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What Does “Equity and Inclusion” Mean at Independent Schools?

As independent schools increase their efforts to develop student bodies and faculty that are more representative of society at large, they are also applying new frameworks to discuss and implement this vital work.

Parents may be most familiar with “diversity” as a word used to describe the range of backgrounds within a school’s student or faculty populations. One challenge with this word is that it is often interpreted as a quality that someone either has, or does not have. As a result, there can be a perception that some people benefit from diversity initiatives more than others. Another difficulty is that diversity is often measured in numbers; for example what percentage of a student body are students of color. While increased enrollment of traditionally underrepresented groups is a critical step towards the goals that diversity serves, sheer numbers cannot speak to the experiences students have at independent schools.

Increasingly, schools are using the framework of “equity and inclusion” to promote a culture in which all students feel affirmed to be their full selves. Integration of this framework can impact pedagogy, curricula and co-curricular programs, and school routines. Initiatives range from tweaking dining hall menus, to social-emotional curriculum about respecting differences, to affinity groups in which students come together around common interests to support each other. At the Enrollment Management Association’s recent annual conference, multiple sessions were devoted to applying this framework to the admissions process.

Dr. Derrick Gay, an international leader in this field, gave a dynamic keynote presentation at the EMA conference. Dr. Gay was a teacher and administrator in independent schools before becoming a consultant to schools, businesses, and arts and philanthropic organizations. In a TEDx talk he describes the ultimate goal of this work as excellence and equity. He says:

“We strive to foster a society so that no matter who you are—no matter where you come from, no matter what you have or don’t have, no matter whom you love, or whom you worship or choose not to worship—that you can, quite simply, flourish. I strongly believe that everyone should have the opportunity to participate in these initiatives and I am strongly committed to the idea that everyone benefits from these initiatives.”

As educational consultants, we are delighted to see growing diversity and inclusivity on independent school campuses. Recognizing and honoring each student as a unique individual is at the core of the work we do The Bertram Group. The equity and inclusion framework can help students build cultural competency while also strengthening their own sense of identity. It benefits everyone by valuing what different perspectives add to a community.

Cammie Bertram, founder and president of The Bertram Group, is highly respected within the educational community for her dedication to helping families accomplish their educational goals. She has more than twenty-five years of experience assisting students through both traditional and therapeutic advising at junior, secondary school, and college levels. She can be reached at  cammie@thebertramgroup.com