Championing belonging

Stephanie Bramlett, director of equity and inclusion
July 28, 2023
Stephanie Bramlett

In my five years at Exeter, I have seen a tremendous amount of change. We have introduced a number of exciting new courses that prompt students to think about identity and culture, we have launched robust student leadership training programs, and so much more. I’m so grateful for all of the students and teachers who championed belonging long before the Office of Equity and Inclusion was created. Exeter isn’t the same school that it was five years ago — we are better. And five years from now, we will be even better still. As Principal Bill Rawson often says, “We don’t stay excellent by staying the same.” The through link is our mission: “To unite goodness and knowledge and inspire youth from every quarter to lead purposeful lives.”

In June 2020, Exeter announced an initiative to be an antiracist institution and shared a list of priorities. I am proud of the work that we have done to make progress toward each of these goals in the past three years. Here are a few examples of that progress:

• Next year, the Committee to Study Slavery and Its Legacy at Exeter will begin its work. In Phase I, the committee will research and write a report about the enslaved people who were connected to the Academy. The committee will also make recommendations for ways to recognize these enslaved people. In Phase II, the committee will tell the story of early Black Exonians. What are the names of some of the earliest students, teachers and trustees? How should were cognize them? I am honored to co-lead this work with Magee Lawhorn, head of archives and special collections, and I am looking forward to working with the students, staffulty (i.e. staff and faculty), alumni and local research partners who will contribute to this important project. If you have ideas for the committee, we would love to hear from you.

• In partnership with two deans of faculty and all academic department chairs, we have continued to work to increase the number of faculty of color. Our gains have been steady but modest in this area, and we continue to develop new ways to attract and support incredible teachers. It is important to note that some faculty of color have left Exeter with the skills and experiences to thrive at other schools. We are equally focused on the retention of teachers. We have established a number of affinity groups, cultural groups and interest groups. From a Lunar New Year Celebration toa half-marathon at Hampton Beach, faculty had a lot of fun over the past year making connections that were limited during the pandemic. Community is critical to the success of any residential school teacher, and we actively create opportunities for teachers to find a sense of belonging in multiple places throughout the campus and surrounding area.

• The space housing the Office of Multicultural Affairs underwent a beautiful renovation last year, and that team continues to offer many opportunities for students to make cultural connections — both to their own cultures and to learn about others’ cultures. Student clubs, heritage month celebrations, student leadership development and discussions around the Harkness table provide welcoming spaces for all students to explore, learn and grow. From the Díade los Muertos celebration to a community iftar at Instructor in English Sahar Ullah’s house, Exonians can immerse themselves in the rich cultural diversity of our school. The Core Values Project (CVP): Conversations about Anti-Oppression, Community Values, and Justice will be entering its third year as a curricular requirement and has become crucial to how students, faculty and staff put our institutional values into practice. The CVP program was not originally included in the June 2020 letter, but has been instrumental to how Exeter tangibly demonstrates our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Anyone can submit a CVP idea, and students in all grades have the opportunity to be part of the discussion.

This year, there were over 70 CVP groups and major themes included: athletes supporting equity and inclusion, wellness initiatives, cultural exploration, and courageous conversations across differences. Next year, I look forward to providing more space within CVP for students to train curiosity, share perspectives and practice intellectual humility. I think we need more meaningful conversations across differences in our world, and I am so grateful to be part of a community that values them. This year I’ve also gotten the opportunity to connect with alumni and parents who have generously shared with me and each other their experiences at Exeter. Whether connecting with folks in the Identity+Affinity Alumni Group meetings on Zoom this winter, sharing an update on DEI work with the Exeter Association of Greater New York at the annual luncheon, or traveling to Texas to meet with Exeter alumni this spring, I have thoroughly enjoyed every conversation and connection I have made. I am particularly excited about working with the team planning the campus’s 55th anniversary celebration for the Afro-Latinx Exonian Society, scheduled for October 28-29. The program will include a panel discussion, a mentoring event, a celebration dinner and a brunch with students. All alumni are invited to take part in the celebration.

Our commitment to belonging is palpable throughout the campus. From our classes and departments, to dorms and teams, and even the ways we communicate with each other — we are committed to cultivating an environment where everyone can thrive and where everyone feels that they belong.

This story was originally published in the summer 2023 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.