For the past month, there has been no shortage of material published on the ways in which independent schools are addressing the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Some schools have even added social justice to the equation. Without a doubt, Intrepid Ed News columnists will also submit their views on what schools could or should do, just as columnists from the national media have expressed. Our mission is to assemble a network of educator voices that, collectively, will help our readers, educators and parents, sort out the complexities of the many educational challenges, and help them formulate, reinforce, or rethink their own views. As such, my role as editor is to raise important questions for conversation and debate, but not to take a position or influence the thinking of our readers. I will attend to my responsibilities on the issue of DEI initiatives at independent schools.
Let’s begin with a couple of propositions that some believe to be true, but certainly might be challenged. First, almost every school acts with the best of intentions for their communities, and second, independent schools, by virtue of their selective structure, create inherent institutional obstacles to the ideal DEI environment. Each school has a different approach to addressing these two propositions. In doing so, here are a few questions that schools might ask or are likely asking themselves as they embark on this challenging journey. The answers to these questions will hopefully bring some clarity to our respective DEI initiatives.
- What’s the goal of your DEI program? Steven Covey always said, “begin with the end in mind.” What would you like your school and community to look like when you reach the successful end of your DEI initiative?
- What’s on the table for discussion and what’s not? Does your school have the capacity to make whatever structural and policy changes are necessary to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion? For example, are you in a position to make changes to your board policies, admissions and financial aid policies, academic policies, programmatic structure, and pedagogies in order to create an environment that supports the positive outcomes of a DEI initiative?
- What impact will your DEI initiative have on the curriculum? How will you structure that curriculum so that every student has an equal opportunity to be affirmed and successful? How will you define opportunity?
- Will you integrate social-emotional learning (SEL) with your DEI initiative? Is the Inclusion portion of DEI more associated with SEL or Equity?
- How will you ensure that everything you do as part of the DEI initiative is aligned with your school mission? If it is not, are you willing to modify the mission to create that alignment?
- Is strategic planning part of your DEI initiative? Are you classifying this initiative as a program or a complete rethinking and restructuring of your school?
- What is the timing of your initiative? Will you try to “complete” the entire program in one academic year or is this a three to five-year plan?
- What is your external communication plan for your DEI initiative? How will you obtain buy-in from each of your constituencies? How will you address past injustices with your alumni base? What kinds of commitments will you be requesting or requiring from your current families, students, faculty, and support staff?
- What is your backup plan (Plan B, C, or D) if the Plan A initiative runs into some roadblocks?
- Have you considered the degree to which DEI impacts parents’ role in establishing their own family values and morals?
Our schools have launched numerous initiatives over the years. Some have succeeded and some not. Those that were unsuccessful are often classified as missed opportunities. Somehow the DEI initiative feels different. It feels broader, deeper, and more consequential than an opportunity. It also feels like success might have profound implications for our schools.