HMI Diversity & Inclusion Statement

The High Mountain Institute believes that both diversity and inclusion are essential to growth and learning. We all achieve our potential when each person in the community feels a true sense of belonging, and has the confidence to express their full self.

At HMI, inclusiveness starts with an intentional and affirming community. Creating such a community is our priority. We connect deeply to each other through classes, wilderness expeditions, and shared responsibilities. We prioritize open communication and honest conflict resolution. These efforts inspire us to build trust, to value diverging perspectives, and to build communities greater than ourselves.

Historically, however, outdoor programs like HMI have attracted largely white and privileged populations. At times, this has made it challenging for all at our school to feel fully part of our community. We seek to address these challenges at HMI by increasing the diversity of our students, faculty, staff, trustees, and advisers; by creating classes and activities that explore and reflect students’ identities; by expanding the cultural competence of faculty and staff; and by continually challenging the assumptions we hold.

We engage with this challenging work because we are committed to building an exceptional learning environment rooted in community—not just for some, but for all who seek to be inspired by the natural world.

HMI students on winter expedition

The Steps We Are Taking

We do not pretend that HMI—or the people who bring it to life—are immune to prejudices that permeate our world and prevent our school becoming the most diverse equitable, and inclusive community that we want it to be. Naming this barrier is only the beginning. While this is difficult work, our staff, faculty, and board of trustees are committed for the long term. We owe it to our alumni, our future students, and our entire HMI community to ensure all students feel valued, affirmed, and transformed by their time at HMI. This is the goal to which we dedicate ourselves.

Below we outline more detail on the actions we are taking as a school to this effort:

To attract applicants of diverse financial backgrounds, we have dedicated HMI’s endowment draw to be used exclusively for supporting need-based financial aid. More than 20% of our annual budget goes to this effort as well. Nearly 30% of our Semester and Summer Term students receive need-based financial aid.

Our financial aid packages go beyond covering the cost of tuition. Depending on the needs of families, financial aid can include a new pair of hiking boots for the student to keep after their semester, 100% free gear rental, travel to and from HMI for the student, and travel for family members to attend the semester Family Weekend so no student feels left out.

Further, we have developed better marketing materials to provide concise and helpful information about the financial aid we offer so that the cost of attending wouldn’t be a barrier to applying.

In the coming years, our next large fundraising effort will be dedicated to funding our equity initiatives, including providing more financial aid into the future.

In an effort to expand the diversity of our applicant pool and student body, we are exploring new marketing pathways and strategies to better reach diverse audiences.

Many of our initial steps have been focused on improving our person-to-person communications. Our Admissions Associate, Lupe Bobadilla, is able to speak to the HMI experience from his own unique perspective as a person of color in our community and his passion for our mission has helped to inspire more applicants of color to apply to our program. Our alumni, especially alumni of color, facilitate conversations with prospective students as well, sharing their own unique HMI experiences with interested applicants. In addition, we are incorporating Spanish language admissions presentations to our website, and finding new ways to connect with prospective students online.

HMI partners with a number of minority recruiting agencies, including Strategenius and Nemnet in order to recruit more employees of color. We are posting open positions on a wider range of job sites, and auditing each position description before it is posted to ensure they are culturally welcoming to people of all backgrounds. As of June 2020, three out of our last five hires have been people of color. 

We are also focusing our efforts on ensuring that employees of color want to stay at HMI for the long haul.

As of Fall 2020, 61% of our board membership will be comprised of women, and 38% will be comprised of people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

HMI is a founding member of the Colorado Diversity Network, a network of independent schools devoted to teacher professional development around equity and inclusion, and we have doubled our professional development budget to provide more opportunities for our teachers to engage in this work.

Each year we send employees to the NAIS Diversity Leadership Institute or the Diversity Directions Independent School Seminar. By the Summer 2020, 30% of our full-time staff will have completed these trainings. In addition, in 2020, we sent all employees of color to the NAIS People of Color Conference. We plan to continue this into the future.

Even though attending these multi-day conference-style trainings is something that our team highly values, for many reasons, not all employees are able to take advantage of these types of trainings each year. Recognizing this, we have dedicated time and resources to bringing professional trainers on diversity, equity, and inclusion to our campus for mandatory all-staff training days.

In addition to these formal trainings from professionals, we are coordinating our own internal trainings in order to better equip our team to handle difficult conversations around biases that one might encounter among our students and one another.

We are adding responsibilities concerning diversity, equity, and inclusion to all position descriptions and our annual staff self-evaluation questions. Additionally, we will be including this as an area of evaluation for all staff by their supervisors.

We are committed to doing the difficult work of identifying and unlearning the biases we each hold as individuals. Step by step, our team is creating a culture of shutting down exclusionary behavior when we see it in our community.

Each semester cohort participates in our “Identity Series”. This is an on-campus biweekly facilitated community meeting where all students are encouraged to share personal stories and explore how the various identities present in our semester shape our community.

HMI has renovated facilities, reorganized student groupings on backpacking expeditions, and made preparations to welcome students all along the gender spectrum to our school. When we complete construction of our new Student and Faculty Center, we will have greatly increased the number of gender-neutral bathrooms on our campus.

We are auditing all of our academic, leadership, and community curriculum and making changes where they are needed to better promote cultural inclusion. Below are just a few examples of what these changes look like.

On expeditions, we learn about the history of the land on which we recreate. We discuss land acknowledgments to spark conversations about land ownership and management and to cultivate a stronger, more historically accurate sense of place in the wilderness.

In math class, our teachers highlight mathematicians from underrepresented backgrounds each week and lead students in discussions about the ways we socially construct what it means to be “good at math” in order to broaden the ways students see themselves and others as mathematicians.

In Practices & Principles: Ethics of the Natural World, we explore the intersectionality of identity and the outdoors throughout all of our topics yet perhaps most directly in units such as “Defining Wilderness” and “Access and Inclusivity in Outdoor Recreation.” Below is a small sample of the texts that our students explore in this class:

  • “The Trouble with Wilderness” by William Cronon paired with “1492” by Charles Mann and “Black Women in Wilderness” by Evelyn White
  • “Shades of Darkness: Race and Environmental History” by Carolyn Merchant
  • NPR’s Code Switch podcast: “Being ‘Outdoorsy’ When You’re Black Or Brown”
  • “It Matters Who You See in Outdoor Media” by Carolyn Finney
  • “We’re Here. You Just Don’t See Us.” by Latria Graham for Outsize Magazine
  • “Five Ways to Make the Outdoors More Inclusive” by Atlantic Magazine

The following priorities are copied directly from our Strategic Plan which was approved by the board in Fall 2019:

Strategic Goal #1: Advance our efforts in diversity, access, equity, and inclusion

Building a diverse and inclusive community is central to our mission. We cannot help our students grow into leaders, independent thinkers, and thoughtful citizens if our student body matriculates from like backgrounds, cultures, and ways of thought. HMI must also be a true home for all students—one where all students have access to the promise of our mission. 

Therefore, we have outlined the following strategic priorities: 

1) Define the approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion work that aligns with HMI’s mission and educational philosophy while helping meet the goals of our DEI statement. Increase economic diversity of the student body, first and foremost in the HMI Semester.

2) Ensure all students have excellent and comparable experiences, including those from traditionally underrepresented populations at HMI. 

3) Diversify our employee, apprentice, and board populations, especially in terms of racial and ethnic diversity. 

4) Construct new facilities with gender inclusive accommodations.

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