01/31/2019 by Carney Sandoe Staff |

Feeling Lifted After FORUM/Diversity 2019

Filled ballroom at FORUM/Diversity

CS&A celebrated five years of hosting FORUM/Diversity on January 25 and 26 in Philadelphia. It was our largest conference to date, with over 800 school representatives and CS&A candidates having over 2,500 interviews over the course of both days.

The event began with a welcome from CS&A President Devereaux McClatchey and Kim Garner, our Director of Conferences before our first keynote speaker began. Rising from humble roots in Detroit, Dr. Dyson is a Georgetown University sociology professor, a New York Times contributing opinion writer, a contributing editor of The New Republic, and editor of ESPN's The Undefeated website. The author of 19 books, Dr. Dyson is a world-class intellectual and national media fixture, having been named one of the 150 most powerful blacks in the nation and one of the most 100 influential African Americans by Ebony magazine. His books are widely praised national bestsellers that have jump started important conversations on race and politics.

Dr. Dyson took the stage to thunderous applause and after thanking his proceeding speakers, began delivering an address that repeat attendees have already noted as their favorite in the history of the event. He began by reflecting on the theme of FORUM/Diversity, “Lifting As We Climb,” which — by no coincidence — was also the motto of the first National Association of Colored Women's Club in 1896. That motto was a rallying cry for those black women to remember that as they move up, they have to carry others with them. You can't be the only person in the room. Knock down obstacles and remove impediments for all. You can't be the only person talking about it.

When we speak about diversity, it suggests we have to create opportunities for more than just ourselves. DEI, he says, is “the opportunity to expand the possibilities of making what we do available to a broader audience, and to include more people in to allow us to make better what we do and to render service in the broadest terms possible to the greatest constituency we can imagine.” Teachers have the most precious commodity — our children — and are, essentially, partly responsible for the shaping of their minds and what values they will possess. While DEI might seem to be an abstract ideal, we as educators know the consequences of being exposed to ideas that are different than our own. We can think more openly about the world. We are more compassionate. Right now we are witnessing a closing of the mind in this country, so it's more important that ever to keep open the minds of young people.

Talking in relation to the event's theme again, Dr. Dyson emphasized that the whole point of diversity, of DEI work, of lifting as we climb, is helping others. “It's not about ineffective policies or products that are a result of creating space for inferior people,” he says, “but instead diversity is a demand for a different form of excellence.” All things that are excellent do not necessarily resemble each other, except in the fact that they are commonly excellent. So when we think about diversity, we should do so in terms of race, sexuality, ideology, religion, economic, status … the list goes on. Diversity itself has been captive to a narrow range of interests throughout the course of history, but now we must “diversify diversity.” Diversity itself has to be viewed and seen as an opening to radical differences because all diversities aren't the same.

“We have to diversify diversity because none of us brings an exhaustive definition of what diversity is,” Dr. Dyson reminds us. The very definition of diversity is widely debated, interpreted in myriad of ways, and written and talked about by innumerable pontificators. How can we be agents of change and diversity diversifiers? Lucky for us, we ourselves are a manifestation of that diversity. It can be a challenge, Dr. Dyson admits however, for us to accept our innate diversity. We often deny it because it's uncomfortable or not “normal,” and we struggle with the principal of otherness within our social circles, work environments, and even our own families. But when dealing with young people who have needs, are growing, and thinking right in front of us in our classrooms, we can't fail by not introducing children to other ideals and other interpretations of humanity. It's our job as educators to expose the dominant culture to what makes us unique.

“Many of us are Trojan horses who might get into certain places because of our looks, or education, or the way we talk, ” observes Dr. Dyson as he looked around the room. “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to once you get in to expose the beautiful variety that has made you who you are.” To diversify diversity, we must open up the infinite possibilities of interpretation through the lenses of people that otherwise wouldn't see it — a concept the next day's keynote speaker would also touch on.

In a monologue peppered with hip hop lyrics from the likes of the Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dyson left us with a final reminder of our role as educators. “It is important people of authority speak up,” he said to the room full of school administrators, teachers, and diversity practitioners. It's not only important for educators to concern themselves with pedagogy, but we need to understand what's at stake and how the young minds of our students are shaped each and every second.

“You are there to bring a difference and to challenge. Don't merely validate what already exists,” he says. Lift up each child, make the most of our differences, and to learn to love and celebrate and uplift each other. It's not just about treating people equally, but creating systems for all that change the norms.

Energized and inspired by Dr. Dyson, attendees moved onto the simultaneous interviewing and professional development portion of the event. A record number of eager candidates met with hiring contacts from schools from around the country, looking to make the match. At the same time, everyone had the opportunity to attend six different panels facilitated by a talented group of speakers, diversity specialists, and educators representing a variety of schools and organizations. Some back by popular demand from past events, topics ran the gamut from discussing impartiality as an educator, using compassion to combat bias, retaining diverse faculty, and being a black female administrator in an independent school. The Lowell School in Washington, D.C. also shared a case study of how they built a faculty and staff that represents a variety of identities.

Between interviews and panel sessions, attendees enjoyed contributing to our community art project entitled “By Many Hands.” An interactive weaving piece, the artwork featured an unfinished tapestry on a large frame that people could add to using recycled fabric scraps. By the end of the event, it was exciting to see how many hands working together could create something surprising and new from transformed discarded materials.

On the second day of FORUM/Diversity, we welcomed keynote speaker Dr. Peggy McIntosh, Senior Research Associate at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. CS&A Placement Associate and member of our Diversity Committee Alex McLean shared a short biography of Dr. McIntosh with the audience, noting her groundbreaking contributions to the conversation around privilege and in women's studies. She is a “living legend” whose ability to educate with inspired confidence provides a much-need vehicle for understanding systems of injustice.

As founder of the National SEED Project on Inclusive Curriculum, Dr. McIntosh consults all over the world on creating inclusive curricula in classrooms, and creates spaces for educators to share their thoughts and experiences without being judged in order to make their communities safer and more inclusive places. Throughout her career, she has helped students and leaders truly listen to others, empathize, and trust their own voice. She inspires us all to trust our voices, especially those of us who feel like frauds. As she wrote about in her paper “Feeling Like a Fraud,” we are encouraged to drive against this feeling while also recognizing where it comes from, and to harness that energy to push the world forward and drive change.

Dr. McIntosh started by acknowledging that many in the room might feel like frauds as they are going through the interview process. Job interviews can be trying and emotional experiences, and often — especially by women — are accompanied by feelings of unworthiness or deceitfulness. She set the room at ease by assuring, “If you are feeling like a fraud because of the interview process, my impression is that you're no more fraudulent than the next person.” And she offered her well wishes in the interview process to the audience.

Reflecting on her first “Feeling Like a Fraud” paper, she revealed it was written after she attended a conference and 17 women in a row who spoke at the microphone apologized before starting their presentations, saying things like “You may not agree with this, but” or “I really don't know what I'm talking about, but here goes,” as if they all saw themselves as frauds. Frustrated by this, she wanted to write that women should stop apologizing altogether, but instead started exploring the question of what women are doing with their apologies. She came to the conclusion that by using this sort of language, women are making common cause with whom they are talking to and acknowledging their existence. “We are strengthening the fabric before it's torn by rhetoric,” she says, something she touches on later in her address.

She went on to discuss the inspiration behind her soon-to-be-published first book, “The Psyche is Plural.” The world is becoming more plural; we certainly live in a plural world where diversity among humans and among thoughts and opinions is ever expanding. Our psyches, or souls, are composed of everything that's ever touched us, and as educators, Dr. McIntosh advises, we must urge young people to treasure the multiplicity of their souls and to bring those multiplicities into decisions they make and actions they take. “We need to tell students, ‘Cherish your complications,' because the plural psyche strengthens the fabric of society.” We begin to appreciate differences and accept them as the norm rather than be alarmed or offended by them.

Dr. McIntosh explained that the concept of studying ourselves — within ourselves was not something that she was taught. As a culture, we have been good at being aware of and understanding what other people think, but not when it comes to our complex and multi-layered inner selves. This is a deficit, and she related this notion to her experience as an educator. “As an English teacher, the best times I had in school were when I had students study themselves,” she shares. Students have a lot to write about when they study themselves; the senses move when children have something they actually want to say and they, in turn, become great writers.

She went on about her most memorable times in the classroom and with the SEED Program, stating that the most success came when her and her team created a lateral framework of sharing time, free of opinions, and substituting instead people's actual experience. “Opinions are generalizations fueled by what a person has heard from elsewhere but not from inside,” she said, and they often to more harm than good. “That's what turns students into feeling noticed and cared about: a classroom where everyone speaks and no one is afraid of being judged.” The aim of the SEED Program is not to instruct people in diversity, but rather it's to allow them to talk through our experiences of being in these systems we were born into and that have shaped us. This strengthens the fabric that she mentioned earlier in her address.

Dr. McIntosh has written seven essays on privilege. Although the research and writing process meant she had to examine her own life and admit to some harsh realities, she says her life has improved immensely by facing privilege. She has had to completely revise her view of where and who she was. This is a daunting challenge to accept, and is, she thinks, one of the reasons why educators or schools are hesitant to embark on an evaluation of their own privilege within themselves and their communities. Dr. McIntosh shared that she started the process of inner reflection by asking herself if there is anything she has on a daily basis that her friends don't have. This was the key to discovering the first of 46 examples of systemic privilege: “I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.” Relating this to the role of hiring managers, she urged, “If you're hiring for DEI, it's not good to hire just one person of color. They will be the only and the lonely.” It's important to hire a critical mass of people of color, and to try to get boards and key administrators to understand why that is necessary.

As her time on stage wound down, Dr. McIntosh left us with wise words that echoed the message of Dr. Dyson's call to appreciate and utilize our differences. “We are all bodies in the body of the world. None of us is a special authority,” she began. “You are very complex. Treasure your complexity. You are the universe's only authority on what has happened to you and who you are. Cherish your complexity, and your multi-ethnic, multi-cultural soul. You have been touched by the influences of the other humans on the face of the earth. Cherish that. You and you alone are a scholar of that. Go deeply into it.”

As we continue into the remainder of our hiring conference season, we can't help but look at our internal and external practices through a different lens, and hope the schools and educators in attendance at FORUM/Diversity feel empowered and equipped to do the same. It's important that we don't just talk about diversity, but that we live it. We are proud to support schools in their diverse hiring needs, to provide marginalized groups opportunities to interview with the nations' top K-12 independent, private schools, and to embark on this journey of improving our schools and the futures of our students.

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