DEIB forums; a new asset at Westford Academy


Kate Kelly

Westford Academy, warming up to new weather and new changes.

Kate Kelly, Co-Features Editor

On Tuesday, March 28, a group of both students and teachers met in the auditorium after school. They didn’t need to be there, but they chose to be.  It was only an hour period, but within that time, a new outlet of communication was brought to Westford Academy.

The Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging forum was organized by Principal James Antonelli, along with educational leadership professional Dr. Michelle Shannon and the Anti-Defamation League, also known as ADL. Its purpose was to give students an opportunity to voice their personal opinions and perspectives, hopefully using this information to better improve the community. 

The forum was simple, just a meeting in the PAC with a group of students who had heard about the event and found interest. A list of planned questions displayed on the projector gave students the rest of the time for open conversation. Students passed around microphones and shared their varying views. Shannon started the meeting by addressing ground rules, emphasizing the fact that “excellence without equity is not excellence”. The bulleted list of intentionally planned questions varied in topics, asking about pros and cons students find learning at Westford Academy. 

“I thought it went well because the feedback that I received was really positive,” Antonelli said. “I think that there was a nice cross selection of people there that were able to share their thoughts as a representative number of our student body.”

The process leading up to this forum started far before this year. Antonelli and Shannon became close around the time of an incident at a basketball game against Wayland where WA students were caught making racist commentary. Both the school and community found themselves in reflective situations, and Shannon was a source of guidance during this time. 

“She helps me to see different angles and she helps me to understand where I’m coming from,” Antonelli said. “I think we collaborate really well together.” 

The two began consulting more often, navigating different ways to bring unity to the students and staff alike. Now, Shannon is hired within the Westford Public School Systems to continue providing consultancy with leadership and professional development. 

Although it was the students’ first DEIB forum, there was no hesitation when it came to speaking. The auditorium grew into a comfortable space where questions were discussed at length. 

ADL had taken a huge part in supporting the school’s DEIB, as well. They educate the student population on terminology and issues as well as spotlight stories that are less heard and often overlooked. This group supported the forum and is enthusiastic about working on upcoming events in the future school year. 

“As ADL continues to grow, I think that we continue to create safe spaces that allow for uncomfortable conversations about racism, sexism, homophobia, and so forth,” ADL officer Sofia Gutierrez said. 

While all of the slideshow points weren’t covered at the initial forum, much of the discussion was centered around the pressures WA students face. The external versus internal forces were expressed and emphasized by facilitators and students alike.   

“I think the forum was a really good opportunity for students to have these important conversations with each other,” Gutierrez said. “However, I can’t wait until we have future conversations where we can go into deeper conversations about other issues and topics in the school.”

However, Antonelli does in fact hope to have one to two more Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging forums before the end of the year, and is determined to finish this important conversation from the first afternoon as well as others. The first DEIB forum opened the gateway to many conversations to come.

“What I also want to do is develop some other themes, not just DEIB, but other topics that we can have open forums about,” Antonelli said. 

Flaws are a universal trait, and while this community has had its ups and downs, the DEIB forums are a clear, recent step that can be seen growing WA into a more open community. 

“When I think about WA, I think about a place where I want people to like coming every single day,” Antonelli said. “I know not everybody’s going to feel that way, people are going to have peaks and valleys, […] but as a principal you want students to enjoy their experience here.”