As a parent of two young boys, I often think about the Maya Angelou quotation, “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” We know that this assertion makes sense—as with many subjects, the sooner in life we begin to introduce concepts to children, the better, as their minds are open and ready for new knowledge and experiences. My partner Liz and I try to model good behavior, listen to our sons Jack and Henry, and sometimes get out of our own comfort zone.
And that’s not enough.
The concepts of diversity, multiculturalism, and inclusion are not learned at a young age and then left alone. Like many of the most important things about being human—love, relationships, compassion—the process of living in our interconnected, complex world is not taught in a single lesson or day and then forgotten. It is a lifelong process that hopefully starts at a young age and continues through high school and beyond.
MA has a long tradition of striving to be an inclusive environment, where students, teachers, and families work together to create a truly multicultural community. Our students participate in a specialized Human Development program lead by Dean of Multicultural Life Sanjai Moses, participate in multicultural leadership development through student organizations and school programs, and attend conferences (including the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, which I blogged about last month), among other opportunities. In preparing our students to become engaged and responsible citizens and leaders, we adults start with our classrooms, our actions, and our behaviors. Our work is guided by the Marin Academy Diversity Council, which was formed in 2004 in an effort to involve many voices in discussions about multiculturalism and inclusion.
I am proud to share just a few of the successes that have been the result of the work of this dedicated group:
- We strengthened our resources and training in regards to learning differences, including organizing a learning differences professional development training for all teachers.
- We improved opportunities for students to grow their consciousness of multiculturalism and inclusion through an enhanced and expanded curriculum as well as the equity and justice student unions (Asian Student Organization, Black Student Union, Christian Club, Gay/Straight Alliance, Global Role of Women, Jew Crew, Latino Student Union, and Mixed Ethnicities) and affinity groups (Folks, Men’s Group, White Consciousness, and Women in Support and Empowerment).
- We increased the number of faculty, staff, and administrators who have participated in 4-day multicultural workshops through VISIONS, our multicultural training and consulting partner.
- We evaluated and expanded our hiring processes, admissions materials, and family outreach, including our Parents of Students of Color group.
And there is still much work to do.
Last Thursday, the Diversity Council participated in our second half-day retreat of the academic year. The group has a new structure composed of five subcommittees—student life; curriculum; co-curricular; professional development, hiring, and retention; and communications—that have interconnected short and long-term goals. We spent much of the meeting refining and working on these goals, and I hope to share more about the progress of the group in the coming months.
Want to get involved?
There are many ways that members of our community can participate in this goal of making MA a truly multicultural community. A good place to start is to practice some of the VISIONS guidelines while participating in honest and open conversations:
- “Try On” new perspectives, ideas, opinions
- It’s ok to disagree—it’s not ok to attack or blame self or others
- Practice self-focus
- Practice both/and thinking. This is one of my favorites: instead of evaluating situations in terms of either/or, entertain blended options. Instead of using statements such as “I understand what you’re saying, but…” practice using “and” instead of “but” so as not to negate the first part of the assertion. More than a semantic exercise, this practice can really allow a conversation—especially a difficult one—to move forward.
- Notice process and content
- Be aware of intent and impact
- Maintain confidentiality
Another way to join in is to participate in next week’s screening of The Prep School Negro, an autobiographical documentary that shares André Robert Lee’s experiences as a scholarship student at an elite Philadelphia school. The Diversity Council has two goals in sharing the film: to reflect on the experiences of students of color in independent schools and to address institutional changes that are required in order to have an equitable school.
Yesterday, faculty and staff members met after school to prepare for the film screening and to learn about the experiences of some of our students of color. Using anonymous testimonials from some of the members of Folks (MA’s affinity group for students of color) written specifically for this meeting, we examined how our own practices as educators contribute to student and community experiences. We also discussed Jenny Anderson’s October 2012 New York Times article “Admitted, but Left Out,” which examines three forthcoming documentaries about students of color in independent schools.
Our meeting was challenging and satisfying, and I look forward to continuing discussions when The Prep School Negro is screened next Wednesday, January 31 at 7:00 pm in the Athletic Center. (You can RSVP online.)
As always, I welcome your thoughts, opinions, suggestions, and participation in this important work. Together we can make Marin Academy the best place it can be.
Thank you to the members of the Diversity Council for your commitment, dedication, leadership, and hard work:
Hideko Akashi, Chris Alexander, Dan Babior, Jared Baird, Trevor Calvert, Jennifer Christensen, Ken Ellingboe, Josh Frechette, Connie Goldsmith, Lynne Hansen, Josh Kalkstein, John Kelly, J O’Malley, Sanjai Moses, Katie Pfeiffer, Peter Poutiatine, Trixie Sabundayo, David Sinaiko, Nicole Stanton, Lauren Toker, Scott Young, Rebecca Young Gustin, and Jiazhen Zhang