During the Summer of 2020, North Bennet Street School and other educational institutions faced a cultural reckoning after the murder of George Floyd. Though NBSS had long maintained a priority to be more diverse and inclusive—with dedicated efforts such as the School’s robust Workforce Scholarship programs—deeper work was needed.
As the institution reflected on welcoming a wider range of people and perspectives, the School set its sights on creating long-term, sustainable, and meaningful change around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
A DEI Working Group quickly coalesced—made up of NBSS faculty, staff, and Board members—to interview potential advisors to guide us in the work ahead. One consultancy, Cochran Hadden Royston Associates (CHRA), came highly recommended by several non-profit colleagues. A “generation and cultural competency consulting firm” based in Gloucester, Massachusetts, CHRA provides a broad-based set of services to clients, including cultural competency, change management, sexual harassment training, organizational culture, anti-bias and anti-racism training, strategic planning, and related offerings.
Upon interviewing firm Principal Gwen Cochran Hadden, working group members Melissa Gallin, Director of Institutional Support, and Jeff Altepeter BB ’95, Department Head of the Bookbinding program, quickly came to realize the value and insights she could bring to the task at hand.
“Gwen stood out because of her experience spanning several decades, at a time when the field was otherwise growing quickly with newcomers,” Melissa shares. “In our first interview with her, Gwen also shared an interesting personal and historical connection to the School: her father Sam Cochran had trained to be a piano technician at NBSS in the 1940s.”
A professional musician, Sam had developed a disability that prevented him from playing the piano. He came to NBSS because he needed another way to earn a living and build a career, like so many of the School’s current students still do today.
That initial conversation with Gwen was eye-opening in other ways too. Jeff notes that she was keen to understand the School’s commitment to DEI and its willingness to do the work. “We saw right away what a careful listener she was,” Jeff says. “Gwen asked great questions that helped us clarify our intentions and the process. I really appreciated the way she gently challenged us, and felt that Gwen would help guide us in the right directions.”
Gwen was hired that same summer, and quickly got started on the work at hand. She formalized the working group, convened regular monthly meetings, assigned readings and other tasks for committee and community members to reflect upon, for example.
Gwen is quick to note that “change doesn’t happen overnight” and her approach paces a client’s progress and goals accordingly. In the last two years, however—through Gwen’s guidance—the School has made meaningful efforts toward welcoming a wider range of people and perspectives. While there is still much to be done, Gwen’s perspective has greatly informed the Teaching Assistant program, Impact Scholarships, DEI Vision Statement, FY23 Strategic Plan, hiring practices, partnerships, and student wellness, among other work.
Gwen is quick to note that “change doesn’t happen overnight”
and her approach paces a client’s progress and goals accordingly. In the last two years, however—through Gwen’s guidance—the School has made meaningful efforts toward welcoming a wider range of people and perspectives.
All of this insight comes from Gwen’s decades of experience working with clients in healthcare, nonprofit, arts & cultural, government, and other sectors. In 1986, Gwen worked as the Director of Civil Rights for the Boston Housing Authority (BHA). There she was credited with the design, development and successful implementation of the first phase of the BHA’s Charlestown Integration Plan. Since then she’s worked with The Boston Children’s Museum, The Rose Kennedy Greenway, Friends of the Boston Public Garden, The Broadway League, Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, and the Theatre Development Fund among others.
Together, the entire DEI Working Group is looking ahead at how the School’s ongoing work will be the foundation for creating a more welcoming institution.
“To me, she is more than a consultant to us at the School: she is a confidante, a convener, a thinker, a leader, a friend, and a mentor,” Melissa shares. “Above all, Gwen is an optimist. She is so generous with her wisdom and experience.”
Learn more about the School’s ongoing DEI work and the concrete initiatives we’ve implemented at nbss.edu/dei.
This article is from our 2022 Annual Report. View more issues here.