In the past year, GDS has been pushed, in part by students, to reexamine its handling of racism in the community. Now, as part of its Anti-Racism Action Plan, the school has enlisted a third-party auditor to assess its approach to diversity, equity and inclusion. The audit is being conducted by Alison Park, the founder of the California-based company Blink Consulting.
Park’s audit is using surveys, focus groups and internal GDS data to provide insight into the school climate and demographics, as well as to help design ways for the school to evaluate its own work going forward. The anti-racism effort was prompted by concerns raised by Black students and alumni on the Instagram page Black at GDS last summer and with administrators.
Surveys created by Park were sent to students, parents, alumni, teachers and staff last month; high school students completed them in advisory. And last week, Marlo Thomas, GDS’ director of diversity, equity and inclusion, announced dates for students with certain identifiers to speak to Park directly in focus groups.
Senior McKenzie Griffith, a departing co-head of the Black Student Union (BSU) and Young Women of Color (YWOC), said she sees administrators listening to feedback from students, but wishes implementation of their plans would move faster. “I think they are doing the work they’re supposed to be doing,” Griffith said, and “the next step is to see tangible change” in the community’s inclusivity to Black students.
Park is responsible for managing the audit with support from Head of School Russell Shaw and Thomas as liaisons between Blink and GDS. Park declined a request for an interview with the Bit.
The audit is also being advised by a steering committee composed of GDS teachers, staff, administrators and Board of Trustees members, Thomas announced in an email on May 12. The group has been meeting since late April, according to the email, “in preparation for making high-level recommendations based on audit findings.”
Junior Iman Dorman, a co-head of YWOC with Griffith, is skeptical that responses to the surveys will reliably reflect reality at school due to respondents’ biases and privilege. However, Blink makes clear in a written overview of the audit provided to the Bit that survey results will only be used to understand the perceptions of students of various identities.
For objective metrics, the audit will amass data on student grades, employee evaluations and family engagement, as well as statistics on racial diversity among students and donors. “Auditing is more than surveying,” Thomas stressed in an interview with the Bit. “What we will also have is a system in place where we can do some deeper interrogation.”
Sign-ups opened last week for high school students to participate in focus groups of 8 to 10 people organized by identity: Asian American or Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic or Latino, LGBTQ+ students of color or multiracial. The groups will be facilitated by Park and, Thomas wrote, are intended to “represent a diverse range of GDS experiences and voices.”
Park is expected to complete the audit and share her findings with administrators by next winter. Then, according to Thomas, a new committee of parents, faculty and administrators will be in charge of implementing solutions. GDS will also be provided with some survey data before the final results come in.
Black students view the audit with varying degrees of skepticism, hope and confidence. Dorman said she has not “lost faith” in the GDS administration and appreciates their openness to students’ perspectives. “But I think it’s just hard, as a student, to not see things being done,” she said.
Dorman stressed the value of having a third party perform the audit. “It’s really important to get an external view that doesn’t have a bias in this situation,” she said.
Guyton Mathews, GDS’ program associate for diversity, equity and inclusion, said the school’s Anti-Racism Action Plan “is constantly evolving, even to this day” and the audit “is a beginning point.”
Mathews said he hopes “that everyone is open and willing to grow and learn” from what the audit reveals about diversity, equity and inclusion at GDS. “We want everyone in our community to feel valued, feel seen and be heard,” Mathews said of his office. “And that’s what this audit is going to do: give everyone that voice and that affirmation that this school is for you. This is your school. GDS is a place where you belong.”