Update on FSM’s diversity work by Rebecca Slaby, FSM Diversity Coordinator

Now that the school year is in full swing, I would like to explain my work as diversity coordinator and provide some historical perspective on the work that the school has been doing over the years around the issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.

I have been diversity coordinator for the past five years and have been concerned with and involved in issues of diversity, equity, and justice for most of my adult life. I am committed to continual exploration and reflection on the roles race, privilege, and bias play in both my personal and professional life, and I am honored to be a part of Friends School of Minnesota’s commitment to explore these issues as an institution, as well.

 

Historical Perspective

Friends School of Minnesota (FSM) continues to deepen its commitment to creating a diverse, inclusive community in accordance with our Quaker values and our mission. One key part of FSM governance is the equity and justice committee (E&J), a standing committee of FSM’s School Committee (the school’s governing board of directors). The charge of the E&J is to be responsible for supporting and facilitating equity and access at Friends School of Minnesota, ensuring that FSM is welcoming to all members of its community. To this end, E&J facilitates dialogue about equity and justice that engages, challenges, and informs all members of the FSM community. Each year, E&J plans family and/or community events that are responsive to the needs of the school for adults in the school community. Additionally, E&J serves in an advisory capacity to other standing committees on an as-needed basis to inform their work through an equity and justice lens. Annually, E&J examines and evaluates FSM practices and/or policies using metrics for success, and makes recommendations to the appropriate governing body.

In 2010, the school committee commissioned the development of a diversity statement. Members of the equity and justice standing committee created a statement that was approved by the school committee in 2013. Our diversity statement was intended to be broad and rooted in our philosophy as a Quaker school, rather than a prescriptive, quota-driven directive.

Friends School of Minnesota Diversity Statement

As a Quaker school, we believe that there is that of God within each of us. Our vision is to ensure that all members of the FSM community feel that they are known and that they belong. Recognizing and appreciating that our differences make our experiences of the world fuller, we seek to build a community that is diverse. As individuals and as an institution we must actively create pathways to mutual understanding. Building on the foundation of core Quaker values, we look for and embrace ways to understand as much as we seek to be understood. Our commitment to diversity is sometimes challenging, and always a joyful reminder of the just and peaceful world we are seeking to create both for and with our children.

We will hold ourselves to acting on our diversity statement, through incorporating it into FSM’s strategic planning process, overseen by the FSM School Committee. This will allow our community to continuously evaluate and discern whether we are on the right course toward the vision articulated in the diversity statement. We know we will never be done with the work.

FSM defines diversity as “the many ways in which people are different from one another.”

In 2011-2012, Friends School of Minnesota engaged DeYoung Consulting Services to facilitate a process of articulating the community’s collective vision as it relates to diversity and inclusion. This process involved the entire school community including parents, students, staff, and alumni, and the findings helped inform the school’s strategic plan, which incorporates diversity goals throughout all aspects of the school’s work.

Over the past several years, the school has hosted a number of community events centered on issues of race, class, and identity, including a viewing and discussion of André Robert Lee’s documentary Prep School Negro, a performance of Julia Anderson Mann’s Mixed Reality show exploring bi-racial identity, a workshop for parents and professional development for staff on stereotype threat, and a visit to the Science Museum of Minnesota’s RACE: Are We So Different? exhibit.

Last year, with overwhelming interest by families of students of color, the school hosted two families of students of color affinity group meetings. These meetings provided an opportunity for families of students of color to meet, get to know each other, and discuss the unique needs and perspectives of FSM’s students of color. We also hosted a discussion facilitated by the YWCA’s racial justice department on “How to Talk With Kids About Race.” We had a second follow-up meeting with interested parents to deepen the original discussion.

 

My Work as Diversity Coordinator

My role as diversity coordinator is multifaceted. I serve on the equity and justice committee communicating the school’s diversity work to the committee, and partnering with the committee to plan events and evaluate the school’s policies and practices. I coordinate and attend the MAIS (Minnesota Association of Independent Schools) diversity affinity group meetings, in which diversity practitioners from the area MAIS schools meet and discuss what’s happening in their schools around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as share best practices and resources with each other. I also serve on the equity and justice committee for ISACS (Independent School Association of the Central States), FSM’s accreditation organization. This committee advises ISACS board and staff on issues of equity and justice in independent schools.

Another one of my responsibilities as diversity coordinator is to be a liaison and advocate for families and students around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I also lead professional development experiences on various topics related to diversity.

 

Equity and Justice Goals and Plans for 2016-17

Staff and Faculty: This summer, I attended the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) Diversity Leadership Institute, an intensive week-long institute attended by diversity practitioners, administrators, teachers, and support staff from independent schools across the nation. This was a transformative experience for me, as I steeped myself in better understanding cultural competency, intercultural conflict, cross-cultural communication, power and privilege, identity development, leading and managing change, implicit bias, racial anxiety, gender and sexuality diversity, and racial literacy. This year, I will be leading workshops for staff during our professional development days on some of these topics. Our first workshop on September 28, 2016 will focus on intercultural communication and cross-cultural conflict.

This year, I have started a monthly staff diversity interest group so that staff can come together to discuss, share, and reflect on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues and best practices in the classroom and at school. The meetings are open to all FSM staff, and I’m excited by the incredible interest and support staff have shown in this group.

Families: The equity and justice committee is planning several events/meetings for families, including continuing the families of students of color affinity group meetings and hosting book/movie nights that center on topics of race, privilege, and identity.

Students:I will be exploring whether or not students are interested in creating affinity and/or alliance groups at school. I plan on surveying middle school students to assess interest and what groups might be appropriate, and meeting with lower school teachers about the logistics and plausibility of affinity groups for younger students. Possible affinity groupings include adopted children, Kaleidoscope (children of color, biracial, multiracial), or a gender and sexuality diversity alliance. Another alliance group might be a cross-cultural alliance group for students of all backgrounds who have a commitment to learning about and supporting others in their work around diversity, equity, and justice issues.

Curriculum: Another goal of mine is to better communicate to families what teachers are doing in their classrooms around these issues as part of curriculum, as they arise in student relationships with each other, and in current events. We do so much that families may or may not be aware of!

 

Final Thoughts

Doing this work is challenging, rewarding, frustrating, and perspective-altering. The school, both as an institution and as a community, will continue to reflect on what an equitable, just, inclusive, diverse school community looks and feels like as we continue to test our school’s mission in the face of powerful systems that create barriers to these goals. At the same time, I am so proud to be a part of this institution and community, which has never shied away from engaging in this important work and has been doing the work to live up to the progressive, Quaker values for many, many years.

–Rebecca Slaby, Friends School of Minnesota Diversity Coordinator