10/17/2017 by Carney Sandoe Staff |

Exploring Diversity and Inclusion

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As CS&A prepares to host its fourth-annual FORUM/Diversity conference this coming January, we are taking some concrete steps to continue to improve our understanding and awareness of the conversation around diversity and inclusion in independent schools. One of those steps began this morning, as we were joined at our staff meeting via Skype by Lawrence Alexander from The White Mountain School in Bethlehem, New Hampshire.

Alexander serves as the school's Director of College Counseling and more recently was also appointed as the school's Director of Diversity & Inclusion. In discussing his role within the context of diversity at WMS, he shared that his main goal is “to win people, not arguments,” a point that was made often in our conversation with him. He stressed the notion that each day he strives to be considerate of the school's appetite for discussion and action, and takes advantage of opportunities to challenge students and staff in terms of their thinking. A small and vibrant day and predominantly boarding school, The White Mountain School welcomes students from 16 states and more than 10 countries. Its location in rural northern New Hampshire often presents a challenge when members of the diverse student body are off campus shopping or on school outings, but Alexander uses these moments as teaching opportunities.

When asked if he has any advice for independent schools looking to implement a diversity and inclusion initiative and create a lasting effect on school culture, Alexander emphasized that diversity education needs to take a thematic and comprehensive approach. He shared one example at WMS where students participate in a Field Course each semester, a week-long immersive experience outside the classroom. This spring, Alexander will be leading a Field Course to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. for a course entitled Hands in Heritage: The Civil Rights Legacy of Jewish and African Americans. Students will be visiting several museums, performing community service, and making a stop at Georgetown Day School, which was the first integrated school in a segregated city in 1945. This experience, he said, is all about the idea of not talking about diversity in isolation. He noted that this means also having conversations about diversity with, for example, the Admissions office around “bringing the school to those who can't get here to find out about it” and providing diversity training for both students and teachers. The key is to create a comprehensive thread throughout the entire school.

How should schools go about such a task? “The future of D&I [diversity and inclusion] has to start in the classroom,” Alexander said. “If our teachers can't understand the importance of diversity education and don't know how to determine the ways in which students want to dialogue about these issues, then the rest of the work we'll do is doomed.” The faculty must serve as the core of a school's diversity work; it can't be supplementary or ancillary programming, but instead should form a connection throughout the school.

CS&A looks forward to speaking with more school leaders and administrators about their diversity and inclusion practices and putting our lessons learned to good use at FORUM/Diversity on January 26 and 27, 2018 in Philadelphia.

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