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Diversity and Inclusion Workshops Enlighten and Inspire Faculty

In the fall when Upper School Head Abbi Smith sent out a survey to gather ideas for upcoming professional development for the faculty, she was not surprised to see the topics of microaggression and implicit bias emerge at the top of the list. Nor was she at a loss as to how to try and address those issues, as she knows a former colleague who focuses her time and talents to work on diversity, inclusion, and acceptance issues.
Marissa Colston and Smith worked together at Friends Select School in Philadelphia, and they even co-sponsored a Diversity Club for the upper school students there. Now the Dean of Diversity and Inclusion at Westtown Academy, Colston agreed to facilitate two workshops for Sanford’s Upper School faculty. Smith explained: “I have so much respect for Marissa; she is a leader in the field of diversity and devotes so much of her time and energy to this work. She hasa lot on her plate, and we are all so appreciative that she was willing to take the time to share her expertise and understandings with the Sanford Upper School faculty. I knew she would be a valuable resource for us, and she certainly facilitated excellent discussions among our faculty on both topics.”

A full faculty meeting was spent on the topic of microaggressions, the label that is given to small, everyday slights that are often intended to be compliments to marginalized groups, but are received as being derogatory. These subtle messages, especially over time, can have a negative impact on people. For example, an international student whose name is regularly confused with another student’s might feel that s/he is being looked at as a member of a group and not as an individual. Colston helped the faculty to understand what microaggressions are, how to recognize them, and what steps teachers can take when one is seen or heard. The role of a teacher in dealing with these unintended slights was discussed in order to make sure that students feel safe, known, and valued. Smith elaborated: “We want to avoid the negative lasting impact these microaggressions and personal biases can have on students. Marissa reminded us that even with the best of intentions, we are going to make mistakes, but we now have some ways to help correct them as we work towards making fewer of them.”

A second session was held to explore the topic of implicit bias and how it works, especially at an unconscious level. Both workshops followed a similar format with teachers given an article to read prior to the meeting. After a full-group discussion, the faculty was led through several small group activities. “I am so encouraged by the commitment of our professionals to this type of work,” shared Smith. “Faculty members are now sharing articles on these topics with their colleagues, and I can see the desire to keep the conversation going. This type of work has to be ongoing, and I know from my involvement with the diversity, equity, and inclusion arm of our strategic plan that Sanford as a community is dedicated to making sure that we pay attention and take action to address issues related to acceptance, inclusion, diversity, and identity.”

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