Op-Ed: DEI is here to Stay. You can’t ignore issues away

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By Anjy Cramer

May 1, 2024

While right wing actors use DEI as a wedge issue to destroy K-12 public schools and higher education in general, there is less engagement about what DEI exactly is, and why it has been implemented in K-12 settings.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is a paradigm that acknowledges that every community member is entitled to dignity and space to exist. DEI departments work to maintain a civilized school and organizational culture celebrating differences. This equips students to access learning, making them more likely to succeed academically; while enabling teachers to best support students.

DEI creates the opportunity where all can thrive in an increasingly interconnected world. A global society that is empathetic and can think critically about issues from different understandings can only benefit the greater good.

What exactly does “DEI” stand for?

Op-Ed: DEI is here to Stay. You can’t ignore issues away

But Why Do We Need School-Based DEI Departments?

DEI staff synergizes efforts between departments to foster achievement for all students. It would be difficult for even one person to undertake such an assignment holistically.

DEI departments work with:

Human Resources

DEI encompasses not just students, but also with hiring diverse staff. Representation matters; and having role models that embody students’ own realities can foster aspirations for their own futures.

Exposure to diverse educators of all backgrounds helps ALL students develop interpersonal skills, emotional maturity, and empathy towards others. Challenging preconceptions about others and thinking deeply about the communities they live in builds critical thinking skills as they engage with different perspectives.

Professional Development

A central role of DEI departments is to conduct staff training to help them reflect on their own implicit biases. Many teachers/staff do not feel comfortable talking about systemic issues like race and feel unequipped when they must address it in the moment to students. And it should not be incumbent on marginalized staff to always have to explain their own oppression to others.

Academic Support

Why do mostly resource-poor Black, Brown, English Learners (ELs) and disAbled students underperform? Called the opportunity gap, systems need to understand why their schools consistently fail these children and measure how their test scores change over time. Many divisions have now implemented online “dashboards” to maintain accountability.

Often, these students need further academic support. Some examples include Special Education or EL programs that target specific students for additional individualized services.

DEI departments also work with instructional teams to ensure the system procures and maintains culturally responsive, unbiased curricula that reflect all student experiences.

School Climate

School climate refers to a classroom’s physical attributes (e.g., is it inviting and uncluttered; is the child-to-teacher ratio ideal for learning); as well as emotional spaces (i.e., do students “feel safe” with adults and peers in the school setting). Both factors intersect with the academic rigor each system expects students to meet.

School climate informs the need for trauma informed care and socio-emotional learning in classrooms. Emotional regulation, the ability to make and sustain peer-based friendships within the school setting and feeling confident in oneself enough to *learn* facilitates successful academic outcomes.

Community Learning

Many DEI departments develop public seminars related to marginalized people’s experiences within the system, and in response to tumultuous current events. It creates spaces for sustained discussions among the wider community.

Other School-Based Considerations

Schools have become institutions that go beyond just mere instruction. Everything that affects communities enters the classroom… including substance abuse, violence, and poverty. For many students, their school is their primary source of food, health and mental care. DEI works with specialized student support staff, such as counselors, psychologists and mental health specialists to provide appropriate family-based wrap-around services.

DEI Supports Success for Every Student

For those who oppose DEI: Differentiation between students is not only academic, but also of marginalization. And reverting to the same (privileged) lens to solve structural issues… where has that left us? The same children who have always fallen behind (even before the COVID-19 pandemic) continue to fail. How will privatization of one of the last public goods bring those scores up?

And why is “merit” brought up when Black and Indigenous people ascend to leadership positions, while for the truly privileged are just assumed they are qualified when they reach the top? (Even with low test scores)?

The naysayers actually don’t want success for all children. They only want to hoard all the limited resources for their own.

And as for school systems who embrace DEI, it must be more than just words. Can your system state unequivocally that its DEI policies help your most marginalized students? If not, it’s just a performative exercise without action. Your students deserve better.

DEI is Civil Rights. Centering marginalized children and staff within your systems will only buoy the rest of us.

  • Anjy Cramer

    Anjy Cramer has a Certification in Cultural Competency, a precursor to DEI from the University of Missouri. Her child attends Arlington Public Schools (VA). Previously, she wrote a blog entitled Look Beyond SROs for Safe Schools for 4 Public Education; en Spanish, Los SRO no son la Solución para Tener Escuelas Seguras.

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