Diversity & Inclusion: Lessons Learned

As Head of School, I’ve spent a lot of time over the years reflecting on where we are in terms of diversity and inclusion in our community. I am encouraged by the progress we have made, but to be candid, we would not be in the position we are today if not for a few missteps and many valuable lessons learned. To mark Global Diversity Awareness month this October, I’m sharing three pivotal moments that proved invaluable in forcing us to raise the bar in terms of diversity and inclusion at Shipley.

#1: Listen to the students.

A year ago we held our annual February All School Assembly focused on diversity and celebrating Black History Month, and to be blunt, we failed; we did not achieve our stated goals. The reason we failed was communication. There was a misconception from the faculty about what our students thought was important to see, and the students didn’t play as big of a role as they should have in putting together the presentation. It was a missed opportunity, and our students thankfully didn’t hesitate to let us know. They came to us with what they thought was important, and we let them take the reins on future assemblies and events related to race.

This year the students put together the Black History Month assembly, and the result was one of the most impressive presentations I’ve seen in my 27 years. The event focused on the stories of our black students, and each student one who spoke had a compelling and important story. One of the students shared his story about where he lives and that before attending Shipley, he interacted only with people of color. He explained what it was like to be forced outside of his comfort zone in coming to Shipley and what he’s learned from this experience. As a result, his classmates had a greater understanding of him and his experience as a person and a black man in America.

Bottom line: always listen to your students’ feedback, especially if it’s criticism.

#2: Don’t ever perceive that you have it right or, no matter how well you think you are doing, you can always do better.

One truth about our collective work in diversity is that we are never done. While I am proud of the progress we have made relative to the percentage of students of color at Shipley we must delve more deeply into the student experience. We have had a group of colleagues investigating Social and Cultural Identifiers (SCIs), and we have learned a lot about factors that influence our students’ experiences over a broad swath of SCIs. We are continually learning how important and how difficult it is to have the tough conversations that are necessary to move us forward as a community.

Of particular importance has been the development of a course on race in America. As our student body became more diverse and we continued our commitment to creating a welcoming community for all, it became evident there needed to be an academic piece of the conversation. After long conversations about how we were failing students in this way, two teachers developed “Race and Ethnicity in America” in 2015 in order to ensure our students are exposed to different voices and learn about the experiences of all the people who make the United States the country it is.

#3: If you keep focused on what is right and best for students, they, and the School, will thrive.

This may sound overly simple, but when I reflect on Shipley’s greatest strides in the area of diversity and inclusion over time, they have been grounded in considering what is best for an individual (or group of) students. Our initial work related to Gender and Sexuality Diversity was the result of discussions about the experiences of individual students and how we could best support their growth and success as individuals. Likewise, the revival of the Black Student Union was also essential to ensuring all of our students feel welcomed and engaged on a personal level.

At Shipley, we have found that if you focus on the wellbeing and success of students as you address these larger issues of diversity and inclusion, students and the School will thrive.

To learn more about Diversity and Inclusion at Shipley, visit our website.

About the Author

Steve Piltch

From 1992-2019, Steve Piltch led Shipley with enthusiasm, dedication and humility. In doing so, he has inspired those around him to always seek to improve and to find what is in the best interest of the Shipley community. With that generous philosophy at the heart of his work, Steve served the school through an era full of change, growth and stability, looking towards the future—always with the welfare of Shipley students in mind.