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Making an Impact: Gemma Halfi, Interim Assistant Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Suzanne Romero Dewey
Gemma Halfi came to Emma Willard School in 2004 and has been making an impact ever since she stepped on campus. From houseparent to running the peer educator program to helping create a program known as Inner Journey to her current role as interim assistant director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Gemma has been working with students and employees modeling the values of community and connection. A native of New Jersey, Gemma initially pursued special education. She has a graduate degree from Russell Sage. In her words, once she came to Emma she “ended up feeling such a calling to the work with adolescents and all-girls education...It really became just the perfect fit for me.”

Gemma has worked over the past several years to establish Emma’s community engagement program. She often shares with her students how she was once asked why she did such work by one of the people the RISSE Center was serving. Her answer to the individual:

I’m drawn to this work because of my belief that every human has the right to the ability to survive and thrive and live a life that is comfortable and safe and connected in community. That is just not happening in the way that our systems are set up. I believe it’s part of all of our responsibility to either change or dismantle those systems while we are also addressing the community needs.

Having just organized and curated the MLK events and the 21-Day Equity Challenge, Gemma is taking on her new diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) role with the wisdom of past experiences and enthusiasm for moving forward. When asked what she loves about Emma, her answer is easy and wholesome—she loves “the physical beauty of the campus as it directly reflects the beautiful hearts and minds of the members of the community.” She further describes her appreciation of Emma students and “how invested they are in making the world a better place. I think about my own high school experience and how little I understood about the social, political, environmental, and historical complexities of our world. I am constantly in awe of our amazing students for the way they embrace learning about what is happening in the world around us and how to create change when they see something that doesn't align with what they believe is right or just.”

Gemma is a bit of a dot connector. She sees the work that she is now doing as a way to further explore how diversity, equity, and inclusion are directly connected to community engagement and experiential learning. She also hopes that “as a community, we can move past discomfort on challenging topics about power, privilege, justice, and equity, and that we can begin to see ourselves not so much as one institution trying to achieve equity and inclusion, but rather as one small piece to the bigger and more complex world of injustice and inequity. This is where the connection between community engagement and DEI work comes in.”

Considering Emma’s broader community and our alumnae body, Gemma adds, “I am always impressed by alumnae who care so much about helping Emma Willard School along its journey to being a more equitable and inclusive place. Having had the chance to work with many of these alumnae, I am in awe of their commitment—they love this school so much, and that is why they challenge it and hold it accountable. It inspires me to do the same with my love for this community.”
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    • Gemma Halfi shares inspiration with the community in the midst of the initial COVID quarantine

    • Gemma (second elf on the left) organized and recruited helpers for a "Pack the Trunk" food drive to help local families in need during the pandemic

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