Making the Hidden Visible: The Lived Experience of DEIJ Practitioners in Independent Schools

By Sudipti Kumar, Director of Research

On May 4th, EXPLO Elevate released our latest research report. 

The report, Making the Hidden Visible: The Lived Experience of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) Practitioner at Independent Schools, can be downloaded here:

Download Report

Below, I share the inspiration for writing the report and some other personal insights.


After attending the 2020 NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC) for the first time in my life, I was struck by the transformative energy in the space, even though it was virtual.

The chat box was lit up with people reconnecting and affirming one another, affinity spaces felt both personal and honest even without me knowing anyone there, and I could practically feel a collective sigh of relief to be together, even as I watched via my laptop, in my room, alone. As I had already sensed, and people have told me since, my experience will be even more awe-inducing when I attend in-person. 

The impetus for writing this piece comes from that experience, and some of the sessions I attended, which were perhaps a few of the most powerful and inspirational talks I have ever had the opportunity to hear. I left both excited and with so many questions. As someone who has worked mostly in public and charter school spaces all her life, I wanted to understand what it was like to be a diversity practitioner at an independent school – what helps and what doesn’t? What was the role like before the national outpouring of “needing to do more” post the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery? What was it like after? How do practitioners feel supported, or not? Are there key themes across different practitioners’ experiences informing how we support DEIJ work across independent schools? 

When I looked at the data, I was even more ready to spend time on this research, and I had more questions. Across all independent schools, 31% of students identify as students of color. Yet, 69% of schools don’t have a dedicated DEI coordinator at all. As independent schools continue to prioritize representation and focus on student equity, inclusion, and belonging, what does the work look like to support these students in what are still Predominantly White Institutions (PWI)? How does it feel to be a practitioner, likely a person of color, working in a PWI? 

My questions led to a series of interviews with over 30 practitioners and administrators in independent schools. I am so grateful for the opportunity to hear directly from these individuals who shared poignant stories about how they came into the work and the opportunities and challenges they face daily. I hope that this piece, which aggregates themes from my interviews and provides many individual quotations from conversations, provides insight that can support the practitioners and the DEIJ work more broadly. I leave you with one quotation below, and I have to say that every time I re-read the quotations in the report, I am reminded of the difficult but vital nature of DEIJ work at independent schools and the thoughtful, loving, and kind people who take it on.

“You have to be the voice in a room who has to pull the group discussion from the comfortable to the uncomfortable. And it can be draining. And I also think if you’re someone who needs to hear, ‘you’re doing a great job’ – that never happens. You are the problem-solving person, and no one comes to tell you, ’oh my gosh, thank you for helping us to make that great decision’ – that doesn’t happen. So I think self-care is very important to make sure that in the midst of doing all of these things, you have a sense of just who you are and what you need.”

 – Interviewee Quote

 

If you do have the opportunity to read the piece, please feel free to reach out to me and share any thoughts or comments at skumar@explo.org. Your feedback is so appreciated. 

 

Download Report

 

We wish to thank First Republic Bank for its generous support of EXPLO Elevate.