Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Diversity: Challenges and Accomplishments of the OES Community by Janine K.



I choose each word carefully, hesitant of hitting any nerves. But I soon realized that any good discussion, let alone an interview, circulating around diversity must break down uncomfortable barriers. Fearful of offending others, I am not well practiced in doing so. Few people are, which is precisely the purpose of the Student Diversity Leadership (SDLC) and People of Color Conference (PoCC). Four students attended SDLC while two faculty members participated in the PoCC this past year in Huston, Texas. Each attendee noted the educational value in the visit, and hope to use new knowledge and experiences to shape the OES community. And this shaping, this evolution, which our community is slowly undertaking, will evoke spectacular benefits. Nathan F., an attendee of SDLC describes the feeling of inclusion and acceptance remarkable and irreplaceable.

        Marketing and Communications at OES has not only contemplated this issue, but has already acted upon its instincts. The result: a trendsetting department that has become a frontrunner in increasing diversity within the faculty and student body. “My job is to share and celebrate the diversity that is here amongst ourselves and to others,” Marty Jones being the Director of Marketing and Communications said with pride. And it shows. Jones has single handedly changed the way OES perceives itself and therefore appears to prospective families. One of the most pivotal moments for Jones was the development of the OES Magazine, which sported the face of a young student from Southern Asia. This decision may seem trivial, but in reality it revolutionized the direction of our community. Jones knew it as soon as he received a phone call from a colleague in the Lower School who recounted how she burst into tears of joy upon seeing the cover.
        Moving forward, the Marketing and Communications Department at OES hopes to stick to their new formula, which according to Jones is “to remain authentic” and to “share the good news of the school” by advertising the diversity that is present here on campus. However, what few know is the economic power the community, more specifically this department alone, has on empowering diversity without the Portland area. Marketing and Communications intentionally does business with qualified women, minorities, and alums. “I’m really proud of that,” Jones explains as he describes how supporting diversity makes a statement. 
Many students have been exposed to diversity education through Culture Shock, an event hosted the Intercultural Student Association every Spring. Through this event, students explore issues surrounding diversity and being an ally to those struggling with identity conflicts. This event has been wildly successful, with participation numbers astronomically rising every year. With this idea in mind, the OES Administration has decided to focus energy upon Intercultural Competence, by working with the Intercultural Development Curve.  Jordan Elliott, head of the Upper School, explained that the goal of the faculty and staff is to be “effective in communicating with people from different cultural backgrounds.” This particular approach is necessary because “cultural competence is a skill, not an identity,” Elliott explained. Faculty members were tested on their “effectiveness in communicating,” through an online test. The results showed that the community fell in the minimization category. According to Elliott, through training and teaching, the hope is to advance on the scale and working towards mastery of the ultimate goal, “making a school inclusive.”
        In the long run this testing and skill set training will affect the student body, but another more direct way students will be affected by diversity encouragement is through upcoming changes and adjustments in curriculum. The English Department is currently in a discussion circulating around class texts in relation to diversity. The department is pondering how our perceptions of diversity are affected, and what cultures are being represented through the studies of specific texts. AlanKaholokula, who attended the People of Color Culture Conference herself, sat down with me in room 81 to talk diversity.
        Alana personally found the conference extremely moving and especially enjoyed the affinity groups. These meetings of groups of people who identify similarly ethnically are a great place for people to discuss issues with people similar to themselves. This same technique is popular amongst conferences and meetings that discuss diversity, and is employed at OES’s very own culture shock. Nathan F., a current sophomore in the Upper School, also spoke to the benefit of these affinity groups. “It’s amazing,” Nathan says. This warmth, this strength, in diversity and acceptance, is growing, and clearly it will continue to spread throughout our community.

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