A Q&A with Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer Susan Martell Jenkin

Tell us about your role at Miss Porter's School and how it has evolved to reflect our community today?
I am the Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer at Miss Porter’s School, and in this role I oversee the institution-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives; collaborate with the Academic Office and the Student Life Office; and work on our faculty hiring and retention efforts. My role touches all areas of school life, from all-school programming such as speakers and workshops, to personal and professional development opportunities for adults and students. The fact that I get to work with all members of the community means that I get to intentionally think about what programming and educational opportunities different groups need and tailor the support from my office accordingly. This differentiated approach allows everyone to have their voice heard and see their role in conversations on equity and inclusion.

Previously, my role was part time, but with the growth of the programming as well as the needs of the community, it became clear that the position needed to be full time and front and center. While I do miss the math classroom at times, the work that I do with adults and students is incredibly rewarding. I get to work in a community that is living out its mission statement, and I know that teaching students about equity and inclusion helps us fulfill the promise of our mission statement to shape a changing world.

What inspired MPS to craft an equity and inclusion call to action?
I noticed a few years ago that the work we were doing on campus was not accurately reflected by the words in our then diversity statement. Last year, the Office of Equity and Inclusion and the Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee took on the task of drafting a new diversity, equity, and inclusion statement that would: better reflect the work that was currently being done; be more aligned with the Porter’s mission statement; and communicate to external and internal audiences the school's ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

What is the MPS Equity and Inclusion Call to Action?
The Equity and Inclusion Call to Action is as follows:
We are the living legacy of Sarah Porter. At a time when women were undervalued, she created an intentional community for young women to gain greater agency in their lives. In doing so, Miss Porter’s School supported future pioneers and leaders to reach their full potential.

While Sarah Porter’s vision was radically brave in nature, it was not accessible to all women. In order to fully realize an inclusive vision of education for all young women, we must interrogate our history while cultivating the future of our community.

Like our founder, we are both bold in our desire for change and limited by the scope of our experience. To expand Sarah Porter’s vision to be more fully inclusive and equitable, we must:
  • commit to the work of building a school community rooted in the inherent worth and dignity of each member, with courage and integrity;
  • grapple with the responsibility of enacting change, both within and beyond our time in Farmington;
  • hold ourselves accountable for our own limitations, while forging a foundation for future leaders to fix the mistakes we leave behind.
In doing so, we contribute to a more just chapter in our institution’s legacy.

The Equity and Inclusion Call to Action acknowledges the history, responsibility, necessary commitment, inherent difficulties, and possible action steps the institution and its constituents must take. This statement captures a more complete picture of the complex nature of diversity, equity, and inclusion work in independent schools in general, and specifically at Miss Porter’s School. It is aspirational while also making space for growth, learning, and healing for all constituents.

How will you take words on a page and transform them into a lived experience on campus?
Taking the words of the call to action and bringing them to life will take the entire school community’s effort and support. It starts by looking at our policies and practices and ensuring that they affirm all members of our community. It requires us to check our blind spots and learn about our biases so that we can make the most equitable decisions for the community and for the program. This happens in partnership with my colleagues, who know that equity work cannot happen in a silo. You’ll see us throughout the year taking a deep dive into student life and thinking about what a community “rooted in the inherent worth and dignity of each member” truly looks like. In the classroom, we’ll continue to have challenging conversations, learn about the world we navigate, and think about what this means for our students while at Porter’s, but also what it means once they graduate and live their full lives. All of this requires us to be willing to talk about what has worked, and what has not; who was affirmed and seen, and who was missing and excluded. It requires us as a school to hold the promise of the mission statement together with the obligation of the call to action to continue to build a Miss Porter’s School community rooted in belonging and inclusion.

Do you have plans for capturing the community's perception of equity and inclusion efforts?
Yes, we will be participating in the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) Assessment on Inclusivity and Multiculturalism. In early October, current families, Ancients, students, employees, and the board of trustees will be invited to complete a climate survey via email. It is important to us that we capture the voices of all our constituents in order to affirm what we've been doing well and to highlight areas of growth. This will enable us to create future programming rooted in the call to action statement and informed by the data we collect.
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