FCS Launches Department of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Justice

Friends’ Central is thrilled to welcome Nefetaria Yates as our Director of Diversity, Equity, Belonging, and Inclusivity. Nefetaria leads Friends’ Central’s newly launched Department of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Justice (DEJ Dept). 

Creating an entire department dedicated to DEI work was the vision of Head of School Beth D. Johnson ’77. Recent NAIS recommendations suggest that it takes a full team to make this work more sustainable. “Together, as a community, we embrace a common goal: to be an anti-racist, anti-bias school,” Beth said. “This new department is going to help us get there!”

“Together, as a community, we embrace a common goal: to be an anti-racist, anti-bias school. This new department is going to help us get there!”

Beth D. Johnson ’77, Head of School

There are nine team members in Friends’ Central’s Department of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Justice. With Nefetaria at its head, the leadership team also includes Al Vernacchio, Coordinator for Gender, Sexuality, and Consent Education; Robyn Richmond, Coordinator for Quaker Affairs; and Katy Oh, Coordinator of International Student Education and Programs, Admissions Coordinator, and Coordinator for Global Engagement and Education. At the next level are the Diversity Clerks representing each division. The Lower School Diversity Clerks are Christie Kapothanasis and Tanya Muse, the Middle School Diversity Clerk is Lauren Davis, and the Upper School Diversity Clerks are Jacob Fogel and Rebecca Benjamin.

Nefetaria Yates

“The leadership team,” Nefetaria explained, “guides the vision for the department, and the Diversity Clerks help to implement programming throughout the year, and they will also be leading Diversity Committees which will be taking on more of a leadership role this year. In the past, the Diversity Committees have been more exploratory and focused on having open conversations and reflection. That will still be a large part of their role, but they will also be working more to help shape curriculum changes as we move forward and support PD options for faculty at large.”  

“My primary role,” Nefetaria said, “is to build sustainable systems for Friends’ Central around equity and justice work.”

The Department has already been hard at work this summer defining its goals and objectives. “We held a summer retreat as a team,” Nefetaria said, “and we’re looking at all of the items we discussed in the retreat to create a measurable timeline of goals to keep our work on track. 

Led by Lisa Nelson-Haynes of Philadelphia Young Playwrights, Upper School faculty took part in Story Circle during in-service in August.

Among its many goals, the Department is aiming to revamp some of the structure of Affinity Groups. “In the Upper School, we’re looking at the curriculum for the Affinity Groups,” Nefetaria shared. “We really want to shift some of the ways we’re approaching the material to ensure that it’s exciting for students. With Middle School, we’re looking at adding more to the curriculum of what is already a really strong Affinity Group program and helping support teachers in both Middle and Upper Schools to be able to deliver the content. The Diversity Committees are going to be figuring out ways we can provide more support to faculty to help lead discussions confidently.”

“Our theme for this year is ‘Seeing Each Other.’ It’s inspired by the Zulu greeting, ‘Sawubona,’ which means, ‘I see you. You’re important to me. I value you.’ It’s a deep witnessing and holding space for the people in your community.”

Nefetaria Yates
Director of Diversity, Equity, Belonging, and Inclusivity

“Our theme for this year is ‘Seeing Each Other.’ It’s inspired by the Zulu greeting, ‘Sawubona,’ which means, ‘I see you. You’re important to me. I value you.’ It’s a deep witnessing and holding space for the people in your community. It’s about really getting to know people. With that theme, our school-wide goal is to explore identity; to build empathetic, vulnerable relationships with one another; and to build a strong sense of community,” Nefetaria said.

Each year, the department will implement a DEI- focused, creative project in alignment with the annual theme. FCS Story Circles will serve as the primary school-wide initiative for 2022-2023. This digital storytelling project was the collaborative brainchild of discussions between Nefetaria, Upper School Principal Lee Payton, and Lisa Nelson-Haynes, Executive Director of Philadelphia Young Playwrights. The initiative aims to help community members interact more deeply and intentionally with the theme through a creative lens. Led by Lisa and her team, participants are asked to identify formative experiences (Stories) that have shaped their sense of identity and share them with a group of peers. Stories are then captured and logged in a digital exhibition for community viewing. The team hopes to cultivate a space where community members can learn about, celebrate, and better support one another with a refreshed perspective. The first iteration of FCS Story Circles was successfully implemented with Upper School faculty during in-service week and will expand during the year.

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