Town hall sparks conversations for embracing diversity and inclusion


Sarah Mohammed

Head of School Brian Yager reviews the Harker Community Town Hall agenda. The town hall included discussions about the progress made so far, the AIM survey results, reflections and a question and answer session.

by Sarah Mohammed and Isha Moorjani

To discuss new updates, ideas and concerns regarding diversity among students, alumni and faculty, the administration organized Harker’s second set of town halls of the 2020-2021 school year on June 9, with the first set of town halls taking place in the fall. 38 students and staff joined to listen and share their ideas, and a town hall for parents and alumni took place on June 8.  

In an email sent out to the school community, Head of School Brian Yager addressed the purpose of the town hall. 

“The primary goal of these town halls is for the school to share updates, and to provide community members an opportunity to ask questions and provide input that will help the school enhance and focus our efforts and impact in the coming years,” Yager wrote. “These town halls will include an update from the Harker Diversity Committee on the school’s work in this area over the past year.”

Yager discussed the new diversity-conscious electives, such as Introduction to Ethnic Studies, Introduction to Social Justice and Black American Literature. Topics of discussion also included the plaque recognizing the Muwekma Ohlone land the campus is settled on and the results of the Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism (AIM) survey, which all students took earlier in the year. 

“We want to make sure that we are creating a community in which all people, regardless of background and identity, feel a sense of belonging,” Mark Janda, co-chair of the Diversity Committee and upper school history and social science teacher, said in an interview. “That’s kind of abstract and intangible, and we want to come up with some more concrete ways to move us in that direction. Things like having a town hall, doing the AIM survey, having affinity groups, those are pieces that we’ve worked on in order to create a space [where] everyone, regardless of identity, feels a sense of belong[ing].”

Some results of the AIM survey that Yager discussed include a bigger need for respect for cultural diversity; more diversity in socioeconomic status for current and prospective students; a more diverse administration, staff and student body; additional support for LGBTQ+ students and more support for students with different views on the political spectrum.

The upper school Student Diversity Committee (SDC) has worked closely with administration to create more spaces for affinity groups and to organize events, such as Challenge Day, in which the community can come together to share and discuss their ideas and personal viewpoints. SDC has also discussed with administration endowments for financial aid students. 

The administration and especially the Diversity Committee were being really transparent on where they are and where they’re hoping to go. One of my takeaways about why town halls are important is it’s a way to make sure that Harker is, in some ways, held accountable to pursuing DEI initiatives.”

— Natasha Yen ('21)

“Harker is looking to be more inclusive and supportive of different socioeconomic statuses and working with [the] admissions office in the future on that as well,” Natasha Yen (‘21), a co-leader of the SDC, said. “The administration and especially the Diversity Committee were being really transparent on where they are and where they’re hoping to go. One of my takeaways about why town halls are important is just learning about what Harker is doing, but also, it’s a way to make sure that Harker is, in some ways, held accountable to pursuing DEI initiatives.”

Some of the SDC faculty and students that attended shared their thoughts about the progress being made during an open mic portion at the event, in which attendees could voice their opinions, confront problems or talk about goals for the future. 

Dina Ande (9), one of the SDC officers for the class of 2024, appreciated how students and faculty remained engaged and attentive during the town hall. This was the first town hall that she attended, and she enjoyed having a space that allowed the community to share their opinions and ideas. 

“I was pleasantly surprised and pleased with how it went,” Dina said in an interview. “Everyone was really open to share the insights and issues within our school community that we need to change and continue to improve. I didn’t discuss much, but hearing what other people had to say and knowing that they cared was just really great.”

Dina hopes that more people can attend the event in the future through in-person meetings or a mandatory time integrated into the school schedule in the future. 

“Mr. Yager mentioned this might be like a yearly ritual that we do as a school, and so if that is the case, maybe [we could hold it] during assembly time so that everyone can come because I think it is important to see what the student body has to say about how they feel,” Dina said. 

Middle School Diversity Coordinator Rebecca Williams emphasized the importance of diversity as a way to enrich students’ learning and their ability to engage deeply with the world ahead of them. 

“Part of our mission is to prepare students to be global citizens,” Williams said in an interview. “The global society is made up of different people, and so learning other stories, learning how to interact, learning how to cooperate, work, grow and build on people’s strengths is essential to be successful beyond school.” 

Upper school English Teacher Susanne Salhab, who serves as a faculty member on the Diversity Council, believes that “diversity, equity, inclusion and justice guide [her] work as an educator.” She hopes that students will feel reassurance that they have support from the community no matter what their background is. 

“I want our community to know that they have a space where they can express themselves and feel safe,” Salhab said in an interview. “Everyone at Harker should know that we as a community want to hear their voices and uplift them.” 

Harker community members with ideas or questions to share with the Harker Diversity Committee can email [email protected].