With 41% of its student body made up of people of color and students coming from 24 states and 12 countries, Thacher boasts an impressive record when it comes to student racial diversity.
However, the statistics are a little less glamorous for its faculty.
Only 19.5% of teaching staff (of which only three are full time) and 17% of all faculty (including the admissions department, the development department…) are of color, an astounding divergence from its enthusiastic demand for more diversity in the student body.
One has to wonder, at a school where almost half of its students identify as of color, what kind of effects does a predominantly white teacher population have on its community?
“I feel like there’s a lack of teachers that I can really talk to here”, a current student voiced, “there are only two Asian teachers, and both are male, so being an Asian female, there’s definitely a bit of a disconnect [with the faculty].”
Another student added that “Following the death of Eric Garner and the rise of the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, I felt as if I had no faculty I could talk to on campus.”
A lack of diversity in faculty makes it difficult for minority students to find role models with similar backgrounds as themselves within the school, depriving them of a special type of support and mentorship found only in faculty of their own ethnicity. This can especially hinder conversations that relate to minority empowerment movements such as the Black Lives Matter movement as well as make it more difficult to broach sensitive, race-related topics.
For example, one student pointed out that “the deaths as a result of police brutality this year were largely ignored at Thacher even though they were one of the most prominent topics in the country.”
In addition, a current junior expressed that “although the faculty on campus comprise an amazing group, its predominant whiteness is a reminder of powerlessness.”
Indeed, in a country where diversity is celebrated by some but condemned by others and where issues with racism and white privilege are still very much present, the lack of faculty diversity in a school even as progressive as Thacher is hard to swallow.
However, Thacher is not a school to remain stagnant. Mr. Hooper, the Director of Faculty at the school stated that within the last four years, six out of seventeen (35.3%) of classroom faculty hires have identified as teachers of color and that five out of nine (56%) of full-time, residential faculty hires have identified as teachers of color.
“All of our recent hires bring rich and diverse backgrounds and perspectives (just like our students!) and recognizing, validating, and celebrating those differences is crucial to the school’s success, relevance, and mission!” Mr. Hooper promised an upward trajectory in the number of faculty of color at Thacher, despite admitting to not having “reliable historical data.”
The increased effort in hiring more diverse faculty is only part of the solution to a chiefly white faculty however, and one student pointed out the school’s need to put more effort in keeping faculty of color.
“We expect those faculty of color that we hire to just do their thing but I think that Thacher’s environment is not sufficiently accommodating to those faculty, so we always end up losing them.” The student mentioned that within the past three years, three teachers of color have left Thacher, one only shortly after arriving. If the school is unable to keep its diverse faculty, then are its efforts to increase employment of diverse faculty really that effective in the long run?
This brings up several good questions: Why is Thacher unable to retain its diverse teachers? What makes a good environment for diverse teachers? And most importantly, how can Thacher change to become more adaptable and inclusive for those teachers?
To answer the first question, a teacher said that “diverse faculty can feel isolated in the Ojai Valley and at school, especially if they are young and single” and that “the location of the school and faculty’s multiple commitments do not allow much for replenishing in.”
A student added that the high demands of a teaching job at Thacher might also be responsible. Being a faculty at Thacher entails: being responsible for not only students, but also often advisees; being expected to coach 2 out of 3 seasons as well as lead an EDT trip twice a year; being expected to be available not just during the school day but also at night…and the list goes on. “When you think of the limited number of people academically qualified to teach at Thacher,” the student said, “and then the people who are willing to do all that Thacher demands of its teachers, you are left with a small, usually white, demographic.”
In addition to this, many people, both faculty and students, believe that the difficulty of celebrating and maintaining different cultural traditions and interests also play a big part in the school’s unconscious isolation of faculty of color.
“Being part of a handful teachers of color makes it difficult because a lot of the programs, interests, and even traditions (understandably) are geared to the interests of the majority group,” a teacher said.
“While traditions are inherent to Thacher, it seems difficult to honor individual traditions while observing wholeheartedly the ones Thacher embraces,” another added. She went on to vocalize that although Thacher “accomplishes the goal of including everyone in the community,” the challenge is to “be open to change while maintaining core fundamentals without alienating the individual traditions that make people unique and should be celebrated.”
So how can Thacher acknowledge these issues and change in response to them?
“I think the most important thing for the school to do would be to pay more attention to the traditions of different cultures and spend more time educating the school on them,” one student voiced, “if we become more aware of differences and more accepting of them, maybe it will make teachers of color feel more at home and encourage them to come here and stay here.”
Furthermore, a teacher spoke of the need for Thacher to be more aware of incorporating people of different races in all aspects of the school (board, administration, teachers, program directors, etc). “This way, cultural shifts can happen at all levels,” he explained.
Despite the many obstacles preventing Thacher from reaching its goal of have a racially diverse faculty body, many have expressed their optimism.
“I am optimistic the school as a whole is becoming more aware of different communities’ needs,” a teacher said, “the progress I have witnessed in my sixteen years here is certainly encouraging.”
“I think the school is trying very hard to bring in more diversity to its faculty,” a student expressed, “and I think as long as the school keeps hiring diverse faculty and encouraging them to stay, we will see great progress in the future.”