Update on HMI’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Work

Dear HMI Community,

A season has passed since we wrote following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May. The horrific event underscored the need for HMI to examine our place in enabling a society where such a thing could happen. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice and so many others have become a symbol not only of brutality and racism within policing, but also a catalyst for much that needs to change about America, this school, and ourselves.

The status quo is not sufficient. Working to make HMI a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive school is a cornerstone of our strategic plan for the next five years, and our national racial reckoning affirmed the urgency of this work. We want to share with you today a summary of the steps HMI has taken in recent years and the plans we hope to implement in the near future to improve. For everyone to find a home at HMI, our school needs to do a better job of standing against racism and the visible and invisible structures that for too long have made Black people and other people of color feel unwelcome in the natural world and at this school.

We share this update with you knowing our community is invested in the work we are doing to back the commitments found in our strategic plan and Diversity and Inclusion Statement. We understand there is much work to be done to fundamentally change HMI and make it a better school for all who wish to attend. I take seriously the responsibility to own our mistakes, learn from them, and make timely and measurable progress. Schools and school leaders across the United States heard from community members who felt marginalized at their institutions because of their race and ethnicity throughout this year. Like them, as I listen to voices here that for too long have not had our ear, the results do not always make me proud. I have hurt people, and HMI has hurt people. For this, I accept responsibility and seek to make amends by doing better. I am also grateful for those whose commitment to a diverse, equitable, and inclusive HMI inspires and drives me; they have my thanks. The work ahead is urgent and challenging.

From interviews we conducted with alumni of color four years ago, to the fall issue of the HMI newsletter that elevates voices of color to share their experiences with our broader community, the steps you see below align with the words and sentiments of our students—what they tell us needs to be acted upon for HMI to be better. Primarily, though we are making progress, we have yet to sufficiently attract, welcome, and support people of color and those from diverse socio-economic backgrounds as employees and students. Improvement is especially needed in the leadership ranks of HMI. We are working harder and more urgently than ever before to change these paradigms. We write this not to explain away our past, but because we want you all to expect change. The HMI of tomorrow must not look like it does today.

We will continue to share updates with you as our work evolves. We understand creating an equitable and inclusive school, however, involves more than this: we are seeking to achieve balance between listening, acting, and reporting. We hope that you will begin to see this balance in the annual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) reports we plan to send out moving forward. We will do this, in part, as an invitation for our community to hold us accountable for the changes that must happen. 

Thank you.


Danny O’Brien
719-486-8200 x101

Portrait of the HMI student body (Semester and Gap): 2020-21

Number of Students 150
% Students of color (self identified) 23%
% Student awarded financial aid 29%
% Students matriculating from public schools 36%
% of operating budget devoted to financial aid 23%
% of endowment draw devoted to financial aid 100%

What we have done

Hiring, Human Resources, & Professional Development

  • Prioritized including candidates of color in semi-finalist rounds and striving for phone interviews for at least one person of color for every full-time open position at HMI
  • Engaged two diversity recruiting firms (Stratagenius and Nemnet) to assist with best hiring practices
  • Added regular DEI-related trainings and discussions for all employees
  • Committed to sending up to four employees per summer to comprehensive DEI training (most recently, Diversity Directions)
  • Completed an audit for bias in job postings, changed language and streamlined requirements
  • Added DEI expectations and anti-bias work to position descriptions and job responsibilities
  • Ensured employees of color will have the opportunity to attend NAIS’s People of Color conference annually in addition to regular professional development opportunities
  • Provided funding for employees of color to engage with mentors outside of HMI
  • Compensated employees who have taken on the work of supporting students of color and other historically-marginalized identities with either additional compensation or reductions in other work responsibilities
  • Dedicated 35% of professional development budget to DEI work

Admissions & Development

  • Committed 100% of the funds we draw from the interest on our endowment (which has grown from under $2,000,000 to over $6,000,000) to financial aid
  • Added hiking boots, additional plane flights, and travel support for families to attend HMi Semester Family Weekend to student financial aid packages
  • Started holding online marketing events specifically for historically-marginalized identities, including webinars in Spanish-language and for people of color
  • Conducted marketing events at 25 organizations that serve students from under-resourced backgrounds
  • Retitled our Admissions Associate position (and added commiserate responsibilities) as Admissions Associate and Diversity Recruitment Coordinator
  • Endowed a full scholarship to the apprentice program specifically for a person of color
  • Added a simple financial aid calculator to the website
  • Shared with advisors and expedition leaders otherwise confidential information about student financial aid awards to ensure that adults can advocate on behalf of these students, for example in the Gear Room
  • Created financial aid-specific marketing materials and online information sessions
  • Added a Spanish-language welcome page to our website and the option to translate website text into Spanish
  • Conducted HMI’s first Alumni of Color Retreat in conjunction with our 20th anniversary reunion event
  • Started specific outreach to DEI Directors and organizations at sending institutions
  • Created a DEI Subcommittee of the Alumni Council to provide an explicit DEI lens to Alumni Council activities and initiatives
  • Created the “Voices of Color” edition of the HMI newsletter

Board of Trustees

  • Successfully brought membership in the Board of Trustees to over one third people from historically-marginalized identities.
  • Added a standing DEI committee (2021)
  • Began holding DEI discussions and training with all trustees


  • Launched multi-session series to help all students reflect on and share their identities and build empathy
  • Added counseling service options with counselors of shared identities for students
  • Increased quality of gear available for rent (at no or reduced costs for those receiving financial aid) from our gear room to match what students might purchase at national outdoor stores
  • Launched/launching three affinity groups in the HMI Semester: Students of Color, LGBTQ+, and politically-conservative students
  • Created solution for gender-neutral restroom facilities in the East, Barnes, and West Buildings
  • Launched an HMI Semester “Inclusive Outdoors Speaker Series” during which speakers from historically-marginalized identities talk with students about how they engage with the natural world
  • Created metrics to monitor equity and inclusion in admissions, programming, development, and human resources
  • Added questions about DEI to alumni and parent survey instruments
  • Created intentionality around student package ordering and delivery
  • Created land acknowledgement classes and land acknowledgement statements for our expeditions
  • Provided tampons and pads free-of-charge to students.
  • Completed interviews with alumni of color about their experiences at our school, with plans for additional interview sessions to help us prioritize our efforts
  • Revamped independent study program to provide financial aid for students taking online courses of study
  • Ensured Spanish-langauge translators are available for all aspects of HMI Semester Family Weekend


Current and future work

Hiring, Human Resources, & Professional Development

  • Change the economic model of the apprentice program, from a tuition-based model to a paid model that provides a stipend.
  • Create systems and policies to support and retain employees of color
  • Implement additional programs to increase applicants of color in our job applicant pools

Admissions & Development

  • Set targets for balancing full and partial financial aid awards
  • Develop programs to increase full-pay applicants of color in our applicant pools
  • Define goal for next HMI capital campaign that will raise money to increase the endowment in order to increase funds available for financial aid

Board of Trustees

  • Create a definitive approach to HMI’s diversity and inclusion work to be approved by the Board of Trustees
  • Set targets for growing endowment spending to support more financial aid
  • Revisit goal for financial aid as a % of revenue
  • Develops strategies to continue to recruit board members from historically-marginalized identities


  • Construct and open new classroom building with gender-neutral restroom facilities (2021-2022)
  • Audit community, environmental studies, and academic curricula for cultural inclusion/competency
  • Audit wilderness, communication, and leadership curricula for cultural competency/inclusion
  • Provide Chromebooks to all Semester students to address technology equity issues (2021-22)
  • Launch an affinity group for students receiving financial assistance
  • Added diversity, equity, and inclusion responsibilities to positions at HMI

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