DEI Initiative Progress at MPA

February 2023 Issue

Zaara Nayak, Editor-in-Chief

Recently, the firing of a professor at Hamline University has raised questions surrounding academic freedom at teaching institutions, and subsequently, DEI initiatives have come under fire. This past October, a professor at Hamline University reportedly gave students a two-minute warning before showing figurative images of Prophet Muhammed, which Islam prohibits. A Muslim student in the class found the images offensive, and the professor was fired. Amna Khalid and Jeffery Aaron Snyder, professors at Carleton College, assert in their article, “Let’s Face It: Academic Freedom and Inclusion Aren’t Always Compatible,” that the prioritization of DEI initiatives over academic freedom can border on censorship. 

Opposers of DEI initiatives fail to address that dismantling DEI initiatives provides the opportunity for government officials, most recently Governor Ron Desantis, to eliminate Critical Race Theory in public education’s curriculum, enact laws that limit the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, and put less emphasis on discussions involving race. Mississippi, Virgina, Arkansas, and North Dakota are also reviewing curriculum to “check if it conflicts with their policies and laws restricting the teaching of race,” according to The Washington Post.  

Fortunately, DEI initiatives are a top priority at Mounds Park Academy. In 2021, MPA implemented 2024ward, a strategic plan that prioritizes curriculum, diversity, quality faculty and staff, and financial sustainability. Priority 2 of this plan works to ensure an equitable and inclusive community at MPA. To achieve this, the MPA Board of Trustees established an Equity and Belonging committee, which oversees hiring, supervising, monitoring, and holding the head of school responsible for carrying out the school’s mission. Currently, the Equity and Belonging committee is creating a dashboard where students, families, and teachers can identify goals of the school and how they will be measured. Dr. Hudson adds that the committee “[institutes] a level of accountability for the progress and goals [they’ve] set and the progress that’s expected.” 

A key tenet of the Mounds Park Academy mission has been to foster diversity and inclusion since the school’s founding in 1982. Head of School Dr. Hudson believes it is important to “create a community in which everyone feels they’re accepted, respected, loved, [and] known.” In the fall of 2020, Dr. Hudson formed an Anti-Racism Action Group consisting of students, parents, alumni, trustees, and faculty of color who worked to suggest steps to be taken to create a more inclusive environment for BIPOC at MPA. One of the accomplishments of the AAG was the creation of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Belonging that is led by Director Lamar Shingles and Assistant Director Samantha Sanchez.  

Another priority is hiring more staff of color. Dr. Hudson acknowledges the hiring challenge that comes within predominantly white states like Minnesota. To compensate, MPA had doubled down on reducing bias built into the hiring process and has expanded the hiring process beyond the state level, conducting national and international searches. Planning is also underway for a comprehensive curriculum review to take place next year that includes “ensuring both content and delivery are centered on equity,” according to Dr. Hudson. 

When asked what role white students at MPA should play in fostering diversity and inclusion, Dr. Hudson said, “the problems we’re facing as a society…the answers are going to come from people regardless of the color of their skin, their ethnicity, or their gender.” 

Dr. Hudson acknowledges there is more to be done in terms of diversifying the student body and faculty and staff, but he also knows it is a high priority on MPA’s list, and it is making a difference. Dr. Hudson adds, “…just because we’re not where we should be or want to be, diminishes where we are only if we’re content to stay there.”