Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Is Duke School Diverse Enough?

Is Duke School diverse enough?  Do we have “enough” students of color?  Are we concerned that no Duke School lead teacher is African American and only one is Hispanic?   As a community do we believe that diversity is critical to a well-rounded education or is it a nice extra? 

Some of these questions were somewhat addressed in crafting the strategic plan.  As part of the process, Ian Symmonds, our consultant, surveyed various constituencies about what they most valued about Duke School.  For both parents and faculty, diversity was a top ten value.  However, in each group, it was tenth.  (Love of learning was number one in both groups.)  So it seems that diversity is an important value but perhaps not a critical one, based on the survey results. Duke School’s strategic plan mirrors that perception. 

The strategic plan does have diversity goals—15% of the student body should be either Hispanic or African American and 8% of the total faculty should be faculty of color (non-Caucasian).  However the goals do not require much additional work from the community and may not have been set high enough.  Currently, 24% of our student body is non-Caucasian with 12% being either African American or Hispanic.  In addition, 8% of our current faculty is of color.  Hence the addition of twelve more Hispanic and/or African American students and keeping the number of non-Caucasian teachers steady would allow us to reach the strategic plan’s goals.  Two questions arise in my mind—would these numbers give us enough racial diversity and if not what barriers make it difficult to improve our diversity numbers.

After meeting the strategic plan goals would we then have enough racial diversity?  To answer that question, we need to wrestle with why racial diversity is important at all.  Some answers are obvious.  Our children will be entering a diverse workplace and will be interacting with people who are from different races, countries and religions.  They need to feel comfortable in such environments and early exposure to diversity is one way of creating such comfort.  Throughout their careers, our children will work for many diverse bosses.  As a result, they should have experience of seeing diverse people leading.  Further racial and ethnic diversity exposes children to different outlooks and thoughts, enriching our children’s education.  Perhaps less obvious, diversity tends to highlight similarities between people as much as differences.  As a result, stereotypes are broken.   

So if we agree that diversity is important, why focus on racial diversity?  Inevitably, when discussing this concept someone will comment, “There are many forms of diversity which add to the community.  Focusing on race is counterproductive and diminishes other forms of diversity.”  My response to this concern is threefold.  First is the objection correct?  We all bring diversity and enrich our environments.  However, racial diversity is critical to a community because racial diversity is visually obvious in a way that religious diversity or sexual orientation diversity is not.  

If we believe that diversity is so important why not just accept more black and Hispanic students and hire more diverse teachers? Well, as they say, it ain’t so easy.  First, our educational philosophy does not appeal to everyone, white or black.  So the pool of potential students and applicants is relatively small.  Second, our deeply ingrained custom of calling teachers by their first names strikes many African Americans as disrespectfully informal.   The rationale for that informality must be made clearly and articulately.  Finally, it is difficult to ask people to be trailblazers.  So we must create a warm and embracing school for diverse faculty and students. 

To overcome some of these obstacles, the board appointed a Diversity Committee, consisting of board members, community members and school staff.  We are currently working on crafting strategies to improve the climate for diverse faculty and students. 

Being a diverse and inclusive school is a journey.  We can always do better; we will never be perfect.  However, in a rainbow world, Duke School should have more colors shining brightly.  It will happen; but it takes work.