Friends says goodbye to Jason Craige Harris


Jason Craige Harris came to Friends in 2013 as a writing instructor in the Academic Center, and he leaves, not only as the Director of Diversity and Inclusion, but also as a beloved member of the community.

Jamie Palladino, Editor-in-Chief

The Friends community is facing a tremendous loss this year with the departure of Director of Diversity and Inclusion Jason Craige Harris. Harris came to Friends in the fall of 2013 as a writing instructor for seventh through twelfth grade in the Academic Center. However, Harris quickly became interested and engaged in other aspects of the school. “I loved teaching, writing, and spending time with students,” Harris said, “And quickly became interested in the co-curricular life of students and in some of the work that was happening around service learning and diversity and inclusion, and I started to volunteer to support the directors of those programs.”

In his second year at Friends, Harris continued his volunteer work with the service learning and diversity and inclusion programs, as well as serving as the Head of the Academic Center. Additionally, he began teaching in the History and Social Sciences department and was given the opportunity to design a history course. Having done some teaching and lecturing about the intersectionality of religion, ethics, and social justice, Harris crafted a course about it. He also redesigned the course, Poverty in the United States.

The position of Director of Diversity and Inclusion opened up in Harris’s third year at Friends. He applied and was hired for the position. “I was so grateful to have been given the opportunity to bring together so many of my different interests, which was really an inspiring opportunity,” he said. Harris, alongside Leitzel Schoen, established a new academic department: Friends’s Center for Peace, Equity, and Justice (CPEJ).

As Director of Diversity and Inclusion, one of Harris’s first goals was to make a diversity and inclusion program where everybody felt they belonged, regardless of identity. “I had realized that diversity as a term had been so siloed. And so narrowly construed that when people heard the word diversity, they automatically thought, ‘Race,’” Harris said. “And when they heard the word race, they automatically thought ‘Black and brown people.’ And I wanted to shift that narrative. And I wanted to say that diversity and inclusion is actually about all of us.”

To achieve this goal, Harris began hosting a wide array of programming and conversations with each grade level and division of students and with faculty, staff, and parents. He wanted to foster a deeper understanding of the many differences that exist in the school community, and to make people question assumptions that they have about others. 

“I also wanted to normalize discomfort,” Harris said. “I often would say things like: ‘Let’s lean into discomfort.’ I wanted to normalize the practice of being engaged in conversations that were sensitive and challenging, where we might not all agree, but that was totally okay.”

Another one of Harris’s goals as Director of Diversity and Inclusion was to start examining life at Friends, where well-meaning policies and practices could have perpetuated inequity. “One of the pieces that I did pretty early on was try to support the school community in normalizing the process of offering opportunities for folks to share their gender pronouns if they wished,” Harris said. He also worked on creating more accurate categories for collecting data on students, faculty, and staff in regards to racial, ethnic, national, religious, and spiritual orientations to honor the diversity within the school community.

One of Harris’s proudest accomplishments, he said, was working with students to create “a truly vibrant diversity and inclusion program that consists of affinity clubs, cultural celebrations, and courageous conversations… the level of student leadership we have at Friends is unparalleled.” He spoke about how he had trained students how to have meaningful dialogues using circle keeping and facilitation, and how he was proud that they have taken initiative in leading circles. 

Another achievement that Harris is proud of is his collaboration with Leitzel Schoen and Kimby Heil to create and expand CPEJ. “There is no other school that has a center quite like the one we have, which brings together diversity and inclusion, global education, service learning, and civic engagement,” he said.

Harris also noted that a highlight of his career was working with his CPEJ colleagues to create curricula in all divisions of Friends. For example, they created the Middle School course called GoLead, where students engage with important topics related to current events. He added that the eighth grade GoLead course is the one he is most proud of, which concentrates on fighting hate and helps students unpack the origins of hate and recognize how hate escalates when nobody is there to stand up against it. 

A much beloved member of the community, Harris has left an indelible mark on the Friends community. When interviewed for this article, students recalled Harris’s impact on them and particular moments that resonated with them. 

Ananya Gita ’21 said, “I remember when I was thinking about leading Asian Culture Club. I wasn’t sure I would have the time to commit and we had that discussion, and Jason pushed me [to do it] and encouraged me.” She also added that Asian Culture Club did some fantastic work this year, and that Harris was an integral part of the club. 

Likewise, Julian Reyes ’23 recalls how Harris informed him of the opportunity to work in the Service Committee and encouraged him to apply. “Jason basically told me, ‘Hey, you should run for it.’ And he talked to Kimby, who emailed me…” Reyes said. “I think he opened up a door to something that is a very great thing for me to be a part of and that I really enjoy.”

“I’m standing in line for lunch in the cafeteria, and Jason was behind me. And Jason always makes a point of greeting you… and there was this one time where he was like, ‘Hi, how are you?’ And I said I’m good and told him how I wanted to get more involved with CPEJ,” Allegra Torres-Kelly ’21 said. “And he gave me a bunch of ways.”

Not only did Harris encourage students’ participation and enthusiasm, but he also supported them. Harris didn’t only act as a motivator for students, but also as someone who would support them. Avery Clague ’22 remembers when they were having a bad day and Harris was there for them. “I couldn’t deal with anything else that day, so I went to his office and there was a hot chocolate machine in the CPEJ office… I just talked to Jason for a long time, and it was the thing that got me through the day,” Clague said.

“Jason has been sort of like a rock. When I first came out, he sent out an email, he was the first person at the school I told, and he helped me with my name change too,” said Jordan Greenberg ’22. “He’s always been there — so supportive and he never questioned you. [You tell] him something and he’s always like, ‘Oh, okay. Then let’s go. Let’s see where we can go from here.’”

Elena Leeds ’22 spoke about how Harris had supported a campaign against the dress code back in Middle School. “I remember Jason would sit with us during lunch, multiple times, and he would hold a bunch of meetings to discuss [the dress code] and help us come up with plans to fix it,” she said. “And he even helped us draft a proposal to [the Head of Middle School].”

“Jason has just made me and many people really feel comfortable in the community, being who we are,” Anya Juneja ’22 said. “And for a lot of like young, queer kids, he’s really been there to support us and make our times at Friends easier.”

“I remember one time he was talking [to me], he was like, ‘It isn’t your job to always correct people. It isn’t your job to always have to teach people,’” Tenzin Gund-Morrow ’22 said when recalling his experience with Jason. “And that’s something I take with me all the time.”

Harris has also inspired students and made them think more deeply about the world around them. “[Jason] spoke up in Meeting [for Worship] about his own personal experience with race and how he had sort of looked inside his own self [and his own experiences] and figured out what was best for him to do,” said Isabelle Pass ’21. “I definitely was thinking more about my own self and the things I carry within myself.”

“I went to an [Anti-Defamation League] conference at the Javits Center, and I was the youngest one there. I had to get home, so I ended up going back to school and [Jason and I] rode the train,” Ben Shapiro ’23 said. “And I just got to talk to him outside of the school environment. And he’s just so insightful and the more I talked to him, the more I learned.”

Harris will be starting the new chapter of his professional journey at Perception Institute as a senior consultant and sector leader. He will be working on a national scale with a wide range of people and constituencies from different industries to collect research to reduce discrimination. He said that the task is daunting and he is terrified in some ways, but he feels prepared. “Friends as a Quaker school is a process oriented school,” he said. “We believe that something magical could happen in the silence. And I’m taking with me that deep commitment to unhurried reflection and to trusting the process of dialogue, knowing that when people come together, their collective wisdom can unearth the pathway forward.”