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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *