DEI and the Work Ahead: Q&A with Head of School Dr. Peter H. Quimby

DEI and the Work Ahead: Q&A with Head of School Dr. Peter H. Quimby

Over the past year, The Governor’s Academy has sharpened its focus on making the school a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. Leading this effort has been a top priority for Head of School Dr. Peter H. Quimby ’85, P’14, who has pledged to continue fostering an environment in which every student can thrive and benefit from all that a Governor’s education has to offer. In a candid interview, Dr. Quimby reflects on the past year and the plans for the year ahead.

GOVS: You have written to the community about race and racism several times in the last year; how do you see that work continuing into next year?

DR. QUIMBY: First of all, it is important to remember that our work as a school community in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) began well before this past year and will continue for as long as we have issues to address as a community. I appointed our DEI Steering Committee ten years ago in my first year as head of school, and sometimes I worry that people see our commitment to DEI work as a knee-jerk reaction to recent social and political dynamics, or worse, the outright adoption of a particular partisan viewpoint. I would be naïve if I did not acknowledge that much of the conversation around equity and inclusion has become highly politicized in our country, but our commitment to the work transcends those issues and is focused on values that are grounded in our mission.

When we welcome students into the Governor’s community, we are making a promise that we will deliver on the Seven Essential Skills while ensuring that every student has full access to all of the benefits of a Governor’s education. In conversations with groups of students in recent years, and in the voices of those students and alumni who have posted their stories on social media, we have heard that too often Govs has been less welcoming, less accessible, and less inclusive of those who have traditionally felt marginalized in institutions like ours—students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, LGBTQIA+ students, and students of color. We are taking these voices seriously and are committed to strengthening our community moving forward. We know how important it is for all of our students to see themselves reflected in our curriculum, and we know that the educational experience of all of our students is enhanced when they learn from role models who bring a variety of perspectives and life experiences to the classroom. It’s our job to ensure that students are prepared to collaborate and lead effectively in the diverse and globally interconnected world they will enter after Govs. That is why we must do this work — to ensure that we are delivering on our mission and our values.

GOVS: You have stressed the importance of specific actions to make our school a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community.  Can you share a few examples from this past year?

DR. QUIMBY: I’m really energized by the level of commitment and dedication that I’ve witnessed from nearly all members of our extended Govs family. Academic departments, the library, and our College Counseling Office conducted department reviews and audits, and we are already adding more diverse courses and readings to our curriculum, along with inclusive pedagogical approaches in the classroom. We also have many opportunities in our co-curricular programming. A great example was Dean of Faculty Dr. Monica Palmer’s choice to produce Until the Flood last fall, which helped our community better understand the experiences of Black Americans in this country. And our newly-initiated DEI Family Committee has partnered with our Dean of Multicultural Education, Eddie Carson, to provide our families with workshops and discussions.

All faculty and staff members have participated in mandatory Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training, and we hosted a series of DEI seminars for students, employees, and families, as well as discussions with alumni. I can’t think of a week during this past school year where there wasn’t at least one school-wide program or seminar designed to promote cultural understanding, empathy, awareness, and equity in our Govs community.

GOVS: How has the Board of Trustees become involved in supporting this important work?

DR. QUIMBY: The Board established a DEI Committee over a year ago. Chaired by Dr. Karen McAlmon P'13, this committee is working to guide the work we are doing as a senior leadership team, and to engage the full Board in workshops, readings and discussions on this important topic. In consultation with this committee, we will be partnering with a DEI consultant to facilitate our DEI work school-wide starting this fall and identify key priorities for us as a school and to help us chart a path forward.

GOVS: Why is this work so important to the school?

DR. QUIMBY: Conversations around issues of equity and inclusion have come to the fore in nearly all aspects of life in our country and our world. Our job as educators is to help our students understand these important issues, and then make decisions about how to put that knowledge to use in their own lives. Our job is to teach students how to think, not what to think — that will always be core to our mission.

GOVS: How is Govs supporting students as we engage in this work?

DR. QUIMBY: It is critical that we create spaces for students to share their struggles and what it means to live through the racial realities that they experience. All students want to feel safe to use their voices and feel that they are being seen and heard. We must do everything that we can to help students share their experiences within our community so that they feel that their fellow students and teachers better understand them. We have a number of student affinity groups, but we also recognize that we need more diverse faculty to mentor these groups. Students need adults who understand their experiences and perspectives on a personal level; who can support them and affirm that they are not responsible for representing an entire group —  it’s a heavy burden.

I’m excited to engage as a school community in discussions, initiatives, and events this year aimed at making Govs a school where every person feels valued, included, and heard. We all have an opportunity right now to do the work that will allow us to look back at this moment with pride.