Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

You'll Have a Seat at the Table

We work to ensure that every student at Sonoma Academy thrives.
While the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is the work of the entire community, we have key working groups that are responsible for implementing DEI initiatives, practices, and procedures.
The DEI Task Force
Comprised of a cross-sectional team of administrators and faculty, the DEI Task Force meets regularly to:
  • Identify areas of community growth and blind spots
  • Develop and implement appropriate responses and solutions
  • Create and administer the DEI dashboard, which measures key metrics that quantify what it means to thrive at Sonoma Academy
  • Host weekly DEI staffulty lunch to explore political, cultural, and community diversity, equity, and inclusion issues as they arise
  • Attend DEI-related professional development and report back to the community
  • Chair of the DEI Task Force liaises with the SAPA and Board of Trustees DEI Committees to ensure that all working groups are aligned
  • Establish the DEI Student Council to create a safe space for students, provide opportunities for learning and engagement within the student community, surfaces any issues to the DEI Task Force, and helps develop iniatives and programs to address these issues.

Board of Trustees DEI Committee

Comprised of a small group of Trustees and a staffulty member, this committee is responsible for:
  • Ensuring that DEI is a strategic, institutional priority
  • Collaborating with DEI Task Force to implement key iniatitives
Sonoma Academy Parent Association (SAPA) DEI Committee
Comprised of parent volunteeers, this committee:
  • Works with the parent community on education around DEI issues
  • Creates opportunities for meaningful DEI engagement work for parents
  • Ensures a welcoming and inclusive parent community through outreach, social activities, and more

Queer Straight Alliance (QSA)
The mission of QSA is to make Sonoma Academy a safer and more accommodating school for people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and expressions. We raise awareness through campus education initiatives and direct action while raising money to support organizations that share our goals in the wider community. We provide a fun and accepting social space for LGBTQ students and their allies to strengthen relationships, learn from each other and explore LGBTQ topics and concerns. Ongoing projects include the Queery Question and Answer Forum, "genderbread" cookie sale during winter exam week and annual participation in the National Day of Silence.

DEI Updates

List of 3 news stories.

  • Affinity Spaces

    Last week, before classes began for the semester, we gathered as an entire staffulty to explore the idea of affinity spaces in schools—not just for students, but for everyone in the community. In a workshop co-led by Dr. Mary Antón, Principal of Learning*Leading*Becoming Equity Coaching, and Interim Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Dot Kowal, we discussed how campus affinity groups can be an essential tool for establishing an anti-racist school culture. 

    While you may not yet be familiar with the term “affinity space,” you are likely familiar with the concept. An affinity space is a place where a group of people united by a shared interest or identifying marker can gather, often voluntarily. In our discussion last week, our primary focus was the role of racial affinity spaces in schools. During the second half of the workshop, we broke up into affinity spaces for BIPOC (black, indigeneous, and people of color) staffulty, LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersexed, agender, asexual, ally) and Gender Non-conforming staffulty, and white anti-racist discussion. (While an LGBTQIA+ and Gender Non-conforming staffulty space is not a racial affinity space, while we were trying out the idea of affinity spaces, it was important to include a space for our LGBTQIA+ and Gender Non-conforming staffulty members.)

    Creating racial affinity spaces at a school can sometimes feel like a risk, or even counterintuitive to some of us who were raised with the idea that it was best to be “colorblind.” Establishing groups based on racial identities can even look like segregation to some folks who grew up with the idea that it’s best for people to be in a “melting pot” where race is not visible. But in recent years, the importance of affinity spaces for both BIPOC and white antiracist community members has become more widely acknowledged. 

    In BIPOC affinity spaces, participants have the space and safety to unpack issues of internalized oppression and racial trauma, while also discussing what they need from white institutions. White antiracist affinity spaces can be profoundly helpful for white people as they grapple with their privilege and white identity and commit to actionable change. Affinity spaces help schools continue antiracist work outside of the context of one-off trainings and assemblies, ensuring that the process is ongoing and evolving over time. 

    Our LGBTQIA+ and Gender Non-conforming students have had an affinity space for several years now, the well-established and active QSA group. Over the last year, students have been in the process of creating new optional affinity spaces for our BIPOC students. Last week’s workshop was one of the first times we have created affinity spaces specifically for the adults in our community, and in the post-program feedback, many staffulty members expressed a desire for more time in these groups. We look forward to building meaningful spaces for all of our community members to work together toward the goal of creating a more equitable, antiracist school culture. 
    Read More
  • The DEI Dashboard and More

    The DEI Dashboard
    In the last Courier, we introduced the staffulty DEI Task Force. The goal of the group for this school year is to develop a DEI Dashboard that will help us assess what it means for every student to thrive at Sonoma Academy and to identify any areas where we may need to improve.

    To do this, we first conducted workshops with our entire staffulty and our Board of Trustees exploring the Sonoma Academy mission statement and what it means to thrive at Sonoma Academy. From this work, we drafted a wide variety of questions that could be utilized on a survey that would help us assess our culture and the student experience. We have refined these questions and next we will conduct interviews with a cross-section of students to “pressure test” the questions. This work with students will help us understand what language is most meaningful and which questions produce the most relevant information. From there, we will develop an electronic survey that we will administer to students in the late winter/early spring. Our goal is to achieve a 100% response rate from our students. We will then review and analyze the data and develop an initial report of our findings. From this point, we will have both a good baseline of understanding as well as information to help us develop programming and plans for the coming years.
    DEI Training
    In order to facilitate our own work, many members of our DEI Task Force have obtained and plan to obtain professional training. At last year’s National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) conference, members of the Administrative Team including Ellie Dwight, Dot Kowal, Director of Marketing Lily Thompson, Director of Enrollment, Financial Aid, and Institutional Research Sandy Stack participated in a session on creating an Inclusion Dashboard, which helped kick off this year’s initiative. Ellie, Dot, Sandy, Lily, and STEM Teacher Cassidy Brown have all also participated in the Inclusion Dashboard Consortium Retreat, established and run by Kalyan Balaven, Dean of Equity & Inclusion at Athenian School, during which the methods for creating a DEI dashboard were explored.
    This school year, Dot Kowal and Dean of Student Life Darren Duarte attended a workshop in Equity as Excellence through the California Teacher Development Coalition (CATDC), and Humanities teacher Colin McNamara is attending a CATDC training in Teaching & Assessing Writing in an Equitable & Student-led English Classroom. Additionally, we will be working with both staffulty and students throughout the year around trainings, assemblies, and other educational opportunities to enhance our understanding and skills related to DEI issues.

    DEI Is an Institutional Priority
    In addition to the staffulty DEI Task Force charged with all of the work outlined above, our Board of Trustees has established a DEI Committee and SAPA has also re-established its DEI Committee. Dot Kowal will be the liaison amongst these committees helping to ensure alignment of the work and cooperation amongst these various adult constituents.

    We are also committed to expanding the diversity of our staffulty. As a member of BAISTAC (the Bay Area Independent School Teacher Access Coalition), Ellie attends regular meetings to learn about successfully recruiting and retaining underrepresented candidates. Later this year, Ellie and Director of Human Resources Susan Adams are also attending a workshop put on by Nemnet, a national resource organization committed to assisting schools and organizations in the recruitment and retention of diverse teachers, administrators, and coaches.

    Throughout the year, we will share information and updates related to DEI and the work we are doing as a school.
    Read More
  • The Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Task Force

    Fundamental to who we are as a school is the understanding that learning occurs best within the context of connected community. Although we have always worked to create an inclusive culture that fosters connection—and therefore the safety and sense of belonging needed to take risks, try new things, discover who you are, and learn for learning’s sake—we have grown increasingly sensitive to fundamental issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). We hold as our highest ideal that every student thrives at Sonoma Academy.

    Two years ago, we established a Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) Task Force comprised of a cross-section of staffulty and initially co-chaired by Assistant Head of School Ellie Dwight and STEM Teacher Cassidy Brown, and this year chaired by Director of College Counseling Dot Kowal. The move towards a formalized task force was an acknowledgement of the scope and breadth of the work to be undertaken by such a committee. Beyond staffulty and student trainings and workshops, the task force now seeks to establish a DEI dashboard, the purpose of which is to survey and track over time key metrics related to the DEI culture within the school. This will allow us to identify any areas of needed improvement, develop additional programs, training, or support where needed, and track progress against those areas.

    Before we can talk meaningfully about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion—much less effectively measure our culture through those lenses, develop programs to address any issues, and so on—we must first have a shared understanding of what those terms mean.

    Defining Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
    Our Task Force uses the following working definitions of the terms:

    Diversity: Diversity relates to differences in those aspects of identity that impact the social experiences—including perception, status, privilege, opportunity, access to resources—of groups of people within a community.

    “Diversity” includes dominant and majority groups, without whom there would be no perceived and/or experienced “norm.”

    In other words, Diversity = Representation and suggests that we explore whether our school population represents our community and whether our students see themselves in our faculty and staff.

    Equity: Equity is about equalizing the ability to thrive; recognizing and addressing unfair cultural and institutional biases and discrimination.

    In other words, Equity = Fairness and suggests that we ask ourselves: How do we ensure that all members of our community enjoy equal access to opportunity, resources, and information?

    Inclusion: Inclusion is how a group creates an environment in which diverse members share a sense of belonging, mutual respect, and being valued for who they are. It is the supportive energy and commitment from others so that these groups can do their best work.

    In other words, Inclusion = Belonging and encourages us to ensure that we have and are creating a culture in which we actively invite the contribution and participation of all members of our community.

    DEI Mission
    Next, our Task Force drafted a mission statement to guide its work and our understanding of DEI. This should be considered a working draft. “We believe that learning occurs best in a connected community. Diversity, equity, and inclusivity are essential to an education in which all members of our community thrive. We are committed to cultivating a diverse community that is conscious and welcoming of difference, dedicated to investigating and advancing equity, and engaged with our local and global community.”

    Throughout the year, we will be sharing updates on the work of the DEI Task Force, including the development of a DEI Dashboard, staffulty workshops and trainings, student programming, and coordination with the Board of Trustees DEI Committee and the newly reestablished SAPA DEI Committee.
    Read More

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Mission

We believe that learning occurs best in a connected community. Diversity, equity, and inclusivity are essential to an education in which all members of our community thrive. We are committed to cultivating a diverse community that is conscious and welcoming of difference, dedicated to investigating and advancing equity, and engages with our local and global community. 
    • Dot Kowal, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

2500 Farmers Lane 
Santa Rosa, CA 95404 
(707) 545-1770 

Sonoma Academy Is...

...the only private, independent, college preparatory high school in Sonoma County. On our beautiful campus nestled at the base of Taylor Mountain in Southeastern Santa Rosa, our students are able to explore their interests and passions in a rigorous and inspiring environment that develops a lifelong love of learning and prepares them for college and beyond.

Sonoma Academy admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.