From: Claudia Edwards, Todd Schlenker, and Henry Wend
Re: ISACS Diversity Summit Feedback
Date: February 19, 2009
We came away from the ISACS Diversity Summit energized but also overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task in bringing diversity to University School. We also agreed that the issue requires more than “making diversity a more central and sensitive consideration in classroom teaching, student interactions, faculty communication, and parent relations.” It will require a fundamental adjustment in the thinking on the part of the board, administration, faculty, parents and students accompanied by a shift in the critical areas of faculty and student recruitment and retention. To do this, we deem it necessary to propose an action plan that will operate at three levels: Board and Administration levels; within Divisions; and in the classroom. Underpinning our thinking is the realization that diversity in a multicultural environment is the sine qua non to academic excellence in the 21st century. If we fall short on introducing this, we will be failing to provide our students with the education that they need to be successful adults in a global age.
A diverse student body and faculty is in line with our peer institutions nationally. The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) has a charge to promote diversity in independent schools like ours. At NAIS, people of color make up 42 percent of the staff and 50 percent of the senior leadership team. It is through cultivating leaders and building confidence in them that has allowed this level of diversity to exist. Furthermore, the ISACS Equity Committee, which hosted the Diversity Summit in Chicago, was an incredibly diverse group of educators from schools like USM. We all recognize the instrumental role that Independent Schools play in cultivating tomorrow’s leaders, and we all know we can do more.
Moreover, diversity is a central goal at USM, intersecting with school wide initiatives in technology and global studies. To further this goal, the USM Board of Directors formed the Diversity Steering Committee in 2004, and adopted a diversity plan in the fall of 2005. The seven goals and twenty two objectives differ in scope and depth of completion. Although some progress has been made on these goals, much is left to be done. Just as Global Studies began as a Board initiative, so too must our diversity plan. Patrick Bassett from NAIS states, “if it is incumbent upon us to move along the continuum from awareness to commitment to action, then what does action actually look like?”
The following are lists of questions and commentary that emerged from our experience at the ISACS Diversity Summit leavened with thoughts from our experiences at USM. We believe that a multi level approach is clearest, because change has to be directed from the top, clear goals have to be set, and progress measured. Students and faculty of color must be recruited and retained in all three divisions. Lastly, all changes relating to diversity have to be implemented on a day-to-day level in the class rooms, common areas, locker rooms and sports fields in the three divisions.
Level I: The Board and Divisional Administration
No lasting change can happen at the University School unless the Board is decisively behind it. We have a diversity statement, but to get change, we will need to place resources behind the recruitment of faculty and students of color as well as their retention. Among the questions we need to answer specifically are as follows:
· Why is the Board’s vision and support so crucial?
· What resources are necessary to move from commitment to action?
· What does the “normal” independent student in the 21st century look like?
· How is America’s increasing diversity reflected at USM?
· What concrete goals help us measure success in diversity at USM?
· How do we ensure that all job searches result in interviews with candidates of color?
· What recruitment tools do we need to use; Nemnet, Carney, NAIS, ISACS …?
Level II: Recruitment and Retention of Students of Color in all three divisions
USM must do more than recruit students of color, allowing them to “sink or swim” in the USM culture and classroom. The school must provide institutional backing to facilitate acculturation to the independent school as well as to support minority students academically. Points for us to consider include the following:
· How do we recruit students of color?
· What does an inclusive climate look like?
· How does USM facilitate the acculturation of non-traditional students to the independent school climate?
· How do we support minority students academically?
· Is our Learning Center the vehicle to effectively address the needs of students who may be having academic difficulty?
· Do our summer programs like Ready Set Go do enough to prepare new students?
· Would it be worth it to study other Independent School summer programs like Summerbridge, Prep for Prep and High Jump?
· How can USM use affinity groups or cocooning to help new students build camaraderie and friendships?
Level III: Fostering a Multi Cultural environment in the classroom and beyond
In keeping with our image of the “new normal”, curriculum needs to shift to incorporate the views, words, images, and experience outside of that held dear within the narrow band of privilege
· Does our curriculum need to shift in order to incorporate the views, words, images and experiences of non-white groups?
· How do students benefit from recognizing and questioning the historical legacy of privilege in our society?
· What does a commitment to “Global Studies” require us to examine as we examine “normal” and “otherness” both in the United States and beyond? How do we bring this home to USM?
· What does diversity look like, feel like and sound like in our curriculum at each grade level and in each discipline?
· What can teachers do to promote diversity in their curriculum?
Thank you again for allowing us this opportunity to work towards the best of goals.
Claudia Edwards Todd Schlenker Henry Wend