Exploring Identity on Mount Ida

Sandra Santana
As we ask our students to show up as their best selves in the classroom, challenging their thoughts and perceptions, we ask the same of our adult community. One difficult question is, how do we promote an environment that allows true identity to shine through? Through professional development opportunities curated by various departments at Emma Willard School, we encourage our faculty and staff to come together and expand our horizons on a number of topics. This week, with the help of our Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Mount Ida welcomed Dr. Rodney Glasgow—a Harvard graduate and disruptor of educational norms—to inspire us to uncover how we truly serve our school and each other.
Coming off the heels of a successful 2021–22 academic year, the momentum on Mount Ida hasn’t slowed. Educator, facilitator, and diversity practitioner Dr. Rodney Glasgow, current Head of Sandy Spring Friends School, joined Emma Willard School EMployees earlier this week for a deep dive into pedagogical philosophies in our ever-evolving, diverse world. The product of an independent school himself, the Gilman School alumnus understood the unique pressures students face when they enter a classroom where they feel they do not belong. 

Through a day of exploration, Dr. Glasgow guided school leaders and educators through intimate conversations on identity and how it’s reflected in the work we do as a learning community. Using molecular model structures and core culture identifiers, Dr. Glasgow helped EMployees identify aspects of their unique identities and shared how those qualities come to light in the world. Using breakout groups, EMployees shared their identity makeup with one another and began to peel back the layers of how this came to be. 

Reflecting on how each individual's life experiences shape their identity, Dr. Glasgow helped us acknowledge that these same experiences give life to some of our implicit biases. These biases show up in many places throughout our day-to-day lives, but in the school system, they can find themselves right alongside us in our lesson plans and teaching strategies. Working to name and dismantle your biases is key to fostering an environment where students can thrive, creating a space where multiple perspectives and abilities are valued and reflected.

While our time with Dr. Glasgow was short, his message was profound. Associate Director of Equity and Inclusion Gemma Halfi shared, “With equity, inclusion, justice, and belonging at the forefront of our strategic plan and academic pillars, faculty members are hungry for the kind of learning that will help us determine where our strengths lie and where we need to push ourselves in order to foster and nurture classrooms in which students can show up with a sense of belonging. It's rare that we are given the time and space to deeply reflect on our own complex identities and how they impact the way we educate our students. Dr. Glasgow highlighted the importance of this practice as we strive to engage in the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is just as important, we learned from Dr. Glasgow, to consider the complex ways our students are showing up each day and the lenses through which they engage in our classrooms and residence halls. It is not until we strive to be aware of these complex lenses that we will achieve classrooms of true belonging and equity.”

Director of College Counseling Dr. Ashley L. Bennett reflected on the workshop with Dr. Glasgow, saying, “I have been fortunate to serve on the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) faculty alongside Dr. Glasgow. Through his vision and leadership, I learned to show up authentically for my students and colleagues. It came as no surprise that he was able to lead our faculty and staff in conversations centered in identity and heart. Dr. Glasgow encouraged us to work on our identity molecule, an exercise that encourages participants to think about how eight cultural identifiers show up in their lives. I was able to partner with [Head of School] Jenny Rao and learn more about her identity and she learned about mine. It was great to unpack so many important concepts at the end of an eventful year. Here's to hoping Dr. Glasgow makes an appearance in the future!”

The work to create a true community of inclusivity on Mount Ida continues, and thanks to Dr. Glasgow, we are charging ahead with a renewed sense of purpose. It is through constant reflection and engagement that we regularly pulse check and realign our efforts to get the equation right. We thank Dr. Rodney Glasgow for his generosity, openness, and vibrant energy; we look forward to welcoming him back to Emma Willard School soon.
Dr. Rodney Glasgow (via rodneyglasgow.com)

Dr. Rodney Glasgow (via rodneyglasgow.com)

Dr. Rodney Glasgow leading the morning workshop for EMployees!

Dr. Rodney Glasgow leading the morning workshop for EMployees!