A leader for change: Cheshire Academy’s director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

A leader for change: Cheshire Academy’s director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

CHESHIRE – Dr. Aleesha Grier-Rogers, director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, at Cheshire Academy oversees a wide range of diversity initiatives for the campus. She’s also a member of the school’s class of 1990.

“In my work, I always focus on the individual and all of the experiences that the individual is bringing to the table,” Grier-Rogers said.  “So, from that perspective, you cannot ignore the different experiences that a person of color has versus someone who is white. It’s just different. So, yes, someone of color would be impacted differently by different experiences because they have these experiences of discrimination and disparity and bias that are also a part of their lives.”

As a Black woman, Grier-Rogers said it’s important for her to serve as a mentor to other women of color, just as she herself received encouragement from women in academia. 

“You cannot separate gender from race,” she said. “When I think about my intersecting identities as a person of color and as a woman, the obstacles I have encountered —  I have overcome them through the support of my family, my friends and the phenomenal women who have mentored me along the way.”

Her mentors include Katurah Bryant, who she met at Yale. Bryant is a marriage and family therapist, registered nurse and detox specialist. Bryant gave the keynote address, “Updates on the Dream”, at the academy’s recent Martin Luther King Jr. Day event.

Another mentor was Dr. Tami Sullivan from Yale School of Medicine, who taught Grier-Rogers to push herself in Yale’s competitive environment. 

Kathy McCloskey was Grier-Rogers’ mentor in graduate school at the University of Hartford’s Department of Psychology. McCloskey focuses on diversity issues in psychology. “She was the first person to get me to think more about multiculturalism and the impact of diversity in individual backgrounds of a client’s mental health and wellness,” Grier-Rogers said.

Grier-Rogers is a licensed cl­­inical psychologist who worked with underserved populations in community healthcare before coming full circle to return to her hometown and her alma mater at Cheshire Academy.

She was promoted to director this year, stepping up from her position as Diversity, Equity, Inclusion coordinator the previous year. Earning her pre-doctoral and postdoctoral degrees at Yale School of Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry, Division of Addictions, Grier-Rogers serves as a clinical faculty member at Yale. She also has taught at Southern Connecticut State University for more than a decade.

Grier-Rogers is on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force which works on issues such as updating policies and procedures, and looking at hiring and retention.

Niche.com ranks Cheshire Academy, located at 10 Main St., as number seven on its list of most diverse private high schools in Connecticut, out of more than 70 schools, and gives it an A-plus rating on this count. According to usaschoolinfo.com, the academy’s student body includes five ethnicities. The largest ethnic group of the approximately 365 students is white, 63.9 %, followed by: Asian, 27.3 %; Hispanic, 5.2 %; Black, 3 %; and Indian, .6 %.

Grier-Rogers’ work at the academy includes program and event planning that often is developed with student input. “We have speakers who come to talk about diversity issues during the course of the year,” Grier-Rogers said.  This year’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration is one such event Grier-Rogers helped plan with academy students.  

Another program Grier-Rogers helped students get involved with was The Students Diversity Leadership Conference, the youth portion of the annual People of Color Conference was held in late November, early December. Four students from the academy attended the virtual conference as a delegation of affinity students.

“They learned so much and said it was one of the most amazing experiences they ever had,” said Grier-Rogers.

Helping the academy’s student affinity groups is still another way Grier-Rogers supports students with diversity, equity and inclusion issues, often referred to as DEI.

“Working to promote awareness of social justice on campus is also a huge part of my job,” said Grier-Rogers. 

Serving as a faculty advisor for a couple of the groups on campus is another dimension of her work she enjoys. The Black Student Union is dedicated to promoting awareness on campus, she said. The Student Equity Team, new this year, is an affinity and leadership group which allows students to learn about social justice and DEI concepts and “we teach them to be allies and advocates for other students in the community,” said Grier-Rogers.  

Additionally, she is part of the academy’s leadership team. “I get to collaborate with all of the departments on campus and have the opportunity to look at things through the DEI lens,” she said.  

Throughout the month, read stories about the people, past and present, who contribute to our community life, and learn about local Black history and how it influences us today.

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