Five Questions to Consider on Your DEI Journey
The following is the primary content from a session presented by Ann Snyder (CASE) and Christine Pina (Miss Porter’s School) from January, 2021.
During the past 10 months, we have all been called to account for our institutional and personal practices, behaviors, and attitudes as we contend with what Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI, or EDI, depending on where you live) truly mean. While decades have been spent examining how to become more inclusive and progressive in our schools’ curricula, too little attention has been paid to how our external offices play a significant role in this important work. CASE has put out several important resources that we recommend you become familiar with, and here are five key considerations we hope you’ll consider workshopping with your advancement team at your school.
Do you begin at the beginning?
The relationship you have with families of color should begin right at the beginning. Is it part of your practice to reach out to BIPOC families before the first day of school? As part of the “hand-off” from admissions, advancement has an opportunity to build a relationship with families of color right from the start. Your families of color deserve to feel as comfortable in your community as anyone else. To achieve that, we recommend sending a welcome letter along with an invitation to a special reception before the start of school. To achieve equity, you may need to work harder with your new families of color to ensure they have a warm welcome. If you have an affinity group for families of color, include that group in formulating the message and the welcome process, and ask the chair of that group to co-sign the welcome letter with the CAO and Head of School.
How are you telling your school’s story?
It’s time to think differently about our visual presence and storytelling in independent school marketing and communications. For years we have worked tirelessly to create a tableau of diverse faces in Harvard and Yale sweatshirts to convey that not only is our school diverse, but full of highly intelligent students whose friend groups casually include one black student, one Asian student, one blond, white child, and one mixed race student. The problem with these carefully curated photos is that they aren’t authentic. Our schools are full of colorful, happy faces doing amazing things every day. Don’t be afraid to show kids as they are. Include photos that authentically convey the diversity at your school. Both your donors and your prospective families will prefer authenticity to staged diversity. If your school does not yet have enough diversity to constitute an authentically diverse photo, then there are bigger issues at play that you’ll need to consider while marketing the school.
Do your events honor and attract the widest audiences possible?
When your school hosts a fundraising or engagement event, do you attract the widest audience possible? Do your families and alumni of color generally attend? If you struggle to engage your whole constituency, ask yourself whether the event location might be affecting turnout. Many clubs with high price tags and impressive names, for example, didn’t allow people of color as members until fairly recently. Some families of color will not feel comfortable in that setting.
If an alum or parent typically hosts the event at such a venue, consider asking them politely to move to a more neutral (if just as up-scale, if that’s the goal) location. Most people willing to host the event will be highly engaged with the school and its efforts to foster belonging; they will be understanding and willing to help if you bring them into the conversation.
As you explore your event strategy, don’t forget to call families of color who RSVP, but who don’t show up. Ask them why they didn’t attend and how you can do better in the future to ensure they’ll come. It will make them feel valued and give you important information at the same time.
Do you know who your “firsts” are?
As a school, have you identified who your “firsts” are in key demographics? When your school was integrated, who were the first students of color? Are they still living? Do you engage them now? What about your first out LGBTQ student(s), or even your first women or first men (if you were a single gender school in the past)? Do you have a program to honor and celebrate these individuals? What about preserving their stories? Your alumni and your current students and families will appreciate the preservation and careful engagement of these stories in the community. Go beyond simply asking your first black alum to give an address at the MLK event on campus. Ensure that you are authentically engaging your “firsts” in areas of school life and seeking both their input and their elevation as key stakeholders (if they are still living). Most importantly, if their experience at the school wasn’t a good one, seek reconciliation and ask how the school can do better today.
Do you assume that every family or constituent has the capacity to give?
As an advancement team, do you assume that every family, every alumna(us) has the ability to make a financial contribution to the school? If you have ever assumed that your families of color can’t give, or are on financial aid, simply because of their skin color, please explore that assumption. It’s staggering to hear comments from school professionals that go something like this, “We want to increase diversity on our board, but how do I do that and also put big donors on the board?” The offensive assumption embedded within that statement is that people of color don’t have capacity to give. We know there is wealth within our communities of color, and it would be statistically unlikely for none of that wealth to have made it to your school. What is the true picture of wealth in your community vs. what we may have imagined it to be based on an outdated set of ideas of independent school admission and financial aid practices?
We encourage you to begin thinking about your advancement and external affairs program differently. These are just some guidelines, and we could fill pages and pages with additional perspectives. Please visit CASE’s other DEI/DEIB resources for more information and to engage in the important work we all must do.
About the author(s)
Ann Snyder is the director of independent and international schools at CASE.
Christine began her career as an admissions officer at Dartmouth College, where she focused on first-generation and student of color recruitment. After earning her Ed.M. in Administration, Planning and Social Policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), she transitioned to educational fundraising, working as a major gifts officer at The Madeira School in McLean, Virginia, and her secondary school alma mater, St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. A Connecticut resident since 2002, she returned to higher education as the director of major gifts at her college alma mater, Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where she oversaw the major gifts, planned giving and prospect research functions. In November of 2011, Christine became the vice president of institutional advancement at the University of Hartford, where she and her team grew the philanthropic and engagement program.
Christine loves working, once again, in an all-girls’ school as the chief advancement officer at Miss Porter’s School. Though a native of Cape Cod, most weekends you can find Christine and her husband Alex sitting in a very cold rink where they watch their goaltender son Arthur play hockey.