Renata Williams Appointed New DEI Director

Thursday, April 8, 2021
Renata Williams

Mercersburg Academy is pleased to announce the appointment of Renata Williams as the school’s new director of diversity, equity, and inclusion starting July 1. Williams’ arrival is part of the school’s continuing commitment to supporting and ensuring the growth and development of its students, faculty, staff, curriculum, and culture. 

“As we set out to hire this important senior leadership position for the school, we were in search of someone who connected with the unique culture of Mercersburg and who brought a passion and experience for diversity work in schools,” says Head of School Katie Titus. “Renata met with community members from every constituency group at Mercersburg and was immediately embraced for her warmth, passion, and experience. We have work to do ahead to continue to ensure that Mercersburg is a place of deep belonging and are thrilled to have Renata’s partnership as she joins our Mercersburg family.”

Williams has more than 10 years of experience in the areas of student development and student advocacy, and is passionate about working with underrepresented and disadvantaged students. Williams comes to Mercersburg from Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA, where she serves as the college’s assistant dean of engagement and inclusion. In this role, she oversees the daily operations of four departments (Student Engagement, Office of Service and Volunteerism, Office of Spiritual Life, and Office of Intercultural Affairs and Inclusive Programming). She is also the director of intercultural affairs and inclusive programming, and works with and supports underrepresented students and groups on campus through programming, advising, and workshops. 

“I am excited to join the Mercersburg family,” says Williams. “I was intrigued by the position and the opportunity to do intentional DEIJ work with all the folks that love this place so deeply. However, what solidified my decision was the willingness to be honest not only about the great things but also the areas that need work as well. This is going to be an exciting and fulfilling journey for all of us and I am ready to get to work!”

Williams will lead the Academy’s initiatives to cultivate a fully inclusive community, building on the foundation already underway at the school. Her responsibilities will include building collective buy-in for an evolving school culture among the school’s adult community, supporting the faculty and staff in their desire to create culturally affirming educational and student-life programs, and mentoring faculty and staff so they can appropriately support students' views on equity and inclusion. Williams will also play an integral role within the school’s senior leadership team and will work with other school leaders and the Board of Regents to articulate a new vision for the community.

Prior to Lebanon Valley College, Williams worked for Fulton Montgomery Community College in Johnstown, NY, and Russell Sage College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. She holds a master’s in counseling from Manhattan College in Riverdale, NY, and a doctorate of educational leadership from The Sage Colleges in Troy, NY. She credits her time at Manhattan College as her most formative years in higher education; while there, she elevated the quality of life for students through her work in admissions by globalizing the department’s reach, and then moved into residential life to focus on student retention with an eye toward those from marginalized communities.

Gardner Dean Patterson Jr. ’71, who has devoted his professional career to helping institutions of higher education understand the needs of all students regardless of their perceived race, culture, or ethnicity, interviewed Williams during the selection process and was very impressed with her passion to assist schools in developing comprehensive curriculum and conversations around DEI. “Renata will be a wonderful addition to the entire Mercersburg community,” says Patterson. “She will be a living example of real-world DEI engagement. She will be honest, caring, and expect the entire Mercersburg community to be her partners in this important work. She will hold people accountable for their roles in developing and sustaining these efforts.”

Board of Regents member Vanessa Youngs ’03 also interviewed Williams. “I am so excited to welcome Renata Williams to the Mercersburg Academy family,” Youngs says. “Her experience taking a holistic approach to her work on academic campuses and in local communities will be valuable to our diverse student body, faculty, staff, and alumni. I believe Renata’s energy and perspective has the potential to make Mercersburg a leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I look forward to working and learning alongside her.”

Williams arrives at the school at a pivotal moment, as the nation has awakened to social unrest and political divide, and our students are watching how the school will respond. While the school has been making strides in DEI, it wasn’t until the spring of 2019 when the school created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion task force under the following charge: At Mercersburg, we value diversity and believe in cultivating a safe community where everyone is encouraged 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?

It was this task force that identified faculty and staff training as the highest priority for the campus. This training was also highlighted as the singular focus of the Sustaining Excellence accreditation process, which is in progress on campus and part of the Academy’s work with the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. The accreditation process prompts a school to identify a strategic initiative, conduct a research project on the implementation of the initiative, and present its findings to other schools. 

Another priority of the school is to evolve its curriculum to be more reflective of a diverse and changing world. This spring, Mercersburg is offering “Advanced Studies: History of Race and Ethnicity in the U.S.” as an elective. Dean of Academics Jennifer Smith ’97 is leading academic department heads through a curriculum audit to develop a comprehensive plan for further diversifying the school’s curriculum across all departments.

Mercersburg students have been extremely proactive in not only asking questions but taking action. Within the past year, multiple new affinity spaces and student organizations have been created, including the Latinx/Hispanic Student Union and an adult ally group. Earlier this year, students and faculty established the first LGBTQIA+ Policy Committee to consider the equity and inclusion of our LGBTQIA+ identifying students.

Alumni of the school are also proving to be allies in bringing forth ideas to support the DEI efforts. Three current initiatives are the Tom Leslie ’66 Scholarship (honoring Leslie, who was the school’s first Black graduate), a partnership with Mercersburg’s Black alumni to build an alumni mentoring program for Black identifying students, and a podcast highlighting Black alumni stories from the school’s Black Alumni Association. 

Leela Woody, a faculty member and the school’s interim director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, is excited to welcome Williams to the Mercersburg Academy community. “Through all of my conversations with Renata, it has become evident that she has truly spent time considering what it means to be doing this important work for our school,” Woody says. “I look forward to working with and supporting Renata as she challenges our school culture to grow.”