A banner image for #admissionchat featuring Dr. James Greenwood from Western Reserve Academy.

Let’s Talk About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

February 17, 2021

#admissionchat episode 2 welcomes Dr. James Greenwood, dean of diversity, equity and inclusion at Western Reserve Academy, to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion in private schools. In a presentation to help families find a community that feels right to them, Dr. Greenwood outlines the steps schools are taking to foster anti-racism, tolerance, inclusion, and social justice.

Key takeaways from the discussion:

  • Understanding the difference between diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • The ways in which diversity enriches the educational experience for everyone
  • How families can self-reflect on what’s important to them in a school community
  • How to evaluate a school’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Questions to ask schools during campus visits
  • Learning about financial aid options at private schools

Listen to the episode above or subscribe to #admissionchat on your favorite podcast platform: Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher.

Transcript

Intro: Welcome to #admissionchat. Let's talk diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Daren Worcester: Hey there, I'm Daren Worcester and in this #admissionchat, we're going to run the conversation a little bit differently. Instead of the typical interview format, I'm going to play audio from one of our Admission Academy presentations from Dr. James Greenwood. It's titled, The Importance of a School's Commitment to Diversity. Dr. Greenwood is a former teacher who began his lengthy career in private and independent schools, working in admissions at The Williston Northampton School in Western Massachusetts.

He has since gone on to support families through diversity practitioner roles at Northfield Mount Hermon School and Shady Hill School, both in Massachusetts, as well as at St. Paul's school in New Hampshire. He currently serves as the dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Western Reserve Academy in Ohio. I'm so grateful to Dr. Greenwood for allowing us to share this outstanding presentation with you. In it, Dr. Greenwood discusses the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in school communities for the enriching and long-lasting impact that it has on each student.

He's going to share with you what private schools are doing to foster anti-racism, tolerance, inclusion, and social justice to help families find a school community that feels right for them. You will also hear from Alicia Patten-Madera. Alicia runs our Admission Academy program of live webinars to assist families in the private school application process. It really is a fantastic program that gives you access to top-notch professionals, such as Dr. Greenwood. And I encourage you to check it out by going to admission.org and selecting Admission Academy and the services menu. All right. That's more than enough from me. So without any further ado, let's roll Dr. Greenwood's presentation.

Dr. James Greenwood: So, I'd like to start the presentation with just this quote to help center our thinking again and framing our conversation as we think a little bit about diversity, equity, and inclusion. And so this quote comes from Sundar Pichai, CEO for Google and Alphabet, and the quote reads as follows, "A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone." Now, obviously, he's talking a little bit about the tech industry and also about the work industry, but I think this holds true for education as well. That we know from both literature and research that a diverse group of individuals solves problems more creatively and more effectively than do homogeneous groups, that we can see them engaging in a more critical thinking and problem-solving and ultimately leading to better outcomes.

And that's better outcomes for everyone, not just folks who identify as minorities or underrepresented in certain ways, but that it really enhances the experience for everyone. So when we're talking about academics and education, we really do see diversity as contributing to excellence and not being in opposition to it as well. That you can't have academic excellence without diversity as well. So I think that's an important thought to hold in your minds as we frame the conversation and talk a little bit about what's happening in schools. So we want to start with some definition of terms that when we use those terms, DEI, diversity, equity, and inclusion, I want to be clear on how I'm using those terms and how we talk about them in independent schools. Though they are interrelated, they are different terms and have different and distinct meanings, even though they connect.

So first we'll start with diversity. And when we're talking about diversity, we're thinking about that as this real umbrella term, an overarching term that really describes the variety of different social identities and the range of human experience. But often when we talk about diversity, people think we're instinctively talking about race, and obviously race is a very important aspect of diversity, but it's more than that. When we're talking about diversity, we're talking about that really broadly. Talking also about gender, sexual orientation, religions, age, socioeconomic status, and class. So really thinking about diversity in that broadest of sense of terms and in that biggest umbrella, but also thinking about diversity in this quantitative way. That when we're talking about diversity, we are talking about how many of X group, how many different folks from different populations we have here.

So again, when we're thinking about diversity, we're thinking about it in that quantitative way. When we're talking about equity, equity is starting to talk a little bit more about fairness and outcomes and fair treatment. It's about making sure that everyone has what they need to be successful in the school and in the academic environment. To be clear, that's not to be confused with equality or sameness, that everybody gets the same thing, but rather that everyone gets what they need to be able to be successful. One other way that one of my colleagues describes it: Equality is that everybody gets a shirt; equity is everybody gets a shirt that fits.

So really thinking about what are the ways that we create opportunities for people to be able to be met where they are. And then ultimately as we think about outcomes, that we see equitable outcomes across those lines of difference and diversity that we talked about. That one's aspect, any aspect of one's identity, shouldn't be a predictor of anyone's success or failure in a particular institution that we're thinking about equity and outcomes as well as their experience in the schools. 

And then lastly, inclusion. Inclusion is where we start to shift to that quality of life aspect of things. Inclusion is thinking about involvement, it's thinking about empowerment, it's thinking about—how do we make sure that everyone is able to bring their full self to the table and feel welcome, to feel respected, to feel like they belong as part of the community?

Another analogy that I've heard people say when we talk about diversity—diversity is inviting a range of different people to dinner. Equity is everybody's going to get to eat, everyone's going to get a meal, and everyone's going to get a meal that takes into consideration their allergies—the vegetarians get to eat and all of those sorts of things. So everyone's going to get a meal that suits them. And then inclusion is really involving people in that planning of that dinner party. Perhaps they're helping set the menu, perhaps they are involved in setting the table, all of those things. But inclusion is really about involving everyone in the community in that holistic way in partnership. And so this image I wanted to share here talks a little bit about just a visual representation of those different elements of diversity that we talked about previously. That it's not just again, about race, or gender, or sexual orientation, but that it's about a variety of different aspects of our lives.

The ways that we are perceived by others and the way that we perceive ourselves. That we can see on this graphic here, that there are those internal elements, those things that are true to us, and what we believe about ourselves. There are also those external elements. The identities that people place upon us and how the world sees and interacts with us. And then lastly, there are those institutional dimensions as well. The affiliations that we have with different organizations, whether it be our educational institutions, where we work, but all of these different things are part of that real definition of diversity and come together in the way that legal scholar Kim Crenshaw calls intersectionality.

But think about all of these different aspects of our identities converge and work together to enhance or to determine our experience of the world. Again, both the ways that we experience things and the ways that others experience and treat us as well. So again, diversity, we're thinking really broadly and holistically there as well. The other thing I like to talk about when we talk about diversity and inclusion, especially in independent schools and in education, I'd like to talk about what Beverly Daniel Tatum calls the ABCs of diversity and inclusion.

You can see Dr. Tatum there at the bottom, president emerita of Spelman College and author of the book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race. Again, a classic if you haven't gotten a chance to read it. But also I will highly recommend it in terms of ways that it talks about diversity and gives us an understanding of what identity in development looks like for students.

But when she's talking about the ABCs of diversity, she's talking about these three things. First, she's talking about affirming identity. And these are the ways that our schools create opportunities for our students to be seen. To be seen in all aspects of the community and to have that identity reflected back to them in positive ways, both in the curriculum and in the community. And that can be again, looking at themselves in the authors that we choose and the representation around campus and both in terms of students and adults. So really what are ways that we affirm people's identities, their cultures, and again, allow them to see themselves reflected back to them from the school community and feel like they truly belong there.

For the (B), she talks about building community. These are the ways that we as schools create opportunities for students with all of that diversity to engage across those lines of difference, and to engage across that affinity. It's both creating those opportunities for that affinity, but then also making sure that we create opportunities for students to engage across those lines of difference and for everyone to feel a part of the community. And then (C), stands for cultivating leadership. And this is really starting to get to think a little bit about skills and skill development, and the ways that we as schools go about intentionally teaching children, how to engage across those lines of difference to problem solve, to have constructive conversations. Really thinking about the ways that we equip them with these 21st century skills that we know are going to be important, both when they move on into college, and ultimately into the workforce and into their adulthood.

But these are things that are highly sought after. So again, when we're thinking about diversity, it's important not to think about it in any way as a deficit, but really to think about the ways that it enhances all of our abilities to engage effectively across lines of difference and in society. So I want to start to think a little bit about some considerations to keep in mind as you move through this process. First and foremost, I would think about that value of diversity. And when we do any type of diversity work, we always start with reflecting on ourselves and our own aspects of our identity. So first I would ask that as a family—that you as a parent—you reflect on your own values as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and think about what you want to see in a school community and what's truly important for you. What are your non-negotiables as it relates to diversity?

And then it's important once you've done that to put that in conversation with the different schools that you're looking at and their missions and visions, as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Ultimately, we're going to find that you're going to have a better experience when you find those things in alignment. That when you find a school whose mission and vision around diversity is aligned with what you're thinking about, you're going to find greater synergy there and less likely to have these conflicts in terms of differences of expectations. So making sure that you've taken some time both to do that internal reflection, but then also to really scrutinize what does the school say in its mission statement and its value statement and vision statement. Where do you see diversity, equity, and inclusion referred to there either explicitly or implicitly as well?

When you start to think about where you can find that looking at the school's publications and materials and from the communications, whether that be print media or brochures that they have from admissions, or whether it be scrutinizing the school's webpage. Where do you see diversity, equity, and inclusion again, reached out to or stated both implicitly and explicitly? What does the web presence look like? Who do you see in the different images on the school's webpage and the materials? And is there a place where you, again, specifically see diversity called out? Is there a diversity statement that the school has in addition to its vision and mission statement, and does the school have this particular page for DEI where you can learn a little bit more about the school's initiatives, the programs that they are offering?

How difficult is it for you to find out about diversity, equity, and inclusion at the school as you peruse the materials? That might be suggestive of where it falls within the school's priorities. So one of the other really key aspects about your child's experience is obviously the other students, their peers, and classmates, and what the student body and composition looks like. Now, most schools will publish this somewhere on their website, particularly, usually in the admissions section or in their fast facts section. But think about what the student population and demographics looks like. And this could include both racial demographics, but also geographic demographics in terms of where students are coming from and day school environments that might include indicating what neighborhoods students are coming from, and families are coming from.

And then in boarding school environments that will include what States or even countries students are coming from, as we invite students from all over the country and all over the globe. So really thinking about that geographic diversity as well. You might also find statistics about their gender balance, all of those sorts of things. So really think about how can you learn more about the student population? And again, that diversity in that way. What does the student population look like? But don't just look at the student population. Also, look at the adult population. If you can peruse further into the faculty directory, look and see what the diversity makeup is of their faculty, their staff, and their administration.

These are the adults who are going to be working with your students. I was just talking with an advisee the other day about the fact that he spends more of his waking hours at school than he does at home. So we really want to be mindful of what that community looks like. Where your students are spending the majority of their day and inquire about this during your visits as well. Ask about the faculty diversity. What is the leadership diversity and the leadership look like as well? So keep those things in mind, as you think about the people that make up the communities that you're looking at. Now, as we continue to think about DEI, think about what does that look like and how does the school formally provide for that staffing?

What does it look like and who are the leaders of these initiatives at their school? Does the school have a dedicated diversity practitioner? If they do have a person, is that person full-time or is that person part-time? Do they maybe not have an individual in this role and instead have a committee. Think about it that way. Now there are a variety of reasons that schools might pick each of these different configurations. And so ask about that. If there is a justification or a rationale that may exist in having their diversity offices set up and staffed this way. In terms of my own opinion, I think the gold standard is having a full-time diversity practitioner in that role, the same way that we have full-time leaders and other administrative roles around campus.

There are some places or some schools that might think that, well, we don't want to have a particular individual in this role, because then it somehow pushes all of the responsibility there and absolves everybody else in their responsibility. So they might say that it's everybody's responsibility. So we don't need to have a specific person directing. I would counter again, in the same way that we have other administrative offices, it's everyone's responsibility to think about student wellbeing, student leadership, and student discipline. And yet we still have a Dean of Students office. It's everybody's responsibility to represent the school to prospective families, but we still have an admissions office and an admissions director.

I think it's important to think about DEI the same way. That this is important work, and so it's important to have people who are given the dedicated time and have the skillset and background to lead this school initiatives. Again, absolutely everybody's responsibility, but it's still important to have one person or individuals directing that. So see about what this looks like at the school and how that's configured and what their rationale is behind it. Once you see that, see what the diversity programming is that the school has to offer. As you are looking at a variety of different schools, both research it and keep track and compare across schools.

What does their programming options look like? What are the initiatives that are being offered for the school? Is it offered through standalone events? Is it offered in the curriculum? Is it offered in both? So think about that and what does that programming look like in the schools? Some things that it could look like and some things that I would make sure that I would say are hallmarks of schools that are really thinking about this work. Do they offer Affinity groups and Alliance groups, opportunities for students? These are opportunities for students to come together around a shared identity or in support of a shared identity that we know that when students feel affirmed again, back to Dr. Tatum's ABCs, we know that when students feel affirmed in their identities, but they are more likely to be able to reach out across lines of difference when they feel seen and heard and valued for who they are.

So schools that support these tend to be places that are felt to be more positive experiences for students. And that could look like Black student unions, Asian students associations, Latinx students organizations, GSAs, all of those sorts of things. So ask about the Affinity and Alliance program and if they may be offered at the school. Think about speakers. Many schools accomplish this through inviting a diverse array of speakers to their schools, to talk about a variety of different topics. It may be hosting conferences themselves or sending students off campus and the faculty off campus to different conferences and learning opportunities.

In particular, one of the hallmarks from the National Association of Independent Schools, there's the SDLC, the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, as well as the POCC, the People of Color Conference. Ask whether or not the school participates and do they commit to sending students and faculty to participate in those different national events each year as well. And then importantly, thinking about the curriculum as well. That we want to see diversity is not an additive, but that it is embedded in everything that the school is doing, particularly in the curriculum. So what are ways that students, faculty have been trained in multicultural education and pedagogy and cultural competency work in ways that they are making sure their curriculum is inclusive as well.

And then campus climate and culture. I think this is a really important thing to try to get a handle on. And it's somewhat ephemeral as well. So this is one of those things where when you are visiting campus and when you're meeting with your admissions officers to ask pointed questions about the campus climate, and what it is like for different populations in the school. If you are able to visit in person, and again, I know in these COVID times, some schools are not open to visitors right now. But if you can take a visit, I think that's really important. What do you notice when you walk around campus? How does it feel?

Ultimately, as you're looking at a variety of different independent schools, you're going to have a phenomenal experience. You're going to have access to a great education, you're going to have access to great facilities and great instructors. So ultimately at the end of the day, I think it often comes back to a feel and fit. Does this feel like the right place for you? Is this a place where you can see yourself as a family and your child walking around, feeling comfortable in community? Again, ultimately you're going to have a great experience, but it comes back to some of that feeling pieces that I want you to think about as well. What does that culture and climate look like and feel like?

So I want to delve a little bit deeper into some specific aspects of diversity and some specific questions to think about. So again, we talked about the importance of racial and ethnic diversity. And so I think that's something that many schools often think about first, when they're thinking about diversity. Again, it's not all there is to diversity, but it is an important aspect of it in our life and society as well. So many schools have been working over the years in the last decades to diversify and to try to match the diversity that we see increasingly in our national population and our global population as well. So many students of color now at many schools represent a significant portion of the school's enrollment. Again, you should ask about that.

And as you're looking at schools, you'll often find that reported as a student of color number in aggregate. Maybe if you want to know about specific populations, ask specifically, what is the black population percentage at the school? What is the Latinx, what is the Asian population at this school? Again, you'll often find the report in an aggregate, but maybe kick the tires a little bit more if you're curious about that and ask about the size of specific populations in the representations therein.

That said, when we think about the opportunities and the benefits of independent schools, that often people can find a more racially diverse environment in independent schools than they would find in their local public schools or their local schools environment. Because independent schools are able to draw from a wider range of areas. And that's true for both independent schools and for boarding schools, even more so that they are able to draw folks from a variety of different backgrounds.

We know through the patterns of racial segregation, residential segregation, and ultimately how that leads to school segregation, that we tend to live with people like us and inherently, we then send our children to schools with people like them. Independent schools have broader borders and so you can often find a more diverse environment than you will, and that they're not living or going to school in a single homogeneous environment. Now, again, this varies depending on the school's location and a variety of different factors, but you want to again, do your research and compare across school communities and see what that varies and looked like. And then lastly, I want to talk about this, recently in schools you see a large-scale recommitment to anti-racist efforts and initiatives. This summer as a nation, we really had a racial reckoning and began to grapple with a lot of the long-term racial inequities that we've seen in society.

This was spurred on in the wake of the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and far too many others to name at this time. We also saw a similar racial reckoning happening in independent schools. Some of you may be familiar with the "Black@" Instagram movement that happened in the summer where many students and alums of various independent schools took to Instagram to talk about their experiences with race and racism at their schools. If you're not familiar with this, you might look at those different accounts, as well as look at different articles that were written about this, and to see how the school has responded to that and ask it during your visit, what are ways that schools are working to address and make sure that students are able to have a more positive and equitable experiences in schools. And we'll come back to this a little bit later as well.

When we think about the international and global diversity, that's something that is also true for independent schools, perhaps more true for boarding schools than day schools. But really thinking about the ways that we are able to have a more diverse student body than you would find in your local environment. So when we have students again, coming from a variety of different countries, it really enhances the opportunities for students to truly learn from, and with students who are not like them, these backgrounds. And we know that that direct engagement with people from different backgrounds who can help break down stereotypes and images and biases and preconceived notions that students have about people from certain places that personalize that relationship that really has a lot goes a long way in how we educate our students to be, again, anti-racist not xenophobic, all of those sorts of things.

If you yourself are looking and would be applying as an international student or an international family, there are also other questions and considerations to keep in mind. As similar to thinking about whether or not the school had a DEI practitioner, think about whether or not the school has a specific international student coordinator or someone dedicated to supporting international students. And that can look a variety of ways as well. That could be programming specific for international students and their support that might be language acquisition support. So whether or not they offer ESL courses, English first speakers of other languages, English as a second language or English language learning.

So ask whether or not the school offers those different supports as well, if necessary. And then ultimately is there someone who's able to help support with a lot of the complexities that come with visa status, immigration status, and again, the really complex nature of that work. So is that something that the school is able to offer? And then also thinking about—back to the faculty diversity—are there international faculty members represented as well? What does that diversity look like? Again, ultimately, just as true with racial diversity, we see the ways that this international student body can really enhance the educational experience for students and really open their eyes to a world that's broader than their own home environment.

Gender and sexuality diversity is also a really important aspect of diversity for us to talk about in independent school campuses. We know from research from organizations like GLSEN, that the presence of a GSA, the presence of comprehensive anti-bullying policies and the presence of a faculty that embeds both a LGBTQ inclusive curriculum really helps for all students, but particularly for students in the LGBTQ+ population to really feel safe and welcome in these communities. So ask about that as well. Does the school have a GSA and how does the school think about and talk about gender and sexuality diversity?

If you're thinking about boarding schools, particularly if your child is trans to think about what does that look like in terms of housing? What does that look like in terms of bathrooms? How has the school thought about and made preferences and options available, whether there might be all-gender housing options available and what other considerations are on the table. So really to ask those questions and really see how the school has thought proactively about this, or if this would be something that would be new conversations for them. Socioeconomic diversity. So again, that's another thing that's really important to talk about independent schools. That independent schools are really committed to welcoming students from a variety of different socioeconomic backgrounds.

So let me say clearly the financial concerns, the sticker shock of looking at tuition should not be a reason that you don't consider an independent school education. Now that said, the independent school education is expensive and it could be prohibitive for many. So that's why it's important to talk with your admissions office around financial aid, around financial assistance and see what that looks like and what is offered at the school, whether there are merit scholarships or need-based scholarships, whether there are loans, but what are the options that are available from the school to be able to help with affordability and make sure that it is a place where students from a variety of different and families, from a variety of different socioeconomic backgrounds can come together and learn.

Again, similarly as was the case with racial diversity and the international diversity, you'll find in many independent schools a wider cross section and representation across different walks of lives than you would find in your local school system, that could tend to be more homogeneous. But that's really one of those other benefits of diversity's that are pretty particular to independent schools and a real benefit that we can see there. I can't emphasize enough the importance of the visit. Now, again, in these COVID times, it may not be that your campus is accepting of visitors onto campus right now, but I've seen other schools doing some creative things with virtual visits as well. I've seen students walking around with their cell phones, doing tours for families on FaceTime.

So thinking about what are those ways that you are able to learn more about the school, if you aren't able to visit in-person. If you are able to visit in person, especially if you're looking at a boarding school, I'd say that's essential. I'd say it's really essential to that aspect of feel and really seeing if it's a place where you can envision yourself walking around campus, sitting in those classrooms, living in those dormitories, et cetera. But also again, true for day students as well. Engage with your admissions officers and representatives in thinking about this and ask them those questions. See what opportunities they have for folks to visit on campus, whether or not they offer classroom visits, whether or not they offer overnights. These are all things to ask as you try to get a better picture and look inside the box of what it would be like to be at that school.

As I talked earlier about making sure to look at the different materials, whether they be print materials or their webpages, to keep in mind the diversity you see on campus may or may not be reflected and fully reflected in the materials you saw to really see how does it align oftentimes in a school. Again, schools that are doing well are trying to make sure that the images in their materials are representative to the actual proportionality that you see on schools. See if that's true for you, as you are looking around the schools, or if your experience differs. And if it does differ from what you've seen, ask about it. One of the things I want to make sure to do as you take away and walk away from this is to feel empowered, to really ask and to enter into partnership and conversation with these schools.

Oftentimes I think families can be hesitant. Hesitant about asking any type of questions, because you don't want to have it in any way reflect negatively on your candidacy or make it feel like you're a high-maintenance family or whatnot. But what I would say is important, especially as you're about to invest in this both financially, as well as the time that your child will be at this school, it's really important that you feel like you've had your questions answered and that you ultimately feel that there is a fit that you are in alignment with the school's value, its missions, its offerings, and the direction the school is heading. If that's not, then I think you might be setting both yourself up for not having a pleasant experience for you or your child. So you really want to be both as transparent and as inquisitive as possible to get those answers and make sure that's your fit.

And ultimately, as you were walking around, pay attention to both what you see and what you don't see. See what's talked about, and what's not talked about. You can learn a lot from both of those things in terms of what the school offers as well as what is prioritized in that school as well. So again, just a couple of other tips to think about as you are, again, embarking on this process and some other takeaways, again, research, research, research. Ask, and look for as much information as you can find. Request materials, peruse the website, all of those sorts of things, look at their social media, see what you can learn about the school community and the folks who make it up and think about, again, what's important for you and is this offered at the school. And if it's not offered at the school, is there a possibility for it to be started and launched?

That often is very true with different clubs and Affinity groups that we can see with student initiative and support from the institutions, Those things becoming in place and getting activated, even if they weren't there prior. Reach out to your admissions counselor and again, don't be afraid to ask those questions. That's what they are there for, they should be able to answer them. And if they're not, then they can certainly help connect you with people on campus who can answer them. And that would be the other thing that I would say is ask to speak to other representatives from the school community who might be able to speak more authentically or directly to the different questions that you have.

That could include speaking with students, speaking with other parents and families in the community, speaking with other teachers. And as it relates to DEI speaking with the diversity practitioner on the school campus. They could be able to give you a more direct and more perhaps comprehensive answer around the questions that you have. But get multiple opinions. Don't be afraid to ask those questions and get multiple perspectives. Recognizing that one person's experience at school can vary differently from another person. So making sure that you are doing your homework and talking with multiple people, to be able to get a good answer to the questions that you have.

So in summary, and as we reached the end of the presentation, I just want to share a couple of, again, just those takeaways. That DEI is important. Again, that it enhances the academic excellence that we see at schools. And that this is something that we see valued in independent schools, both in the country and across the globe. So really making sure that you are doing your due diligence to see what the school's position is, the school's values are, and how they align with yours. Again, many schools have expanded these opportunities and in the process of having a recommitment to really examine their school climate and culture and enhancing the educational experience, not just for students from underrepresented and minoritized groups, but for all students and recognizing that it enhances that educational experience for everybody.

And again, I'm going to just repeat and say it one more time and beat that drum. Remember to ask the questions and really make sure that it's the right fit. That you enter in partnership with the schools as you go into this process to think about whether or not again, it's going to meet your needs and whether or not what the school is doing is aligned with where you hope to be going and what you hope for, for your child and your student. So with that comes to the end of the formal presentation. On the screen there, you see my information, please don't hesitate to be in contact if you have specific questions that you'd like to reach out for me about, or also to reach out to EMA directly, you can see lots of resources there.

Again, as we talked about the different webinar series that have already taken place, there are other ones that have been talking about how to find the best fit for your school, as well as specific webinars talking about financial aid and financial assistance. So really looking at the resources that EMA has to offer as well. And we'll open it up to questions and again, you can type those into the Q&A, and Alicia will let me know about some of the questions that come in.

Alicia Patten-Madera: Yes. Thank you so much, James, for such a great presentation about what schools and families are doing and can do, as it relates to understanding the impact of diversity on students at independent schools. We received a comment. It said, "Not a question, but this is excellent. So thank you," from Joanne. So we definitely appreciate that question. A question that we received was, "Can you speak to the importance of the partnership between school and home with this commitment to DEI?"

Dr. James Greenwood: Sure. No, absolutely. I think the commitment and that partnership between the family and the home and school is really critical. And that I'd say true again across the different independent school options, whether that be a day school or a boarding school. I'd say perhaps more so at a day school in some ways, because families are more present in the school. But even in boarding, I'd say it's really important to think about what are the ways that you as a family, again, can enhance and forward and champion the school's commitment to diversity. I think one of the challenges we can sometimes see is that when other families don't necessarily recognize or appreciate it, or this is not a reason that they are selecting the school, that sometimes they don't necessarily understand the value of diversity, that if you, as a family do see that, that you can be visible and vocal in your support for the school's diversity initiatives. Talk about your child's experience in positive ways, if they've had a positive experience.

Particularly as it relates to DEI, I think that's something that really helps work the school together in partnership in some really positive ways. And moreover when it's not going well, be open and vocal and share that information with your school communities, the administration, with teachers so that they can be able to address the concerns that come up. Other things that I think I mentioned earlier, the "Black@" accounts that we saw this past summer. And one of the things that I think was really tragic in a lot of the posts sometimes from the different alums or even from some of the current students, was that these were things that they hadn't shared or felt comfortable to share with administrators or teachers at the school.

And so I think that schools can't respond to things that they don't know about. So I think making sure that there is that partnership and that relationship of trust so that we can be able to work together and enhance those and just have that open communication. I think that really enhances the diversity of work. So again, being vocal and visible in your support for diversity work at the school, I think that's one of the most important things that schools can do and families can do, and then being in open communication with schools.

Alicia Patten-Madera: Thank you. Another question was, "I think words are powerful and the term minority perpetuates a subversive hierarchy. How conscious are schools and the impact of lexicon while teaching young minds?

Dr. James Greenwood: Yeah, no, absolutely. I think it's a thing that I think language matters and words matter. And so I think we often find a lot of schools doing work. Some of my work is often with professional development with faculty embedding some of the latest research and just the latest schools of thinking. Obviously the terms that we use change. I think back to my opening slide, where I showed my different titles that I've had at one point, we were talking about multicultural education, and then we were talking about social justice education, and now the lexicon as DEI. So things change over time. So it's important that families and schools remain up to date and that is what that language talks about and how it shifts over time. I think it's important when we talk about, again, that idea of minority versus minoritized, when we talk about an underrepresented ways that words matter and the connotations that come with them and the ways that those are reflective of power and who has power to name.

So absolutely, I think it's a conversation that many schools are having. And as we think about again, sometimes that can change or vary regionally as well in terms of what terminology is used, but absolutely it's a conversation that's happening. And again, I think it's a really important point that the question raised there in terms of thinking about how we talk about the ways that we talk about students can perpetuate certain ideas or expectations or lack thereof.

Alicia Patten-Madera: Right. Absolutely. Now another question is, "I have been concerned with the lack of diversity of people with different physical abilities in many of the private schools that I've visited. How to approach this when the campus itself often deems to be a barrier."

Dr. James Greenwood: No, absolutely. I think that's a really important question. And I think many of these schools, some of them are very, very old and historic and so may not necessarily have buildings that were not necessarily up to ADA compliance or that were built and for historic reasons that may not necessarily be the most accessible. So I think that is something that you want to make sure to have open conversation about because you're right. I do think that often, especially when many of these schools have rigorous commitments to physical education or sports or athletics, that again, if you're someone who is differently abled, it can be an impediment in terms of navigating the school's campus or the school's expectations.

So again, just being as clear and transparent as possible and making sure, and I'd say most schools are going to be open and honest with you about what they are able to do and what they aren't able to do. I'd say few schools are probably 100% fully accessible. I would say that, but many schools have made priorities in terms of particular buildings or areas, or are working towards getting to codes in those areas. So again, having that open conversation and perhaps thinking about what options might be available. Again, if it's not the answers or if the school doesn't feel like it's going to be able to fit that match, think about what schools do serve the needs that you were looking for.

Alicia Patten-Madera: Right. Now this is a comment, not a question, but this is exactly why we put these presentations together. Someone said, "This is very helpful, and I will use this presentation as a reference to help my child's current school," which is awesome. I mean, we're all about how... yeah, learning and really tuning into programs like this, that we can bring what we have back to the people who can make that impact and really implement the changes that we do want to see. So thank you so much for sharing that.

Dr. James Greenwood: No, absolutely. Glad to hear that was helpful.

Alicia Patten-Madera: Exactly. Now, another question we received is, "Is it a good idea to steer away from a school who has only recently began a commitment to diversity in 2020, 2021?"

Dr. James Greenwood: I would say not necessarily. I'd say it's important to think about obviously the schools have... Again, having worked across different schools, I'd say the schools have different histories and some have had a longer perhaps commitment to diversity than others. That said, I'd say often schools prioritization, especially around DEI can change depending on the leadership of the school at a given moment. So a school that's really just emerging, perhaps they just now had a leadership that's really focused and engaged in those areas. And I'd say that could be a really good sign of things to come. And again, schools that perhaps have had a longtime commitment to diversity equity and inclusion can sometimes remain rest on their roles and become a little bit stale with what they've been doing or what they're offering.

So I think it wouldn't necessarily be a deterrent, but I do think as I've said throughout the presentation, it's important to kick the tires, to ask those questions, to really see what that vision is and where the school is moving forward and how the school is making commitments to moving forward in those regards, in terms of enhancing cultural competency amongst its faculty, in terms of engaging in anti-racist practice to really ask what school's vision and direction is. I think again, if you see schools that are newly engaging in that work in '20 and 2021, that could be a really good sign of things that are yet to come in that school community and now they have the direction, the leadership, the will to make efforts in those regards. I wouldn't say that would necessarily be a reason not to explore a school.

And again, that said, if a school is newer to this work, perhaps you might find yourself having conversations and another school might be further along in, and you have to ask yourself whether or not you are willing to be a part of that, and whether perhaps that you are willing to be along for the ride as they make those steps. For some people, the answer might be no that where the school is starting or where the school currently is, is not sufficient for where I want to be. And that's a valid answer, but again, if you build that trust and that confidence in the school and the leadership, I wouldn't say that it would be immediately a reason to discount that school from your considerations.

Alicia Patten-Madera: Thank you. Now, another question is, "What is the history of independent schools as it relates to diversity?"

Dr. James Greenwood: Yeah, the history of independent schools. Again, really, it truly varies depending on the schools. But it's true to acknowledge that history, some independent schools and some private schools we know emerged in as a result of school or as a response to school desegregation. So that some schools did have this history of emerging as a way to avoid the diversity that we're talking about. And we know that other schools actually emerged in the opposite. That there are independent schools that emerged explicitly to have an integrated student body. It had that as part of their core mission. That there are some schools that have been integrated early since the turn of the century. So really thinking about that way. So that history varies, and it really does depend on the independent school. So looking at that as well, and that history matters.

I think that when you think about where a lot of these schools come from, the ways that some of them did start as these elite places that were exclusive, you can see some of that carry out in the way that the school adheres to tradition or the ways that that influences the school's board of trustees or alumni body. So it is an important question that history matters and that we see the ways that that can carry out in our school lives. That said, if you've learned from your history, you are able to do better. You are able to make adjustments and work and change the school in ways that are positive to perhaps undo some of those past wrongdoings in the school community. So history matters and I think that what the history of these specific schools that you're looking at can really help inform or give you some sense of where they are in terms of their work with diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Alicia Patten-Madera: Absolutely. And that ties very well into, I think it was your last piece slide that talks about the importance of research. I mean, when someone has that question and really digging down and seeing, Oh, the school might be an option, but let me learn more. So I think that that ties very well into that. Now, another question we have is, "How would you handle a situation where some students are being culturally insensitive, sexist, racist, or homophobic?"

Dr. James Greenwood: Absolutely. I think it's an important question because I think as a family, there's a couple of things to consider. First of all, I think it would be folly to think that those types of things won't happen at schools. That our schools are a microcosm and a reflection of our broader society, so that when we continue to see racist, homophobic, sexist acts happen in society at large, it would be foolish to think that those wouldn't be reflected at some of our school communities. So the question is, how does the school respond when those things happen as well? So I mentioned this earlier, thinking about, again, back to that some of the "Black@" movements, I think one of the things that was challenging was that sometimes the things that were being raised were never raised on because students didn't feel that they were able to, or didn't feel that they had the voice or would be taken seriously.

But one of the things that I would say is making sure if and when these things happen to bring it forward to administration, to teachers so that they can be able to address it and be able to deal with the situation. Now, the other thing I would say, the response really depends on the context and the particularities of the situation. One of the things that I think that's important to recognize is that when we're in independent schools, again, we're in school. So we're working with young people and so young people are going to make mistakes. And so we really want to make sure that we're creating opportunities for students to learn and grow from them as well. I think it's Bryan Stevenson's quote, as he talks about the equal justice initiative, but none of us should be defined by the worst thing we've ever done.

And really, especially if we're talking about young people, that they are really making these mistakes, there's growing and we want to be at schools, partnering to help with them and learning that and being able to grow from that. Now if it keeps happening. That's a different conversation and perhaps again, the school will more formally come in and should make sure that they address these situations regardless of whatever happens. Sometimes it might be discipline, sometimes it might be conversations, sometimes it might be a learning opportunities with really giving students an opportunity to demonstrate that they've grown, to demonstrate they're learning, to really have an opportunity to really try to make things right, as much as they can.

I think the other thing that's important when you bring these issues forward to the school to really work, again, in partnership with the school to think about what's the best way to move forward. Now, to be clear, that's not to suggest that you get to decide what's going to happen in those situations. But I think it's important that the school does engage in that conversation when someone has been the target or a victim to give them some agency and some voice back in the ways that they move forward with it. Sometimes it might be a situation where a student wants to have a facilitated conversation or a mediated conversation with that student or with that faculty member. So it really, they just want to be able to have some support and help in addressing it for themselves and using their voice that way.

And then in other times it may just be that depending on the severity or what happened, that the school needs to step in and really make a stance and really show how school rules have been violated and how we've mistreated others. So I think it's a mixture of responses. I think there is that. Making sure that the school does respond, because the worst thing that can happen is nothing. I think that making sure that the school knows what's happened, so again, then we can't respond to what we don't know about. And again, recognizing that ultimately we are working with young people who are going to make mistakes and that we hope that they're able to learn from them. That ultimately as we work in education, that's our bread and butter is that growth and change and that we believe in young people. And so really making sure that we approach it both from that education standpoint, but also making sure that it hopefully doesn't happen again from the same person that they have demonstrated that learning and growth.

Alicia Patten-Madera: So well said, thank you. And now another question is and this relates to anti-racism education, "How do we have initial conversations with our current school so that they can start anti-racism education?"

Dr. James Greenwood: Yeah, no. I think you start those conversations for sure. I think again, it would be foolish to think that a school is not paying attention to see what's been happening in society over the last several years. So I think to start that conversation, if there is again, with whatever connections and relationships you might have. It could be with the person in the DEI role, it could be with the person in the student life, it could be with the head of school. But really I think start by asking the school, what are they doing? How have they responded? I think that's one way to start and to approach these conversations from a place of curiosity rather than a place of just assuming that schools aren't doing anything.

I think that again, you can find out from the questions you ask, whether or not that's happening or whether or not the school was giving it some thought. But I think generally asking the question, what are you doing? What's happening? How are you all thinking about this? It'd be a good entry way to having those conversations and really seeing what the school is doing. And if the school doesn't have an answer to them in that partnership way, to be able to offer some ideas, to be able to offer some suggestions, to be able to ask how you can be a part of supporting the school in those works, in those efforts. And again, I think one of the biggest things that families can do, again, is being that vocal and visible support of the school and its diversity initiatives.

That oftentimes we will hear from folks who are either resistant or challenging the school's diversity initiatives and the best response is not necessarily from the school. It can be from the school, but even better is from families who say, "Look, that's not my experience. My child feels this way. This is a value that I see in this school and this is why I picked this school."

Alicia Patten-Madera: Thank you. And one of our last questions is, "What are some barriers that hinder the work progress with DEI work?"

Dr. James Greenwood: Sure. And again, I think it alludes to in some of the previous questions. Again, ultimately our schools are a reflection of society. So sometimes that hinderance, that resistance can be folks who don't necessarily see the value in this, who think of diversity as a detraction that it somehow takes away from the school's life or whether or not we shouldn't be focusing on this. We should be focusing exclusively on academics. But again, you can't have academic excellence without diversity. That ultimately we see the ways and research has proven this time and again, the ways that we are all enhanced by the experiences by having our horizons broadened, that we are able to learn more from others.

And often we're able to learn more about ourselves through the experience of working with people who are different from us. That really affirms and challenges us to think about why do we believe this particular way when we see that there are other ways to believe in. And so that sometimes you can now learn to either question your own ideas or be able to hold multiple ideas in your head at the same time. I think that's ultimately what we're looking for in education to create complicated thinkers, students who are able to be active citizenry and who are able to think on multiple levels, and question and analyze critically.

That we're not necessarily teaching students what to think, but we are teaching them how to think. But ultimately in terms of our values, we do want our students to emerge with a sense of compassion and hoping to better society through empathy, learning more about others and staying curious. I think that's one of the things that we really want to emerge from students' experiences in independent schools and something that I think independent schools are uniquely able and positioned to be able to do. That's why I found and made my career in them and that's why I think I will be in education particularly in independent schools, most of my career.

Alicia Patten-Madera: Yes, thank you so much. And thank you, James, and a huge thank you to all the families that joined us here today. Thank you to our Admission Academy subscribers who make programming for families such as this possible. If you haven't subscribed, and would like to join Admission Academy to gain access to all of our live events, please visit admission.org. So again, thank you so, so much. Great conversation, James and for all of our families, have a great rest of your week and weekend.

Dr. James Greenwood: Take care.

Daren Worcester: Okay. A huge, huge, huge thank you to Dr. Greenwood and Alicia for allowing us to share that discussion with you here. And for all of you listening, thank you for joining this #admissionchat. Please look for another episode soon and for more insight into the private school application process, visit admission.org and check out our Admission Academy live webinar series. Until next time, take care everyone.

Latest Articles

Read the most up-to-date advice on finding and applying to your best-fit school. 

View All

Private School Open House: What To Know Before You Go

Unsure about attending a private school open house? Here’s everything you need to know from what to wear to making a good impression with the admissions team.

No items found.
A link arrow.
Oct 20, 2021
Oct 20, 2021

How to Get Your Best Score on the SSAT

Learn the best strategies for improving SSAT test scores on the Middle and Upper Level versions with advice from the organization that created the SSAT.

SSAT Prep
A link arrow.
Oct 1, 2021
Oct 1, 2021

Practice Questions to Feel Good About Private School Interviews

Practice makes perfect, and these private school interview questions will help you gain confidence and discover how to tell your unique story.

Interviews
Revisit Days
Dg-interviewing
A link arrow.
Sep 3, 2021
Sep 3, 2021