On the first day of Black History Month, Upper Schoolers participated in Parker’s fourth annual Diversity Day, focusing on the intersection of race, class, and gender. The very next day, Parker hosted its first Pollyanna, a day-long diversity conference that invites local private and independent schools into one room to work towards a common goal. This year’s goal: building and sustaining a diverse community that reflects the student experience.
The work of ensuring the School community is diverse and inclusive is an important and shared responsibility. It is one that affects the entire community and the consequences
impact all but are felt most by certain identities. Race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, social class, physical abilities, age, and a range of other human differences all play a part in shaping a person’s identity. It is the responsibility of everyone to embrace those differences and make sure they’re valued in the community.
A DAY DEDICATED TO DIVERSITY
Christen Tedrow-Harrison, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, works every day to make sure students of all identities feel comfortable, seen, and valued at Parker. Much of that means creating a School environment in whichstudents see themselves reflected in their community—in the student body, the faculty and staff and the administration.
One of the tools Parker uses to initiate conversations around diversity and inclusion is Diversity Day.
“Diversity Day serves to provide, in an intentional and thoughtful way, some ‘windows and mirrors’ of experiences for our students and the adult community,” says Christen. “It gives people a taste of what a full day dedicated to diversity and inclusion feels like and looks like, and hopefully inspires teachers to talk about it more and students to feel like they’re in a comfortable space where this is valued.”
This year, students watched documentaries that raised questions about the intersection of race, gender, and class, and participated in the Defamation Experience. The Defamation Experience is an interactive diversity program that explores the issues of race, class, religion, gender, and the law. The first part of the experience plays out as an old-fashioned courtroom drama. Actors tell the story of an African American female business owner who sues a Jewish real estate developerfor defamation. The 75-minute trial isintended to “hold the audience’s own prejudices and assumptions under a powerful lens.”
Following the defamation trial, students participated in an interactive
deliberation and post-show discussion with the actors. This kind of reflection is one of the most important aspects of Diversity Day, and diversity training, in general. Through their advisories, workshops, and one-on- one conversations, students come together to think and talk about what they learned and experienced during Diversity Day.
“So much of making this work real is slowing down, thinking, engaging in relationship with other people and having those conversations,” says Christen. “All of that takes time and we don’t always have that luxury. Those reflection times provide students some time to process. Students need that time to think about what they just experienced. They need to hear from their peers and create those connections. It makes the day more meaningful.”
“Diversity Day serves to provide, in an intentional and thoughtful way, some ‘windows and mirrors’ of experiences for our students and the adult community.”
Students can take part in the same exercise and walk away with completely different takeaways, says Christen. Reflection is when those differences are brought to light and discovered. That happened this year when some students and adults raised questions the Defamation Experience. They said it could reinforce anti- Semitic stereotypes. Others felt the Defamation Experience was one of the most powerful portions of the day because it spoke to the experiences they have had over the course of their lives. It was no longer their word against others; their lived experiences
were played out on the stage in front of their peers’ eyes. Christen says it’s important for us as a community to listen and to understand both experiences and perspectives that the Defamation Experience brought forth.
“Making sure we’re carving out the time to really thoughtfully talk about and unpack those issues is where the real learning comes for us as a community and for those of us who are charged with planning programming like this,” says Christen.
She admits these conversations can be difficult and uncomfortable but they are necessary for progress. Leaning into tough conversations and listening are critical steps in creating a truly inclusive community. Without the skills to understand and listen to experiences of difference, we all lose, she says. It is the School’s goal to take on this difficult work on Diversity Day and, this year, at the diversity conference Pollyanna.
‘WINDOWS AND MIRRORS’: POLLYANNA AT PARKER
Parker hosted its first Pollyanna Conference on Saturday, Feb.2. The all-day conference brought five of the area’s private and independent schools to Campus, including Pacific Ridge School, The Bishop’s School, La Jolla Country Day School, St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, and Academy of Our Lady of Peace.
Each school arrived with a 14-person“pod,” consisting of students, faculty, diversity directors, administrators, trustees, alumni, and parents, to participate in breakout sessions, a student panel, and to hear keynote speaker Rosetta Lee talk about racial recruitment and retention.
The conference theme, “Windows and Mirrors,” focused on the importance of not only hiring racially diverse faculty and staff who reflect the student body but also cultivating an environment that supports those faculty and staff in order to retain them long-term. Schools must examine the hiring process and ask who is conducting interviews, who is combing through resumes, how are job descriptions worded, what stories do their websites tell, and what storiesdo they tell—both explicitly and implicitly—once a candidate is brought on campus?
The work does not stop once a person of color is hired; it is only just beginning. That is where a lot of schools, and organizations in general, fail.
In her keynote speech, Rosetta Lee said schools need to “till their soil” in order to retain faculty and staff of color. Schools can recruit the most qualified candidates, but unless they’re fostering a culture that supports people of color prior to hiring, new hires will likely leave within a few years.
For students of color within most independent schools, who often don’t see themselves represented in the curriculum nor in the faculty, this is detrimental.
An African American student told constituents at Pollyanna that her goal is to be a teacher one day, but in her entire private school career, she has never had a black teacher. She has never had a teacher who looks like her to model that experience after.
In her 14 years in education, Christen says shehears concerns like these over and over again from students of color.
“Having these kinds of conferences is an opportunity to remind us of the urgency,” says Christen. “Those of us who have been in this work for a long time have heard this for a long time and are keenly aware of the impacts. When you’re not as close to this work, it’s easy to forget. That’s why having things like Diversity Day is so important; it might just be one day but imagine if we didn’t have the day. Imagine if we didn’t have the conference where we’re getting schoolwide representation saying we can’t wait anymore.”
The uniqueness of the Pollyanna Conference is its format.
“It’s rare in this work that you’re provided the opportunity to get in the same room with all these constituents and have student voices and experiences represented in such a powerful way. It demystifies these issues to some degree, helps us recognize the challenges we face are not unique to our institutions and puts us in a solution-oriented mindset,” says Christen.
At the end of the conference, each pod works to create an action plan based on the day’s goal that their schools can later implement. Head of Upper School Dr. Monica Gillespie, who sat on the Pollyanna Committee and participated in the conference, says Parker is working on its own action plan to recruit and retain more faculty and staff of color.
“We are deeply committed to doing this as a School. It’s very important for everyone,” says Monica.
Though no formal action plan has been set, Parker is committed to working with professional networks, and attending and presenting at conferences so people become more aware of the School and consider working here. Monica explains,
“When administrators and educators present, people know that our School is committed to these efforts. People of color are looking for school communities where they will be supported. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a key area in our Strategic Plan at Parker and important for us to continue to develop and strengthen our school community and culture.”
But more important than the administrative directive are the living, breathing human beings who sit in class each day preparing to make a meaningful difference in the world.
“The hallmark of the conference is that there is time for students to share with other attendees who are all adults. That dialogue is critical to doing this work well,” says Monica. “Their authenticity and their willingness to be vulnerable in sharing about their experiences are just incredibly humbling and we need to listen. Our actions have to line up
with our words and we need to do the heavylifting.”
Christen agrees. “For students and adults who are people of color, when you come to a school and you’re an ‘only,’ you understand you’re signing up for a very unique experience. Until you reach a critical mass, whether it be students or adults, that’s when you start to really feel a shift in culture,” she says. “I think that’s what our students are telling us and trying to hold us accountable to. They’re saying, ‘I don’t see myself, I don’t feel seen.’ We need to make sure our students are getting access to experiences, stories, and peoples that mirror their own. We have a responsibility to our students and a responsibility to our families to do just that.”
This article was originally featured in the Winter 2019 issue of Parker Magazine. Click here to read the full issue.