Remember: Oppression thrives off isolation. Connection is the only thing that can save you.
Remember: Oppression thrives on superficiality. Honesty about your struggles is the key to liberation.
Remember: Your story can help save someone’s life. Your silence contributes to someone else’s struggle. Speak so we can all be free. Love so we can all be liberated. The moment is now. We need you.
— Yolo Akili Robinson
(NOTE: While this post speaks to faculty and staff at Park School, I hope this encourages some great conversations for people who are reading from other schools and organizations!)
What is my job?
Sure, there is a job description. Sure, there is a job expectation. And, yes, sure, there are job norms — like, what are other people doing in other schools with the same job title?
I’ve even defined each of my job words into phrases: Diversity is who we are. Equity is what we strive to provide. Inclusion is how we get there.
But, for real. What is my job?
You can read the 50 page report I wrote. You can walk into the office and check out the decorations on the walls or the artifacts on the shelf or the letters students have written. Or, you can ask a colleague, a student, or a parent what I may have done to help.
But, friends, my job, at its most basic element, can be summed up in two words: human experience.
Simple human experience.
Okay, put aside your lesson plan. Put aside the class roster. Put aside the to-do list, the screen full of emails, or the articles that someone sent you as as a “must read”. Put. It. Away. (okay, maybe don’t put away this blog post until you’ve gotten to the end….)
Here is my big question for you: What is our human experience at Park?
I mean, really. Who are we? Who are you? Who are you at Park? Who are you outside of Park? Who do you want to be? Who do you hope to be? What do you hope people say when they think of you?
For the past three weeks, I have been visiting faculty divisional meetings and, well, just setting up an environment where people can explore the human experience. That’s all. While I fully enjoy the pat on the back and the kind words of thanks, all I really did was just put four questions on some slides.
You all made it happen.
But, what I learned from these dialogues was that people are craving human experience. People are desperate to connect. People want to talk and want to listen.
We want to come to a place where work feels like play; where play feels like joy; and where joy feels like learning.
We want to come to a place where our colleagues think of us as interesting, as curious and as insightful.
We want students to say that “We are kind” or that “We inspired them” or that “We believe in who they are.”
We do a great job with our students, but, have we done that for ourselves? Have we asked ourselves whether or not we create a community of belonging among our faculty and staff?
In these past three weeks of community dialogues, people have been left with “What now?” and “What happens next?”
I can tell you a whole list of great ideas, are you ready? Well, that’s up to you.
It’s not my easy-out answer or one that I just don’t feel like sharing.
Friends, if you want to make a human connection, then commit to 5 minutes a day of having a non-work related conversation. If you want to make a human connection, actually stop and wait for someone to answer the question, “How are you?” If you want to make a human connection, learn and use people’s names. Not just, “Hey” or “Hi” but actually show people that they matter, that they exist in the same hallway that you do. And, if you don’t know that person’s name — even if it feels too embarrassing to ask all these months and years later — ask anyway. I guarantee you that the next time you use that person’s name, s/he/ze/they will feel pretty awesome.
Take five minutes and write someone an email with 2-3 sentences about something they did that mattered to you. Or, better yet, find them and tell them in person.
If you just read the first line in that previous paragraph and thought, “Whatever, Liza. I don’t have 5 minutes,” then I’m not sure what to tell you. I’m not sure how to help you get to a place where the human experience means more than whatever it is that is taking up 5 minutes. Something has to give. Something has to take. Something has to bend.
But, is the human experience worth it?
It’s too easy, friends, to say, “The school has changed” and “It’s not like it used to be.” I get it. As a new Parkie, I have nothing else to compare early-Park to now-Park. But, I can tell you, at each of the schools I travel to and even at my previous school, everyone around the country says the same thing, “There is just more to do and less time to do it” or “It just doesn’t feel the same as it used to.”
I hate to tell you — but, nowhere does. Nowhere feels the “same as it used to.” I have yet to travel to a school where someone says, “Oh yea, the pace of life is way better than it was 10 years ago. We are so much closer and nicer and focus way less on academics and innovation!”
But, what if the innovation was that we became more kind as adults? What if the innovation was that we cared more than enough about people’s day and lives? What if we showed an equal amount of love to each other now that we do when someone is sick or hurt?
What I most love about the people of Park School is that, even though I was a total stranger connected only by my partner, the people of Park School showed me intense care and love. The people of Park School went out of their way to make sure my family was fed, happy, and healthy (as best as we could be). It wasn’t “The Park School” that did it — it was the people of Park School.
I have been on the receiving end of that love. So, friends, what would happen if we showed each other the same amount of care and love in times of joy, in times of boredom, and in times of our every day musings as much as we do in times of tragedy and illness?
That’s the human experience. That’s the humanity that connects us. That’s the humanity that senses we belong.
Peace and Park,
Sometimes, we don’t tell you everything.
‘Is there something you’re not telling me?’
Sometimes, it’s important to just tell a few folks. Sometimes, it’s safer to just tell a few folks.
I remember the first time I offered a Safe Space program at a school where I was working. This school, while made up of strong allies in LGBT communities, struggled in its dialogue about identity and LGBT inclusion.
Here was the rub, ya? Here we have a need to talk about and openly support our friends and family who identified as LGBT; and we needed to guide our community its own identity exploration.
So, for the first year, I just told a few folks. I just told a few folks that we would be doing “this thing called Safe Space training.” I didn’t advertise it. I didn’t want to make it political. I didn’t want to make it inflammatory. I didn’t even want to make it official. Because, official meant, quite possibly, that it wouldn’t happen.
That first year, we gathered people together and shared experiences, strategies, and insight into being LGBT or being allies. It was wonderful. It was important. And, it was necessary.
The next year, we made it a bit more public. We emailed it. We didn’t quite put it on the front page of the website, but we did advertise it through formal networks.
The next year, we had a waitlist.
The next year after that, we had to get a bigger room.
The next year after that, we had to offer multiple sessions in those big rooms.
The next year after that, no one had know that there was a time when we had to just tell a few friends.
It is so important, in the first time/year, that we are intentional about the support of people and groups. For example, a colleague of mine had asked, “Liza, people want to know why you didn’t advertise that you were hosting a Parents of Children of Color Group. Why didn’t we tell everyone that Park was doing it? It sort of feels like it’s hiding it.”
Well, yes. For some, it’ll feel like we are hiding it. For others, (and its this group that I’m more interested in including), it feels safe.
Sometimes, only telling a few feels safer.
Sometimes, only telling a few means we can build community interest from within.
Sometimes, I’m not thinking about what the majority wants, but what the minority needs.
Peace and Park,
“But, no one is asking for it (a group, an opportunity, a class). Why would we offer it?”
As a diversity practitioner for almost 20 years, I have heard this question over and over again. “If the Black students aren’t asking for a group, why should we create one?” or “If Asian American students aren’t asking for Ethnic Studies, why should we propose one?” or “If no one is asking to talk about race and racial identity, why should we offer a group?” or “We only have three Muslim students, and they aren’t asking for a prayer room, so why should we look for available spaces?”
There are many other ones to add, but I’ll keep this brief.
There are three key answers for me:
(1) Typically, what’s good for groups that have been made invisible that have been underserved, is good for all. (that same logic does not work the other way, FYI. Meaning, it is not true that what works for the dominant majority works for everyone… ya heard).
(2) These opportunities often lead to more confident, engaged, inspired, and involved groups and communities.
(3) Because for far too long we have only told “one story.” It’s time to see/hear/make known other perspectives.
There is an existing danger of a liberal mindset. And, that danger is often a “I’m not ______(racist, homophobic, sexist, ableist) because I’m liberal.” Sometimes, this “We are so progressive” often means we forget the ways in which we are not.
In many progressive, liberal spaces, the topic of religion is often avoided. That’s why, in my introduction or when I’m beginning a workshop, I always share my religious identity — both because it is a part of who I am, but also because stating that I am a religious person who does work in equity and justice means that those identities, for some, are competing.
For me, they are not.
So, what does it mean for us, as a progressive, liberal community to talk about religion?
It means that we include others.
It means that we structurally create space for people to share, explore, identify, and build community.
In a recent program hosted at Park called “Being Muslim”, participants shared what it felt like to be in this space — talking about religion, but talking about religion at Park School.
- “I think my parents would be surprised we are talking about this. I was taught that religion was personal and private.”
- “I am nervous. I’m not sure what to say here. But, just know that I’m a little nervous.”
- “I grew up in a very religious household. Where we only talked about this one religion and was only in circles with one religious identity.”
- “I grew up in a multi-religious community. I had friends of every type of religious background.”
But, what does it mean to be Muslim at Park? What do families who are Muslim want families who are not Muslim to know?”
- “I want them to know that Islam means peace.”
- “I want them to know that there are many different types of Muslims. There are many different ways that people identify.”
- “That being Muslim is both a religious identity but also an ethnic identity – one that is as much a part of me as anything else.”
The program officially ended at 7:45pm, but the “meeting after the meeting” ended around 9:00pm. Parents and families stayed around, talked, shared more, and made connections with each other across grade levels. Just as this program happened very organically, so did the dialogue that night.
What’s next? Many families were asking about opportunities to engage in inter-faith dialogues. What would that mean at Park? What would it look like to be a progressive, liberal school that openly walks towards dialogue on all aspects of identity?
What were your first messages about faith and religion?
How do you, if at all, identify related to faith and religion?
What would it mean to engage in inter-faith dialogue?
Peace and Park,
Thank you to the many Park School faculty and staff who attended the final Faculty and Staff Diversity Committee Meeting on April 12, 2016. In efforts to be transparent and accessible, I’m happy to offer up this blog as a summary of what has been done both in this particular meeting and in this committee during the year.
But, first, an apology.
My apologies for not being able to be with you at the final committee meeting of the year. I had a previous speaking engagement that was booked 14 months in advance — yes, back in February 2015, weeks before I even interviewed at Park School — at an independent school in Connecticut. This school had planned an entire “Conversations on Race Series”, and I was the closing workshop. It was important to me to honor this particular commitment. And, Park friends, I’m thankful that I had the chance to spend a day with these students, faculty and staff. I missed you all, of course, and know that I mentioned Park School at least a dozen times throughout the day!
So, what’s going on?
I want to thank all of you for being active participants in the DEI Committee — some were able to be there physically; and still many more of you have followed along through blog updates or have asked about the meeting over a bowl of Corn Flakes or while your morning bagel was toasting.
One of the changes we made early on was to shift the language from referring to this committee as the Faculty Diversity Committee to the Faculty and Staff Diversity Committee. Why? Because language matters. Language communicated that this committee was for faculty, leaving out our many staff colleagues who were eager to engage and get involved. So, despite best intentions to have Staff participate, we weren’t communicating that their participation mattered. So, hence the change. And, thank you to the many staff who have asked how to engage in this work.
At our first meeting in September, I had asked people to brainstorm ideas in three different areas that we needed to focus on as a community: Sense of Belonging; Curriculum and Pedagogy; and Programming. Committee members came up with a list of Strengths (things Park does well); Weaknesses (yes, we can talk about how I intentionally use “weakness” vs “challenge” — it’s on purpose); and Opportunities (what can we do).
You can see an example of the lists here:
At the end of that first meeting, one of our colleagues raised (their) hand and said, “So, this was great. But we’ve done this before. We’ve created lists like this before, but everyone gets so busy and there isn’t time to get these initiatives done.”
I smiled. Because, I knew something was different that, maybe, my colleagues had not quite realized yet.
“I know you are all busy,” I replied. “That’s why I’m here. You have just created my job description for the next few months.”
I looked around the room. There was, clearly, a collective a-ha moment that had happened.
“Woaaaaaah,” was the look. “THAT’S WHY SHE’S HERE!”
I think, for the first time, people walked away feeling like something big was about to happen. If folks hadn’t figured out, exactly, what this “Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” job was prior to that moment, they suddenly did. “Oh, she’s here to do all the things we’ve been WANTING to do for years.”
Yes. That’s why I’m here.
And, friends, as we finished up our last DEI committee meeting (but only the beginning of our work together), quite a lot has been done, thanks to your collective and individual guidance.
I knew, coming in, that there was a physical job description. It has the usual bullet points of my last job (Director of Intercultural Affairs) and, honestly, the usual pieces of every “Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.” Don’t worry — I have used my job description as a way to know that I am meeting the expectations created by all of you, formally.
But, more important than my written job description is what guides my work: servant leadership.
My role is to serve your vision.
My role is to serve your expectations.
My role is to serve the needs you have identified for yourself and our community.
My role is to both shine the spotlight on great work that you all continue to do, and to shine the flashlight into the dark corners that have not been discovered.
My role is to build community. To build leaders. To build learners. To build strength, courage and wisdom around issues so personal and deeply professional.
While we still have a few months more until the academic year ends, here are some things that we, together, have accomplished (guided by your original lists):
- creating space and time for conversations about diversity (e.g., Conversation Circles, Book Discussion)
- develop professional development (e.g., faculty meetings focused on DEI, guest speakers)
- creating greater access to information (e.g., blog posts, committee meeting summaries, Conversation Circle summaries, using Facebook and Twitter to expand information reach)
- support for faculty (e.g., drop-in “hang outs”; a place/person for people to go to; invitations to classrooms; collaborative lessons; “Hey, Liza, I need an activity for next period…”)
- expanding curriculum opportunities (e.g., department and team meetings; participate in day of collaboration; “tweaking” lesson plans)
- accessing leadership opportunities (e.g., expanding participation in hiring process; opportunities to lead and serve on committees; colleagues leading book clubs and Conversation Circles)
- family and student support (e.g., workshops for families and parents on identity, dialogue, tools; child care at events; expanding times to be more inclusive; providing small meals for families to come to programs)
- processes that are more equitable (e.g., reducing racial bias in hiring processes; creating equitable pathways to positions at Park)
- collaborative social justice focus (e.g., school wide social justice week; age-appropriate approaches to social justice and racial justice; justice lessons in the classroom)
- affinity groups (e.g., Muslim family gathering; Parents of Students of Color; getting ready to launch other affinity groups)
- greater visibility for DEI and Park School (e.g., Boston PRIDE parade; speaking at other independent schools about what we do at Park; broader visibility at recruitment fairs and with organizations we seek to partner with)
- providing hands-on support (e.g., drafting up curriculum for Buddy Pairings; “This just happened in my class… what do I do?”; giving insight into decisions, language, and outreach)
- programmatic offerings
At our penultimate meeting (c’mon, I don’t get to use the word penultimate enough!), participants created the “Summer TO DO List”. Thank you! More to come as I make lots of progress on the goals you’ve identified!
For this past meeting, I am so grateful to Shalini Rao for taking the lead and facilitating an important dialogue about our community’s reflection on the Director of DEI position. While it was circumstance that kept me from joining you, it was also an important time for you, as a community, to have time to think about what your hopes were for this Director of DEI position; what you believed still had not been accomplished; and what you believe are the personal benefits for you.
I mean, it would have been a little awkward if I was there…
I’m in the process of summarizing your feedback and will write more later. In all, thank you for your reflections and your suggestions. Thank you for identifying that DEI work needs to be more formalized and given space in our day. Thank you for believing that having this type of full-time position makes a difference. Thank you for asking “how can I get involved” and “how can I continue to grow?”
But, most of all, thank you for making our shared community one that deeply honors the humanity within each of us. Thank you for showing this commitment in your daily work. Thank you for showing it in your daily lives.
Thank you for not simply thinking, “Oh, we’ve been there done that” but rather “We’ve been there, where else can we go with this?”
And, thank you for collectively committing to #makethingsbetter.
Peace and Park,
(cross-posted from www.lizatalusan.com)