questions used at companies like NASA and schools such as UNCW and University of Michigan. Here are just a few questions and their possible responses:

  • Have you ever heard of racism and discrimination?
    • yes/no
  • Have you ever been a victim of racism or discrimination at school?
    • Never, once or twice, monthly, several times a month, weekly, several times a week, daily, many times a day
  • Have you ever abused or discriminated against someone at school? *
    • Never, Once or twice, Monthly, Several times a month, Weekly, Several times a week, Daily, Many times a day
  • Do you feel comfortable being yourself at school? Why or why not?
    • open ended
  • At school, people are treated respectfully regardless of their differences (race/ethnicity, color, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, veteran’s status, religious beliefs, disability or socio-economic status).
    • rated between 1 and 5. 1 = extremely negative, 5 = extremely positive.
  • At DA, people have equal opportunities are treated respectfully regardless of their differences (race/ethnicity, color, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religious beliefs, disability or socioeconomic status).
    • rated between 1 and 5. 1 = extremely negative, 5 = extremely positive.
  •  Campus resources, programs and services are equally available to everyone regardless of their differences (race/ethnicity, color, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, veteran’s status, religious beliefs, disability or socioeconomic status).
    • rated between 1 and 5. 1 = extremely negative, 5 = extremely positive.
  •  At DA, I see strong leadership support for our institutional value of diversity.
    • rated between 1 and 5. 1 = extremely negative, 5 = extremely positive.

I still need to work on and gather questions, especially those that ask about if people’s differences made them feel as if they couldn’t pursue certain subjects in school, but I think I have a great start!

My plan for the next month:

  • meet with the alumni office and see what classes I have the availability to email my survey
  • finalize my questions
    • meet with Ms. Starling about this
  • create my survey
    • meet with Mr. Beck and Ms. Starling about this
  • send off my survey

Thanks for reading!


Weekly-ish Overview: 2/11-2/22

Hi guys!

So for the past couple weeks I’ve done a couple interviews and continued on my readings.

The first interview I had was with a leader of the Hispanic/Latino affinity group. The first thing I asked her about was what kinds of prejudice she feels at DA and what kinds of prejudice are discussed in her affinity group. She said that the most prejudice she sees at DA regarding the Hispanic/Latino community are different jokes being made, which I feel is definitely a common trend between the different affinity groups I’ve spoken with. One thing that she noted about her affinity group in particular is how during their meetings, they prefer to talk about the things that bring them together such as holidays, food, family connections, and the like. She said that most people in her affinity group prefer talking about those sorts of things than the different types of prejudice and social biases they experience at DA and in life outside DA, which I thought was kind of cool. Another thing she told me was that her affinity group is definitely stigmatized and many people do not wish to come to meetings or join it at all. I then asked her why she thought this was, as this was something that had come up a lot between the different affinity groups that I talked to. She then said that she feels like a lot of people in high school think that it’s not cool to care about anything and a lot of students buy into this idea. This really struck me as this concept of not caring was something that I talked to with Mrs. Frasher a few weeks earlier and was something that some of the other affinity group leaders stated. Lastly, we talked about assemblies and raising awareness to diversity and inclusion. She said that she thinks that assemblies are a great way to raise awareness about important matters such as diversity, inclusion, prejudice, etc because if you don’t talk about these issues, they don’t get any better. All in all, I had a really great conversation with her and I think I can use a lot of what she said to help me create my survey.

Next, I had my interview with Mr. Wilson. The first thing I asked him about was how DA has changed since he started working here in 2002. He said that it used to be a lot less diverse, especially regarding race and socioeconomic class. He also said that at that time the most common complaint about diversity was that people at DA wanted more diversity, but now that we are more diverse, he gets more complaints wondering about when diversity efforts will be ended. So then I asked him what he thought about that question and what his end “goal” for diversity really was. He told me that his goal is to match the composition of Durham and the greater Triangle. Mr. US and Mrs. Cleaver had said something like that when I interviewed them, so that was kind of cool that they all had that same goal. We then talked about politics at DA and how when he first started working here, people were able to talk about politics and politicians without hurting others’ feelings. But in 2008 with the election of Obama he thought that all changed. Politics became a lot more personal and all-encompassing, which is something that creates that political tension a lot of us feel at DA. I said this last week, but I know politics is something I want to focus on in my survey, so I really appreciated how he was willing to talk about it. Something else that came up with him as well as with most of the other teachers that interviewed was how the faculty diversity does not match that of the students, and Mr. Wilson said that that was something DA is definitely working on. We also talked about what his experience growing up in Durham was like and how Durham has changed. He told me that when he was younger, Durham was pretty much made up solely black and white people. So when he went to public school, that was all the experience he had. However, when he went to Science and Math, he met a Jewish person for the first time and had roommates with different backgrounds who had lived different places and experienced different things. He and I both saw how different this is from Durham now and the DA experience. Now, Durham is far from binary; there are so many people from so many different backgrounds. The same is kind of true of DA in that now, as opposed to when Mr. Wilson started working here, there are many different types of people who come from different backgrounds. That’s not to say that there isn’t more work to be done in that regard, but only to reflect on the work we’ve done so far at DA. We ended talking about assemblies and students’ responses to them. Recently, many students have felt that in our assemblies we are focusing too much on diversity and inclusion and only looking at things from a liberal point of view. But Mr. Wilson noted that that’s true, the past couple months the bulk of our assemblies have been on those sorts of topics. However, if you look at the year as a whole, the assemblies that we have represent the interests of the total student population. Overall, I had a really informative conversation with him and I am so thankful he made the time to meet with me.

Here’s my plan for the next couple of weeks:

  • meet with Mrs. Moylan (the original one) about what DA was like when she sent her kids here
  • after meeting with Mrs. Moylan, meet with other historic DA families to see what their experiences were like
  • research and create my surveys to send out to DA alumni and current student


Thanks for reading!

Weekly Overview: 2/4-2/8

Hey guys!

This week I had three interviews, answered some of my questions that I posted last week, and learned a lot.

On Monday, I met with Mrs. Nonez. She’s been at DA for nine years, and she told me that now it’s a lot more racially diverse and that politics is much more of a divisive issue. However, she said something that hasn’t really changed is the fact that we don’t have a true middle class. Specifically, she noted that we have always had both ends of the economic spectrum at our school, but just not really an in between. Something else that she mentioned is that a lot of minority groups have mentioned to her that they feel “alone” when they are in all-white classroom settings. They feel like people do not want to work with them or be partners for group projects. Keep note of this for later in this post!

On Wednesday, I met with Mr. Engebretsen. He’s been working at the school since 1981, so he’s witnessed a lot of DA’s progression. I talked to him specifically about athletics at DA, and he said that during the time he’s been here he’s always felt that there was equal emphasis on boys and girls teams. Although he did say that when he started working as Athletic Director, there weren’t as many women ADs as there are today.  Additionally, he said that in his early years during some baseball and basketball games that people at other schools would make racially-charged remarks towards some DA players.

Throughout the course of the week, I met with the leaders of the black affinity group, Jewish affinity group, and one of the leaders of the Asian affinity group. They all said that at school the biggest form of prejudice they see is “jokes” being made from student to student. They also said that sometimes a teacher may not do anything to stop the joke or correct the students. A point of continuity between this interview and my interview with Mrs. Nonez was that the black and Asian affinity group leaders all said that they sometimes feel as though people don’t want to work with them and think they’re not smart or good enough. An example they provided is when picking group partners, people have said “Let’s not have them in my group they won’t do the work.” They all said that they loved their affinity group and thought their affinity groups provided a great safe space, but they also said that affinity groups are unfortunately stigmatized and sometimes not many people show up to meetings.

Here are some new points of interests:

  • Why are affinity groups stigmatized?
  • Why do people think that certain people can’t do the work or aren’t smart enough?
  • I mentioned this last week, but I’d like to learn more about socioeconomic diversity and how that’s handled.

Next week, I plan on conducting more interviews with teachers, affinity group leaders, and DA families.

Thanks for reading!

Weekly-ish Overview: 1/22-2/1

Hi guys!

Ok so the past couple of weeks I have learned so much! I started off reading a lot of articles. Below are some of them:

After reading those to get some general background information on the different types of prejudice and social biases that exist at independent schools, I got to start my interviews! The first person that I interviewed was Mrs. Muradi. She told me lots of great information on admissions at DA. A fact that she told me is that in 1996, the Durham Academy Board of Trustees created a statement regarding their admissions policy. It was revised in 2002, and here’s an excerpt of what it looks like today:

“Durham Academy seeks to enroll students whose abilities, interests, and personal qualities offer promise of success in the school’s curriculum…the school gives consideration to applicants who are: siblings of present students; children of alumni, faculty or staff; and students who will expand under-represented populations in our school.”

After she told me about this statement, she then told me more about the ways in which DA is committed to bringing this statement to life each year. We also talked about how it’s hard to get diverse families to apply to DA because of the preconceptions that exist about DA. There are definitely efforts put in to eliminating some of these preconceptions and get different types of families to apply, an example being DA commercials on Hispanic radio stations, but some of them have been fruitless efforts. We finished up by talking about teacher diversity, and how that effects families that are looking to apply to DA. Sometimes, if they don’t see people that are like them and can act as support systems, parents are turned away from applying. So, DA is attempting to raise the number of diverse teachers at the school.

Next, I talked to Mr. Klein about the different types of prejudice and social bias he sees most at the Upper School. We did talk about the issue of race, and we both noted that the racial diversity of the students does not match that of the teachers. He noted that students are drawn to people like them, and they feel comfortable around people like them, and so DA is making more of an effort to increase teacher diversity.  We also talked about the political culture at DA, and how that affects student life.

After talking to Mr. Klein, I talked with Ms. Teagarden about narrowing down my focus. At first, I was planning to focus my study on prejudice regarding race and gender, but now I am thinking that I should focus more on race and politics at DA. I’m not really sure how this would work, but I think it would be super interesting information to gather. She also gave me the idea to talk to different affinity group leaders at DA and their experience regarding prejudice, which I think would be a great resource. We talked about her experience at DA, and how she felt it was a predominantly white school, with little interest diversity. There wasn’t a big arts program, the school mostly just focused on academics and athletics. She said that now it’s fun to see how people are interested in a variety of things, and that the school looks much more racially diverse than before.

Mrs. Muradi had mentioned to me that Mrs. Cleaver had previously been Director of Admissions at DA, so I decided to meet with Mrs. Cleaver next. She told me she was Director during the  1992-1993 school year, a time when the Durham City Schools (which were predominantly black) and the Durham County Schools (which were predominantly white) were attempting to merge to form the Durham Public Schools. She said that this was a tough, tension-filled time in Durham, and it was almost funny that this integration was something she felt that DA had already done even though DA hadn’t yet written out their admissions policy.

Next, I got to have lunch with one of Ms. Starling’s friends, Vanessa Woods, a research scientist at Duke. We talked about how I may want to focus on social dominance orientation and read a bit more about that phenomena. We also discussed how it may be helpful for me to use questions from pre-made prejudice/social bias surveys so that I can make sure that the questions I ask are unbiased. After reflecting on this, I think it definitely would be helpful to use questions from a pre-made survey, as well as take a deeper dive into the effects of social dominance orientation at DA.

I then got to talk to Mrs. Frasher. We started off talking about the differences she has seen at DA from the time she was a student here to now, working as a faculty member. She said that when she was a student, it was mostly white, the people did not have very diverse interests (I feel like there’s definitely a theme with these two), and that the political scene was not as big of a deal as it is now.  She also said that now there is way more interest diversity — the arts especially — but again, the faculty are not as racially diverse as the students, which is something that DA is working on. I then asked her what the main issues are that come up to her, as a dean, that revolve around prejudice. She told me that a lot of the instances involve “jokes” on social media regarding someone’s identity — mostly people’s race, gender identity, and sexuality. We also talked about the Student Life Advisory Committee (SLAC) and if the issue of prejudice/social bias comes up a lot in their meetings. She told me, surprisingly, no. Some concerns are raised about affinity groups and sports teams dressing up (there was an instance where this was seen as offensive to people’s sexuality), but nothing really more than that.  Then, we talked about how sometimes students complain about DA’s “liberal agenda”, and how some students see that the bulk of our assemblies come from liberal viewpoints. So that information gave me even more of a reason to include politics in my independent study research and survey.

Then, I talked to Mrs. Klein. First, we talked about what she did at her old school in order to alleviate prejudice and have more student interest in the matter. She said that they also had affinity groups, but they had another kind of student group called student unions. Unlike affinity groups, student unions believe in a certain cause or thing, but do not necessarily have to identify with that thing. I thought this was a really interesting concept and it would be cool to have more groups like this on DA’s campus. Mrs. Klein also noted that she hears many students complaining about the amount of “liberal” assemblies we have, which furthered my impulse to focus on politics at DA. Next, we spoke about diversification of teachers and how important that is in student life.

Last but not least, I talked to Mr. Ulku-Steiner. We started off talking about how DA changed since he first got here. He said that in 1992, it was a lot less racially diverse, and people did complain about that. He also said that today DA is a lot more socioeconomically diverse, and this has been impacted a lot by the growth/creation of financial aid. I don’t know what the budget was originally, but I do know that for the 2019-2020 school year, the budget is above $2,030,000. Something that hadn’t been explicitly stated before is the increase of DA’s tolerance. For example, Mr. Ulku-Steiner told me a story about how in his early years at DA, a young woman came out as lesbian via a story she posted on the wall. People rushed over to read it and everyone made a pretty big deal about it. But now, most of the time at least, if someone someone were to come out, most people would be completely supportive, but it also wouldn’t change how they saw the person and their reaction wouldn’t be as big. Next, we talked about how diversity efforts have been met with backlash, mostly from parents, with some even asking when DA will be diverse enough. Like many others that I interviewed, he also noted that racially, teacher’s diversity does not match that of the students which is something that DA is working on. Lastly, he also noted that politics are also a divisive issue at DA, and some conservatives feel that it’s hard to voice their views at a school that they see as very liberal.

When thinking about all the conversations that I have had, there are a few new questions and topics that come to mind:

  • I now know that I definitely want to integrate politics into my study somehow.
  • I want to ask more questions about socioeconomic diversity and how that is/was handled.
  • What was the original financial aid budget? Was there even financial aid?
  • I want to learn more about teacher diversity and why that is not already present.

My plan for the next few weeks is to read more articles, conduct more interviews, and just narrow down my focus for my project a bit more.

Thanks for reading and see you next week!