Michelle Palmer: Building Community and Enhancing Diversity
What was the inspiration for the Alumni of Color Initiative?
The way GFS shares its mission is constantly evolving. It is special that at GFS, we can turn ideas into actions; and we can turn emotions and thoughts into meaningful discussions and programs.
Our leadership and faculty identified needs related to diversity, particularly after we participated in the NAIS - Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism (AIM). One of the things we wanted to improve is our efforts to engage and celebrate our alumni of color.
Alumna Sandra Jewitt ’74 was also a big advocate and inspiration for this initiative. She was really excited about bringing our alumni of color back to campus. She helped us think about how we could do more.
We listened to many voices and ideas, and decided to create an Alumni of Color (AOC) initiative, led by our advancement office.
Our program, much like our school, continues to evolve and grow based on student and alumni feedback.
What are the goals of this program?
We want to create a strong affinity for the school with our alumni of color, who share such important perspectives and talents. With the AOC initiative, we are working on building this affinity through events, communication, alumni spotlights, and a new mentorship program for students. Current students are paired up with alumni of color. The relationships between current students and alumni through our mentorship program have been life changing.
We want to students to say, “When I am alumni, I can come back and do the same thing.”
A platform for students to share and bond is particularly important in this day and age. Students can come together and share experiences and challenges with faculty and staff, alumni mentors, and other students.
Tell us more about the mentorship program.
It is a very exciting program created to build relationships and connection. First, it was designed with just alumni in mind, but after a brainstorming session, we asked ourselves, “who better to partner with students than our alumni?”
Has the school embraced this program?
Administration has been very supportive and Dana encouraged us all along the way. We are still educating faculty and staff about the program and making sure they send students my way who may be interested in having a mentor or getting involved.
What do you see for the future?
I believe the future of the program will continue to build relationships and bring alumni of color back to campus. I want our group to keep improving and growing.
I also see the group impacting school practices and programs, improving the experience at GFS for all students, and building affinity within our alumni base.
One of the guiding principles of the GFS Strategic Vision is to continually strive for a community and campus that in both content and character - embrace and reflect the diversity in our world. The Alumni of Color Initiative is already working to build a strong community.
How did it feel to present this program at CASE NAIS?
It was amazing to present at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education/National Association of Independent School (CASE NAIS) conference, and see so many people interested in this program. It showed me that there is a big need for this type of work and programming. It also showed that we really are a leader. I know internally we always want to do better and be better, but I am so proud to see that we are the innovators. I am also excited that so many school leaders were interested in building programs like ours!