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Professional Development: Giving Adults the Tools to Help Everyone at Latin Thrive

April 5, 2022


Elro Starr

Illustration by Elro Starr: Creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community at Latin requires making time for important, and often challenging, conversations amongst both students and adults.

Among Latin’s recent Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts has been the expansion of professional development (PD), not only for faculty and staff but for all constituencies of the community, to create a culture of understanding and to promote a warm and open environment.

White Identities and Anti-Racism Coordinator Kate Lorber-Crittenden said that PD this year has included “DEI goal-setting for all faculty, workshops/ breakfasts for staff, affinity spaces for faculty and staff of color as well as white faculty and staff (for examining anti-racism and bias), divisional DEI meetings (on division-specific content) and three all-school PDs on religious diversity and the first step of a curricular review. There has also been PD for the Board of Trustees and senior administration exploring barriers to access for marginalized and underrepresented identities.”

Latin’s Upper School DEI leadership team consists of Director of DEI Eleanor Maajid, Ms. LC, DEI Curriculum Coordinator Brandon Woods, and Dean of Community Learning Suzanne Callis. Jennifer Nabers and Kia London serve as Middle School DEI Coordinators, and Kasey Taylor and Sheri Snopek are the Lower School DEI Coordinators. The full list of faculty members on the council is listed here. When the most recent process of developing DEI initiatives began, the team sought to define the key terms.

Diversity looks to harvest a community in which no two individuals are the same, and people can share their unique experiences with others. Equity emphasizes the individualized aspects of Latin, in which all community members, regardless of their background, should be given the same opportunities and the support they need to succeed. Inclusion, the final piece, highlights the importance of taking the definitions of diversity and equity to heart and welcoming all community members regardless of their background.

One of Latin’s main initiatives in terms of developing PD is an onboarding program. Onboarding is the process of integrating new community members by introducing and familiarizing them with the foundations and key values of the school.

“We have a lot of language, and this is true of most schools and workplaces, everyone kind of has their own lingo,” Ms. LC said. “It can be really difficult when you enter a space and people start throwing around terms.” Ms. LC said that even definitions of DEI can vary across institutions.

The onboarding initiative includes a mentorship program for all new faculty and staff, similar to that of Latin’s Roman-to-Roman partnership designed to help freshmen adjust to a new school environment. Conversations about DEI are essential when bringing new people into the school, and they can often be difficult or awkward to have with a direct superior.

Ms. Maajid said, “Sometimes it can be addressed with a conversation, or things like that. I think as we start to continue in this direction, we can have these conversations with potential families, potential faculty and staff to let them know who we are from the beginning.”

Latin currently works with Diversity and Inclusion Strategist Dr. Derrick Gay. Last year, he conducted a climate assessment and was an MLK day guest speaker. Dr. Gay was unavailable to discuss with The Forum how he feels his work has impacted PD at Latin.

In addition to running the mentorship program and ensuring that all new community members are familiar with Latin’s goals and objectives surrounding DEI, it is essential that Latin communicates its vision not only to new faculty members, but also to veterans of the community.

“If we are saying these are the new expectations,” Ms. LC said, “how do we make sure that also rings true for folks who have been here for a long time?”

Ms. LC said that in her opinion, the most productive way to achieve these goals, as well as guarantee that all constituencies will participate in DEI work, is to have these difficult conversations.

“The biggest way we promote empathy, tolerance, respect, all these things across all aspects of identity, is that we have to have the time and space for these conversations,” Ms. LC said. “One of the biggest challenges for me is the ways that we get wrapped up in the ‘business’ of the day. Obviously, classes are important and obviously going to clubs, our academics, our extracurriculars are important, and there needs to be space and time dedicated to these conversations, too.”

Head of School Randall Dunn emphasized the importance of conversations related to DEI, saying, “I think that our conversations around implicit bias and hiring and retention, the fact that we’re talking about it means a lot. Once we start talking about it, we become more accountable for it, and I think that’s how things start to change.”

One of the most meaningful aspects of having these discussions is understanding the privilege that some people will experience and take for granted. “As a white person,” Ms. LC said, “I have a racialized experience every single day. The fact that I may not see it as a racialized experience doesn’t change the fact that it is. I would probably benefit from understanding how my experience is racialized and how not understanding actually contributes to the way we perpetuate harm.”

However, such conversations can be challenging, hence why they are often referred to as “difficult dialogues” at Latin. Ms. LC noted that these conversations should not be “opt-in,” but structured and required to emphasize their importance in promoting understanding and empathy, much like what Latin provides for students on the MLK Day of Commemoration.

But even if teachers are given PD regarding DEI, it is up to them to implement and use what they learned. “We can provide opportunities for learning and growth all we want, but we want to make sure we are using it,” Ms. LC said.

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    Ayesha Ali AhmedApr 18, 2022 at 6:20 pm

    These are such well researched and thoughtful articles – bravo to the entire editorial team for dedicating the time and space to these incredibly important issues!