Diversity, non-negotiable

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Now is not the time to dial back on diversity initiatives, particularly within independent school education. Disparities with race, gender, ability, socio- economics, sexual orientation and the social unrest in our country, require it.

Many independent diversity initiatives offer inviting spaces for students, parents, and educators to fully show up and express identity; develop supportive networks, and strategically partner with schools.

When the decision is made to negatively react to and dilute the value of diversity, as a parent and school advisor, I sense a lack of respect for the opinion of others and trust in the truth. I also sense the fear of what the fallout could be if the majority were made to feel uneasy.

DIVErsity is a word full of awesome possibility. It promises the power of multiple communities and emphasizes equity. It values difference as a requisite for creativity and success. But, as the word suggests, you first have to dive in.

Recent Huffington & New York Post articles have affirmed (the former) and denigrated (the latter) one such initiative – affinity groups. These groups are generally self-managed and have long held a vital role in attracting and retaining top talent among Fortune 100 companies. Many independent schools, who mimic the racial disparities of the ‘top hundred’, have also jumped on board valuing affinity groups to inform and promote the institution.

The Harvard Business Review dedicated it’s July-August 2016, publication to the dissection and reconstruction of diversity in ways that focus on it’s success and not it’s demise. The article, Why Diversity Programs Fail, identifies what can create backlash and what can work. We have seen the backlash at some of our more courageous schools.

The article goes on to say that mandatory anything is a sure fire way for things to go south. Researchers from UC Santa Barbara and University of Washington have found that references to diversity in policy can stress white men out and create backlash.

It is here that the truth about diversity initiatives become twisted and used as a weapon against the true nature of diversity, which is to bring together the best regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, ability, religion, ethnicity or socioeconomics.

There are independent schools that progressively encourage understanding of ones group in relationship to others on a voluntary basis. And, there are a few who are being very courageous making affinity groups part of the curriculum, thus mandatory in an attempt to break down systems of oppression in our society.

There are many roads towards diversity but the distance required to meet true diversity goals is no cake-walk. For some students, teachers and parents this is a customary walk, for others it is an extremely uncomfortable road less traveled.

We believe in the power of diversity initiatives supported by our schools which include students, faculty and parents. The research shows that self-managed groups, voluntary mentorship, engagement, recruitment, task forces and social accountability get diversity to work.

I can’t imagine independent schools without initiatives that promote equity and diversity. In addition to a stellar education, they are virtuous.


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