Monday, August 20, 2012

Diversity Matters

It's too obvious of a statement to say that my new job is different from my old one. Of course it is--I'm in a new role, a new city, a new type of school and district, a new set of educational priorities, and a whole host of other things. I switched jobs precisely because I wanted something different. But there's a difference that I keep noticing that I didn't really think about when searching for a new job or when I accepted the position: there are so many more people of color in my new workplace.

I noticed it at our first math department meeting: out of the five teachers, only one was white. I noticed a similar ratio of white people sitting around that table at a district level team meeting today. At a district-wide leadership institute two weeks ago, the presenters were all black women and the among the participants, teacher leaders and administrators, the people of color far out numbered the white people. And there's diversity in the people of color. There are black people, Latinos, and Asians of various ethnic origin. There are people who are non-native English speakers, people born and raised in the city, and immigrants to the U.S. As I've been sitting in meetings and trainings, at least once a day I look around and realize just how many brown people I'm surrounded by. 

And it feels amazing. 

I don't know exactly how to explain why it feels so good to be around so many other people of color. My last school wasn't completely lacking people of color, but there was a very white feeling to the environment. Again, I don't know exactly how to explain it. But something feels really powerful now to be around people who look like me, especially when those people are leaders and administrators. Maybe it's the role modeling of "they did it, so can I." Maybe it's a numbers game that reduces stereotype threat. Maybe it's the physical representation of the district's acceptance of multiple points of view. Maybe it's the fact that my students are much more likely to have a teacher who they can relate to on a racial, ethnic, or cultural level. Or maybe it's that sometimes I need a space where I'm around other people who I don't have to convince that race plays an instrumental role in shaping our daily lives. 

Interestingly, although no one has mentioned race or diversity (in the context of the work environment), I already feel supported as a person of color in my new workplace, something I definitely would not have said at my last job. I wonder what's making that happen, and if the presence of other people of color is enough on its own. That presence definitely makes it easier, but I have trouble believing that's the whole story, in part because I believe that there are ways that a demographically all-white work environment could still be supportive of me as a person of color. I need to think more until I can come up with a more definitive statement of what's going on, but in the meantime I'll leave it at this: I love my new job. 

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