Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Update

July 9, 2021

The past year has given the NBSS community time to gather (albeit virtually) and reflect on who we are as a School and who we aspire to be. We continue to be motivated by the collective enthusiasm and urgency to evolve the School at all levels, and renew our work to become more welcoming, inclusive, and diverse. We are fueled by the passion to work against biases, and to create a stronger sense of belonging for everyone.

Over the course of the past year, two working groups were formed to guide the School. One, comprised of faculty and staff, set a point on the horizon—and developed our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Vision Statement (below). We were mindful that a statement of commitment must be distinct to NBSS, and in line with our broader mission and values. To do this, faculty brought the perspective of their fields, their traditions, and their teaching. Staff helped connect us to peer efforts and to model equitable working practices. Our second group, made up of NBSS Board members, extends our reach beyond the School and into the community, and will help us signal our future.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Vision Statement

In keeping with North Bennet Street School’s mission and history and as leaders and stewards in craft and trade education, NBSS dedicates itself to fostering diversity, equity, and inclusivity throughout our school, community, and in the fields we serve. To engage the whole person, we must support the whole person.

We are committed to continuously cultivating and maintaining a welcoming and inclusive community where individual differences are expected, supported, respected, and valued. We embrace our obligation to improve our institution’s culture, strengthen our partnerships, and positively impact the future of the industries for which we train.

This work is necessary for the School to advance trade and craft traditions and contribute to the change we hope to see in our communities. Therefore, it is our responsibility to eliminate barriers to access and inclusion, and to expand opportunities to pursue a livelihood free from disrespectful behavior, harassment, and discrimination. We recognize that structural social barriers are a part of all organizations, and only through work by everyone, will greater change be made.

We are grateful to have had an excellent guide, Gwen Cochran Hadden, in this process. Gwen joined us as a consultant in September, and her approach to DEI work is inclusive itself, valuing many voices and giving room for many perspectives. She skillfully created a space where people feel ready to share and participate, and in this, she sets a model approach for inclusive, ambitious work.

Gwen takes the long view to this work, having helped Boston neighborhoods and nonprofits evolve and diversify over many years. She helps us to see that not only are we bringing change and growth to North Bennet, but we have the ability to bring that change to our neighborhood, our city, and more broadly, to the fields that we influence with our training. By stroke of amazing alignment, NBSS was not new to Gwen: her father trained here in the 1940s to become a piano tuner, a profession he kept throughout his life.

As craftspeople know, careful process and shared knowledge results in the best work. So, Gwen began with conversation—completing an initial assessment to understand the culture of the School through faculty, staff, alumni, and Board members, with more outreach to come to current students. These conversations revealed a range of perspectives and that overall, people are proud of NBSS—and also eager to increase diversity in many forms, including, but not limited to, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

Through this, we are identifying the values and norms of our community at large and within our programs, assessing what is conducive to fostering diversity and inclusion, and what should change. Coupled with the guiding principles of our DEI Vision Statement, we move to take further action. This vision statement will frame our efforts to reach new students with more scholarship and support, extend our community through online education and engagement, attract diverse new staff, faculty, and Board members, and support them in their work. Always, we continue to hold ourselves accountable, and increase both the transparency and visibility of our efforts. Our DEI Vision statement will also be a key underpinning to our next strategic plan, which we are beginning now.

This year has been one of reflection, learning, and focused work. As a community, we have re-established a foundation to continue open, honest, and respectful dialogue that is necessary to a community where differences are celebrated. We aim to evolve not only as a School and in our industries, but also as individuals. And what comes next for NBSS will intertwine conversation, education, planning, and action. Our progress is always renewing, always dynamic. And as always, we invite you to join us as we move forward.

NBSS Faculty-Staff DEI Committee

Jeff Altepeter, Bookbinding Instructor and Department Head
Ann Cahoon, Jewelry Making & Repair Instructor and Department Head
Nicki Downer, Development Coordinator
Claire Fruitman, Provost
Melissa Gallin, Director of Institutional Support
Bryan McGrath, Director of Student Life & Career Services
Rob O’Dwyer, Director of Admissions & Enrollment
Barbara Rutkowski, Associate Director of Marketing & Communications
Katie Theodoros, (former) Director of Continuing Education
Sarah Turner, President

This story is part of the 2021 issue of Benchmarks magazine. Read more Benchmarks stories here, or view more issues.