By Associate Director of Equity and Inclusion Gemma Halfi
It’s 8 o’clock in the morning on a Sunday in late January, and an anticipated email pops into the inbox of every student and employee in the Emma Willard community—just as it has for the 12 days prior, and will continue to do for the 8 days following.
The email, sent by the Emma Willard School Office of Equity and Inclusion (led by Head Christine Gilmore and Associate Director Gemma Halfi) contains a subject line that proclaims, “EWS 21-Day Equity Challenge Day 13!” It enthusiastically invites community members to explore the content within. Upon opening the message, the recipient is greeted by a brief video message from members of the Adult Diversity Working Group (ADWG) or the Student Diversity Leadership Group (SDLG) sharing the topic of the day and expressing gratitude to participants for joining the equity challenge journey.
On any given day of the 21-Day Equity Challenge–which was intentionally launched the day after MLK Day—participants might find themselves exploring topics such as implicit bias, microaggressions, multiple perspectives, identity, and, of course, equity. Content includes articles, videos, activities, and personal reflection exercises that have been carefully curated by the Emma Willard Office of Equity and Inclusion.
The 21-Day Equity Challenge is a format that has been used by many organizations and institutions in the past few years as a vehicle through which communities can gain a deeper understanding about concepts connected to diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and belonging. The philosophy behind the structure is that making an intentional choice to engage in any activity for twenty-one consecutive days will help to encourage habit-building. When the repeated activity is focused on deepening one’s own learning about issues surrounding equity and justice, the end result is a reflective and exploratory process through which participants can better equip themselves to serve and shape the world.
Not only do internal community members have the chance to participate in the daily challenges; there is also a significant representation of external constituents such as alums, parents, and trustees who have opted-in to receive the daily emails. All participants are encouraged to fill out a daily “Equity Accountability Form” which contains some reflection questions and an opportunity to share feedback with the Office of Equity and Inclusion. Feedback about the 21-Day Equity Challenge thus far has been overwhelmingly positive, with participants citing the activities to be interesting, provocative, meaningful, and enlightening.
“I am so pleased at the outpouring of support for this initiative,” Head of Institutional Equity and Inclusion Christine Gilmore reports. “It has certainly surpassed my expectations. Alums are reporting that they are gathering with other members of their graduating class to discuss the topics. Others report having ‘family time’ conversation about the equity topics over meals. Still others report sharing the challenges with their friends, families, neighbors, and colleagues. I love it!”
As the challenge draws nearer to its end over the next two weeks, the Office of Equity and Inclusion hopes to offer opportunities for all participants—including parents, alums, and trustees—to come together virtually to engage in thoughtful conversation about the experience. While 21 days may not necessarily be enough to establish a lifetime habit, it is certainly a significant amount of time for so many members of the Emma Willard community to dedicate to learning and growing together. One participant appropriately commented in the feedback form, “This will be ongoing work!”—and the Emma Willard Office of Equity and Inclusion looks forward with hope and encouragement in a community so dedicated to its own learning, growth, and self-examination.
Honoring its founder’s vision, Emma Willard School proudly fosters in each young woman a love of learning, the habits of an intellectual life, and the character, moral strength, and qualities of leadership to serve and shape her world.