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“We get to decide what we tolerate”

Caroline Hobbs ‘26

In recognition of the recent Martin Luther King Jr. Day, The Mercersburg News sat down to interview Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Dr. Renata Williams, who reflected on the recent progress of Mercersburg’s DEI program and shared her ambitions for the future. 

Mercersburg News: What is the mission of the DEI office?

Renata Williams: We intend to create an atmosphere where all community members feel a sense of belonging and inclusion.  Our hope is that Mercersburg Academy is a place where everyone can show up authentically and unapologetically.  We strive to protect the dignity of all of our community members.

MN: What do you make of the community’s progress in advancing its DEI goals?

RW: Mercersburg Academy is a great place to live, work, learn and grow.  We have such a diverse student body population that offers the opportunity to see the world and engage in the learning experience from a multitude of perspectives. That is a distinct benefit for our students who experience the Mercersburg Academy learning environment. We have had difficult conversations and we've grappled with many things that will help us continue to grow and evolve as a community. We will continue to strive to be the best version of Mercersburg Academy day after day, and year after year.  I was once talking with a colleague who was working through DEI efforts with a few researchers. My colleague asked the researchers the question, "When is your research actually done?"  The response was, "Well, never.  There is always something more we can learn or a different variation of the research." He likened that to the work around DEI. We can always learn something new and look at things from a different perspective. 

MN: What challenges do your office and the school community still face?

RN: Rather than look at the areas of "challenge," I prefer to think of them as opportunities: opportunities to grow, opportunities to learn more about who we are as an institution, opportunities to better serve our current students and adults as well as the students and adults who will choose Mercersburg Academy in the future. Surveys tend to give us good information.  Over the past three years, we have begun to implement the inclusivity survey. This anonymous survey has given us great information including opportunities for growth as well as the ability to enhance things that are working well. 

MN: How can the Mercersburg community live up to the ideals of the office?

RW: I think it's important to note, that it's not about living up to the ideals of the office of DEI.  As Mr. McDowell often says (paraphrasing), we get to decide what we tolerate in our community.  It's up to all of us to set the norms in our community. It's about holding ourselves accountable as a community. Engaging in the work necessary to better educate ourselves to have a broader perspective. It's about personal accountability that enables our collective growth.

MN: What does the future hold for DEI at Mercersburg?

RW: This is the most exciting question for me.  I am excited to see the continued growth that the office will experience. We will actualize the student extension of the office, the Mosaic Ambassadors.  We also hope to have more regular, formalized programming hosted and facilitated by the office of DEI in collaboration with various campus partners.  We really want to infuse the idea of celebrating beyond "heroes and holidays" and celebrate the diversity of our community year-round and 365.

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