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Paving the Road Ahead: Examining Shipley's DE&I Efforts

Lila Corgan
In 2020, the widespread racial awakening resulting from the murder of George Floyd was a catalyst for advancing work on Shipley’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategic Plan, which formalized the School’s commitment to being an anti-racist institution. The Plan lays out a detailed roadmap to help us make progress on achieving our ambitious goals—work that was set in motion by Vision 20/26.

Our Panel

Lila Corgan, Middle School Diversity Coordinator & English Teacher, Shipley Parent ’30 ’32
Mike Hill, Trustee, Shipley Parent ’28
Erum Ilyas, Shipley Parent ’21 ’24 ’25
Shane Kinsella, Interim Assistant Head of School for Educational Excellence, Head of Middle School, 
Shipley Parent ’27

Q: There are three pillars to Shipley’s Strategic Plan, Vision 20/26. They are: Educational Excellence, Community Engagement, and Institutional Stewardship. Cultivating a diverse and inclusive community falls under the first pillar of Educational Excellence. What are your thoughts on this?

Hill: I would argue that DE&I should not be confined to one strategic element and that it needs to be inculcated throughout the three pillars. In doing so, all three pillars become stronger and more inclusive. 
Corgan: I agree with Mike that it needs to live and breathe within the marrow of an institution rather than exist in just one leg of it. We do know that academic excellence can only be achieved when a person feels a sense of belonging, though. Plus, learning in a diverse community where everyone shares their own unique experiences and perspectives is the richest type of education. So in that way, it makes sense.
Ilyas: Broadening the concept of “academic” to cultivate a diverse and inclusive community makes sense but can only truly work if each member of the community feels confident and trusts others to discuss their points of view. The institution plays a huge role in helping faculty and students navigate this process, as well ensuring that each member of the caregiver community feels a genuine sense of belonging so that they can support the strength of the academic program. 
 
Q: We are at the halfway point five years into Shipley’s Strategic Plan. If you had to pick one, in what area has the School made progress with regard to being an equitable institution in the time you’ve been here? 

Ilyas: There have been a lot of sincere efforts made by Shipley to create a more inclusive environment that promotes belonging. The School has helped promote conversation among students and adults about what equity is and what it looks like in a school. Most simply, equity with regards to education means considering the background and needs of each student so that each child has the opportunity to succeed. 

Hill: I agree and I believe that we have made real strides in achieving a more equitable academic experience for our students through COVID-19. During the pandemic, I feel that Shipley continued to deliver a rigorous and engaging learning experience while being responsive and nimble. The School constantly made adjustments to ensure that each student had the best experience possible despite restrictions and health precautions that were both shared and unique in nature. 

Kinsella: The strategy as defined in our Plan encourages us to “cultivate a diverse and inclusive community where all members learn from, through, and about each other, increasing our ability to work across differences in our school and our community and in the world.” To me, in order for our students to be able to do this, we need to look at what we are studying and who we are studying. We’ve worked hard to make sure that our curriculum has multiple perspectives and that students feel comfortable sharing how their own perspectives are similar or different. Creating an environment where kids can have authentic discussions, think out loud, and perhaps at times change or modify their thoughts after hearing from their friends is a wonderful thing to achieve. It is not easy to do this, but our teachers are committed to creating these types of spaces. 

Q: And where is its greatest area of need? Again, if you could only pick one. 

Hill: While I think that Michael [Turner] has been a wonderful leader, I believe that community engagement is the greatest area in need.  Some of this is a product of the pandemic. That said, engagement is like constant gardening and takes real ongoing effort.

Corgan: I agree that in order for Vision 20/26 and the DEI Strategic Plan to fully actualize, we need a heightened level of collective engagement from Shipley students, faculty, and caregivers. But I think we first need to have a shared understanding of what engagement looks like. Does it mean agreeing with every move the School makes? No. It just means showing up. Being prepared to do exactly what Shane [Kinsella] just described our students doing. Keeping open hearts and minds and always, always placing the well-being of kids front-and-center.

Kinsella: Working with curriculum is an ongoing process and we will never get to a point where we can say we’re finished. Pedagogically, we should also look at the questions we are asking so that students can see how what they are learning in the classroom, on stage, or the sports field has relevance for them now and in the future. We know that our students show great leadership with their friends and peers at Shipley, but we also want them to understand how the skills they learn here will help them continue their learning beyond their time here with us.

Q: Let’s say I’m a Shipley parent. I have a child in each division. I work full-time. What is my role in helping Shipley be more inclusive? Do I have a role? 

Ilyas: I sincerely believe that the most important role that I can play is as a role model for my children and their peers in remaining curious about others’ identities rather than making assumptions. I worry that in attempts to create “diverse” environments, students are at times labeled with an identity marker that they may not necessarily see for themselves. This is especially true for children with hyphenated identities. Many children with hyphenated identities are multiple generations into the American experience and should be given the space to share what is most meaningful to them and reflect the identity that they feel most comfortable sharing.

Kinsella: One of the biggest roles a parent can play is to encourage open conversations with their children. There are so many topics being discussed, debated, and examined in classrooms daily and participating in those conversations over dinner, breakfast, in the car, or whenever you get the chance is wonderful. Sometimes as parents we might have to check our own opinions while we let our children tease out their own ideas, explore alternate viewpoints, and ask questions. So knowing the big ideas for each course your child is taking and being in communication with their teachers is very important.
 
Q: What are the roadblocks for an institution like Shipley in becoming diverse, equitable, and inclusive? Because if there weren’t roadblocks, there wouldn’t be a need for a separate DE&I Strategic Plan. How do we overcome these roadblocks?

Corgan: I think it’s important to remember that in the decade following Brown v. Board of Ed, private school formation and enrollment grew at unprecedented rates all over the country. White families left public schools in droves seeking out some of what continue to be the most elite schools in our nation. I’m really proud to be working at Shipley, a school that is committed to social justice and equity, and a school that I am entrusting with my own children’s education, well-being, and safety. At the same time, I recognize that the School is steeped in whiteness, as are most American institutions. We can overcome the roadblocks that this presents by simply being open to reimagining “traditional” systems, policies, and ways of knowing that have only further marginalized members of our community. 

Hill: In doing this, we need to keep in mind, too, that this is a marathon and not a sprint. With such an ambitious DE&I Strategic Plan that is as specific, measurable, and robust as it is, an exact timeline is the factor that we can’t establish and that is frustrating for many folks. As the School changes and grows, such as with staffing as well as students who move in and out of Shipley, it is critical to make sure that the Plan becomes part of the culture so it can stand the test of time. Changing organizational culture is one of the most difficult movements to see through successfully. The Plan needs to be deliberately woven into the School’s culture so that it can stand the test of time while also remaining a living document that can change based on what research and practice shows us is best for Shipley students.
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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.