DEI in Action: School’s Humanities Departments Diversify Curriculum

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Ona Ortiz-Gudeman

This year the School has made changes to its humanities curriculums in order to achieve its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) goals. With the School’s DEI update, one of the first steps in the strategic plan is to look more closely and critically into the curriculum. The formal audit is still in process, but teachers and administrators have worked hard to bring other positive changes into the classrooms. For instance, all departments in the upper school have developed anti-bias goals and stricter derogatory language policies.

Upper school history teacher and dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Kyong Pak said, “The history department actually has a social justice mission… [and] want to guide students to… recognize and understand systems of oppression and injustice… and empower students to address those injustices.” This was exhibited in adaptations to both the 10th and 11th grade history classes.

Pak explained that 10th grade US History will be constructing an anti-bias framework and teaching standards for the course. The anti-bias framework falls into four categories: identity, diversity, justice and action. The U.S. History class will now explore these themes through case studies and spotlights over the course of the year. For example, a closer look at pre-Columbian Native American societies and their role in our country’s foundation and roots is a part of the identity unit. For 11th grade Western Civilization, the first quarter was adapted to introduce modern authors who cast a critical eye on the western world. 

The 11th grade English course is based on Western Civilization and studies more traditional texts. English 11 teacher Dr. Jacob Leland said one of the major changes this year was to “bring in explicitly the contemporary issues that [the teachers] feel 11th grade English and literary studies in general should address… questions about race and gender, class imperialism, [and] power in its various forms.” These changes happened through the addition of new texts to the curriculum, like femminist poetry, as well as looking at the original ones from new angles. Leland stated, “What you read matters less than how you read it,” meaning the approach to texts can make a fundamental difference in what you get out of it. This strategy includes reading more critically and analyzing with different lenses in mind to see how these texts empower some groups and take power away from others.

There are definitely still improvements to be made, but there has been a big improvement in terms of creating a more inclusive and diverse curriculum. Student action has helped accelerate these changes and continues to be very important in the School’s DEI mission. Pak said that the teachers and administration “want this to be a partnership” and “encourage students to stay involved, hold us accountable to our DEI goals, [and] hold us accountable to our DEI action plan.”