Mercersburg Academy’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, which is comprised of faculty and students, exists to cultivate a safe community where everyone is emboldened to be their authentic selves.
In a world where social norms are evolving rapidly, how might we at Mercersburg improve our policies, practices, and programs to strengthen our community as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion?
First established in 2018, a task force began leading students, faculty, and staff in conversations and planning as it related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This group was charged with exploring what Mercersburg has accomplished related to DEI, thinking about what DEI currently means at the school, and considering what it looks like for our school moving forward. The work continues now under the leadership of Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Dr. Renata Williams. While much work has been done to educate our community on diversity, equity, and inclusion, the work is ongoing, and we commit to building our DEI initiatives as a community.
From our foundational work with our task force, we created a DEI Committee made up of multiple subcommittees that will continue the work of the task force into the foreseeable future. Actions the school is currently taking include the following.
Affinity spaces on campus provide a community and group for students with shared identities to gather, celebrate, discuss, and support their identities. Led and supported by faculty members that sit on the Affinity Space Committee, which focuses on considering the structure and mission of the spaces, these spaces aim to affirm our students. Currently, our spaces include:
The Asian affinity space is run by Grace Abel. AAS (Asian Affinity Space) is a safe space for Asian-identifying students at Mercersburg to share thoughts, experiences, and engage in meaningful conversations with each other. Besides providing a space for learning about different cultures and traditions, AAS also provides members a chance to exchange their perspectives on being Asian students in the Mercersburg Academy community and in the United States. All Asian-identifying students, including students from Asian countries or students born in the United States but who have Asian backgrounds, are welcome to join and attend the regular monthly meetings.
The Black affinity space is run by Dr. Renata Williams. The Black affinity space is an affirming, safe space for Black-identifying students of Mercersburg to come together, engage with one another, and have fellowship. Specifically, the affinity space affords students the opportunity to foster a deeper connection with one another, but also with Mercersburg at large. This space also offers an opportunity to celebrate and explore the diversity that exists within the Black community. All students who identify as Black are encouraged to join.
The Deafness and Hearing Loss (DHL) affinity space is run by Margaret Maciulla. This affinity space is a safe place for students who are deaf or have any level of hearing loss to share their experiences within the Mercersburg Academy community and elsewhere. It provides an opportunity for students to exchange their personal stories and journeys with others who can identify with the joys and challenges they face each day. Additionally, it allows students to engage in fun activities and casual conversation while drinking tea and eating baked goods or other snacks. There is no set agenda or script, but rather, the students determine the course of the conversation. DHL is open to any student who is deaf or has hearing loss, and all are welcome to attend our monthly meetings.
The FGLI affinity space is run by Frank Betkowski. FGLI stands for first-generation low-income. Low-income is self-explanatory. First-gen means students will be the first in their families to attend college. Trying to inhabit privileged spaces like boarding school can be challenging for FGLI kids. The great thing about FGLI is that it intersects with so many other identities—gender, race, sexuality, and even politics. Like any affinity space, it’s a great space to sit and talk or just generally vibe.
The International affinity space is run by Justine O’Connell. It is a place for students whose country of origin is from outside of the U.S. or those who currently reside in a country other than their home country. The purpose of this space is to provide students with the opportunity to share in a supportive environment the nuances that come with living abroad as a high school student in the U.S. It’s a wonderful place to get together with students of a variety of cultures and places and share what brought us together. Students are encouraged to participate as much or as little as they please, knowing it’s a safe space to bring their full selves.
The Latinx affinity space is run by Matias Abarca Caldera. Latinx affinity space is for Latinx-identifying students to come together in a supportive environment about what it means to be Latinx at Mercersburg. With a range of cultures within the Latinx community, it is a place where students can learn from one another and engage in meaningful conversations. Music, celebrations, and food are a big part of the affinity space because it allows us to be open and share. All students who identify as part of the Latinx community are encouraged to join.
The LGBT+ affinity space is run by Ellie De Leon and Alexandra Patterson. It is a place for any students who identify as members of LGBT+ to gather. This space is separate from the Rainbow Alliance on campus, which welcomes allies. The LGBT+ affinity space is one of the closed affinity spaces—meaning that the list of members and the location of meetings is kept private from the rest of the student body. This is to ensure that those who attend are able to do so without outing themselves.
The multiracial affinity space is run by Ellie De Leon. It is a community where students who hold more than one racial identity can come together to share experiences and connect. To be a part of this space, students should be able to say the statement, “I have more than one racial/cultural identity” and have that be true for them. Though those who hold multiracial identities hold a range of different racial identities, there are common experiences that many of us share. This space allows the group to explore some of those common experiences and themes of holding a multiracial identity, including feeling between identities, passing or not passing, embracing all the different parts of your identity, and more. The space is also a place where multiracial people can just kick-it together and chill. Past groups have really enjoyed spending time together over meals or watching YouTube videos and discussing.
The Neurodivergence affinity space is run by John David Bennett. Neurodivergent simply means that a person’s brain functions, engages, processes, and learns in ways that many might deem as “atypical.” This describes anyone who navigates their days with attention deficit, dyslexia, or any number of cognitive (so-called) disorders, whether diagnosed in or felt and carried. Fortunately, experts and advocates are beginning to shift the way we see neurodivergence–no longer as an illness or disorder, but as common paths experienced by many. So this amiable, supportive, secure affinity group provides a place to know you’re not alone or an exception, just a person managing their way through life with a divergence that is simultaneously not atypical and often wonderfully extraordinary.
The Trans/Enby affinity space is run by Dr. Christian Bancroft. This affinity space is one of the closed affinity spaces—meaning that the list of members and the location of meetings is kept private from the rest of the student body. This is to ensure that those who attend are able to do so without outing themselves. Trans is the shortened form for transgender individuals, and enby is the term for nonbinary people. Trans and enby people have faced mountains of resistance and discrimination about their gender identites. This space offers the support and warmth that this group of students needs. Our space offers help about anything that’s on students’ minds and offers ways of navigating the complications that trans and enby people face every day. Ultimately, we are a space that promotes love–love for one another and love for one’s self.
Student Clubs and Organizations
Mercersburg faculty and student-run clubs offer many opportunities to engage in courageous conversations.
Asian Student Union
Black Student Union
Humans of Mercersburg
Latinx/Hispanic Student Union
Women’s Activist Club
Established in early 2021, the LGBTQIA+ Policy Committee is comprised of students and faculty from residential life, school culture and the DEI Committee to consider the equity and inclusion of our LGBTQIA+ identifying students. This committee aims to identify strategies and protocols to create a culture of belonging for our students in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Adult Ally Group
Established in late 2020, the adult ally group is led by Allison Stephens and centers around conversations about allyship to folks with marginalized identities. Working in tandem with the DEI Committee, the group identifies topical conversations and works to find ways to serve as true allies and co-conspirators in DEI initiatives.
At a Glance
of our students receive financial aid (30 percent is the boarding-school average)
of our students are international (representing 39 different countries)
of domestic students identify as students of color
Fac/Staff and Board Demographics
In recent years, we have made a commitment to the diversification of our faculty and staff. We will continue to seek dynamic educators from diverse backgrounds to join our community, and we will call on our community networks to help us with this critically important commitment. In addition, the Board of Regents has announced a commitment to creating a Board that is more reflective of the community they represent. We have much work to do on both of these fronts.