New Initiatives in Diversity and Inclusion Office


Anika Balwada '23

Darina Huang ’23 and Nithya Chundi ’23 work together in the Multicultural Center.

Have you noticed a new room across from the Post Office? What about new events in community life from the school’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I)? 

This year, the D&I  office has expanded initiatives to contribute to the school’s objective of providing a safe space for everyone, regardless of identity. Some of these additions include the Walter Crain Fellowship Program and the Multicultural Center (MCC), the new location for the Office of Diversity & Inclusion. 

New faculty members, Dr. Lisanne Norman ’94, instructor in history, and Ms. Kinyette Henderson, instructor in English, took on the positions of associate director of Diversity & Inclusion and the Assistant Director, respectively. Veteran faculty Mr. Pierre Yoo, instructor in chemistry was appointed assistant director of D&I, and Mr. David Thompson, director of international programs, and Dr. Jason Larson, director of spiritual and religious life also joined the D&I team the Diversity and Inclusion team.

The Walter Crain Fellowship creates an opportunity for educators invested in diversity and inclusion to strive for leadership positions within independent schools. This program was created in honor of the late Walter Crain P ’86, ‘89 who was the first full time Black faculty member at Hotchkiss. His legacy of  working tirelessly as an educator, coach, and dean of students impacted countless students throughout his 33 years at the school. 

Dr. Merrilee Mardon, associate head of school and dean of faculty, along with Mr. Erby Mitchell, the dean of admission and financial aid, founded  the Walter Crain Fellowship after discussions at a hiring fair revealed that very few educators from underrepresented backgrounds considered Hotchkiss as an option for teaching. When asked about the importance of the Walter Crain Fellowship, Mr Mitchell said, “To my mind, we must ensure that we are attracting the best students and faculty from around the United States and the world, and that we are a place that is welcoming and where incidents of being the “only” are rare.” 

The program aims  to ensure that every student and faculty member feels welcomed and included in the community regardless of  their identity.  

The Multicultural Center (MCC) provides a location where students can gather for affinity group meetings, film screenings, open-mic nights, and much more. The MCC acts as an important space for everybody to feel welcome. Mr. Yassine Talhaoui, director of diversity and inclusion, said, “So many groups in the past use spaces on campus that were not necessarily designed with them in mind, whether it’s the Faculty Lounge, the Science Lecture Hall, or classrooms. For us it’s important to design and have a physical space, a safe space, that is really designed for students to gather, connect with one another, learn about differences, have discussions, and gain cultural confidency with the help of the DEI team. ”

Student-led affinity groups and identity-based clubs have access to the space for events, and student leaders have already put it to use. Suleyka Alonso ’22, co-head of De Colores, an affinity group for Latinx and Hispanic students, said, “The MCC provides [us] with a safe space where [we are] able to express [ourselves] freely and be around people [we] relate to. Having [it] makes students feel like their identity matters, which creates an even more comfortable space for affinity group meetings. De Colores has already used the space to bring in a speaker during Hispanic Heritage Month, and throughout the year, we’re planning on using the space for casual meetings.”

The D&I office has many has many goals and initiatives in place this year that work towards inclusion. These include a curriculum review for nearly all departments, implicit bias training for faculty and staff, proctor training, alumni engagement and the Hotchkiss BIPOC Parent Network. Additionally, the office newly appointed Imani Majied ’15 as director of multicultural outreach in an effort to improve prospective student’s cultural understanding of the school.

Through the creation of the MCC, the new Walter Crain Fellowship program, and other school-wide initiatives, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is striving to make the school a safe space for all identities.