A full and equitable experience

How do we ensure an equitable Exeter experience for every member of our community, no matter their background or identity? 

Principal Bill Rawson ’71; P’08
February 6, 2019
Principal Bill Rawson

At Exeter, we want every student and adult to have an equal sense of belonging and equal opportunity to thrive. How do we ensure an equitable Exeter experience for every member of our community, no matter their background or identity? This is a question of utmost importance as we seek to uphold the school’s founding mission to instill goodness and knowledge and thereby “lay the surest foundation of usefulness to [hu]mankind.”

The work to create and nurture an intentionally diverse school dates back to John and Elizabeth Phillips’ charge that Exeter admit and instruct “youth from every quarter.” Today, we interpret that in the broadest possible sense. And we do so by building upon the hard work of generations of students, faculty and staff who have sought to make Exeter the intellectual community of depth and substance that it is.

We have more work to do, and it is imperative that we continue to act. Last January, the Trustees adopted a vision statement recognizing that diversity, equity and inclusion are critical to sustaining and strengthening our tradition of excellence in all aspects of life at Exeter. The vision statement makes clear that our obligation goes beyond merely assembling a diverse population: “Our commitment is to teach the skills, model the behaviors, provide the resources and cultivate the environment of inclusion” that will unlock the richness of that diversity. I encourage you to read the full statement at exeter.edu/DEIvision. It serves as a guiding document in our work to promote a reflective climate of empathy, understanding and respect. As the Trustees state, “Excellence today requires nothing less.”

Stephanie Bramlett, our director of equity and inclusion, has had a busy first few months at Exeter working with the community to build a framework around the Trustees’ vision. She and I were among 22 PEA adults and six students who attended the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference and Student Diversity Leadership Conference in Nashville last November. It was our largest adult contingent and first student group from PEA to attend these important conferences. On campus, Stephanie is collaborating with department heads and students in furthering existing initiatives and defining new ones. Our Dean of Faculty Ellen Wolff and Director of Human Resources Rachel Henry also continue their efforts to attract and retain an increasingly diverse employee base; and our Institutional Advancement Office led by Morgan Dudley is working alongside alumni and parents to ensure our greater Exeter community is as welcoming, inclusive and vibrant as the one on campus.

Our faculty also continue their scholarship and curricular work in this area with the spirit of innovation and collaboration that defines our school. Sami Atif, math instructor and interim dean of multicultural affairs, has developed math problems that address societal issues and provide students and teachers with real-world scenarios and a fact-based framework to explore important topics. During this winter term, the English Department, chaired by Nat Hawkins, is piloting a course for lowers designed to aid students in developing the appropriate skills and understanding to engage in respectful, productive conversations about race and identity. You can read more about these examples in this issue’s cover feature.

These efforts extend Exeter’s mission to help students excel academically and develop an ethos of non sibi that will influence their life’s work. As you read this Bulletin, I hope you will be excited by what you see and feel drawn back to Exeter. We would be delighted to have you visit campus, spend time with our students and faculty, appreciate the Exeter of today, and help us imagine the Exeter of tomorrow.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the winter 2019 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.