Embracing Equity and Inclusion

By Vivek Mittal-Henkle

OES says that it needs to “strengthen a community steeped in diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racist actions”. Here’s what’s happening, how it’s going, and how you can help.

Upper School

When I think of Upper School equity and inclusion, I immediately think of the workshops like the recent one centered around headlines. These four-times-a-year spaces are organized by Josina Reeves, Upper School Equity and Inclusion Coordinator. I talked to her about her role. She said that her goal is to boaden students’ perspectives, incorporating “the issues that are part of our world that may not seem like they make our diversity thrive…If I can introduce the student body to some of those issues…that’s a win for me.”

With only four workshops per year, Josina has to choose topics wisely. “Part of it is listening to students…part of it is reading the paper, watching local news, part of it is tapping into the network of people I know.” She connects with her colleagues from her time as a diversity coordinator in New York before joining OES.

She told me that her role consists of two other core parts: supporting affinity groups and getting students to conferences.

Starting this role hasn’t been easy. The learning curve for getting up to speed with OES’s idiosyncrasies has proved difficult, as has attending conferences during the pandemic. Her short term goal is to keep pushing forward. “I’m not really looking for anything grandiose, I just want to keep the learning happening,” she said.

Despite the challenges, Josina is grateful that OESians are willing to learn with her. “It’s very nice to be in a school that feels like it’s got its head on straight to help you grow into the people the world needs you to be.”

Greater OES

At a higher level, OES Director for Equity and Inclusion Dyan Watson (Dr. DW) has been slowly building OES’s DEI presence.

Did you know that OES has a whole section of our website dedicated to outlining all of our equity and inclusion commitments? I didn’t until I talked to Dr. DW. It’s important documentation that she helped create. We can use it to help keep OES accountable.

Dr. DW said that her biggest accomplishment since taking the role, however, has been creating the position of All School Equity Coach and hiring Willow McCormick. OES teachers come to Willow for advice about both changing their curriculum to use a more inclusive lens, and dealing with instances of inequity in class.

Despite the enthusiasm, there is still work to be done, though. Dr. DW said that sometimes teachers – no matter where they teach – change their curriculum but don’t think about teaching strategies. The need to ask themselves “How do I group kids, how do I decide who to call on – what power structures in the larger society am I reinforcing in my classroom?” Grouping students for discussions and projects so that everyone is safe and can maximize their learning shows how equity and inclusion can continue to shape the classroom. When working with teachers, Dr. DW asks them to ask themselves who benefits and who doesn’t when deciding what materials to use, which strategies to employ, and what content to explore with students. 

Dr. DW has also worked to ensure departments commit to equity and inclusion action. For the upcoming implementation of the DEI strategic plan, she stated that “Each department is going to create DEI-related goals…they can’t be pie in the sky, fluffy, unactionable. They have to be measurable, functional, and have a timetable.”

Work for her, too, has been difficult at times. “All the things that aren’t right, that aren’t what we as a community desire, I want them to be different yesterday,” she said. It can be overwhelming, but equity and inclusion can be a slow and steady process.

How You Can Help

Dr. DW, Josina, Willow, and their colleagues cannot make OES equitable and inclusive on their own. I asked how students can help. Here’s what Josina and Dr. DW said:

  • Educate yourself. Learn about the racial history of Portland and Oregon
  • Support businesses owned by people of color and other minoritized populations.
  • As soon as you can, register to vote. Write letters to and call local and state representatives. They are obligated to answer!

We also must keep in mind that as OES community members, we are responsible for upholding our commitments. Dr. DW emphasizes OES’s utilizing its ‘power for good’.

“We’ve got to reexamine what it means to use our power for good. How are we actually using our power for good? Are we just being paternalistic and taking on a savior mentality, or are we really partnering with folks who are doing good and saying ‘What do you need? What do you want? How can we help?’”

We must keep asking ourselves these questions. There’s a long road ahead, but as students, you are powerful. We are powerful. Dr. DW said it best:

“I can’t think of a positive social movement that wasn’t led by youth, so it has to be you…don’t shy away from that call and don’t be discouraged because if it isn’t you, it’s not going to happen.”

Image Credit: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

References“Our Commitment to Justice.” OES, OES, https://www.oes.edu/aboutoes/dei/justice.