Reflections: “Fulfilling the Promise of Diversity”

As my time at HGSE is now nearly at a close, I find myself reflecting back often on my experiences this year, including my participation in our community conversation, “Fulfilling the Promise of Diversity.”  As an English teacher, I love reflecting through words, breaking down language and examining the meanings behind the meanings to see what broader ideas emerge.  This is the structure I’ve chosen to use to examine this year’s theme, and I hope you enjoy reflecting along with me, particularly if you’re considering coming to HGSE next year or at another point in the future.

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Diversity (n.)

1.the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.

2. the state of people who are different races or have different cultures in a group or organization

I am pleased to be able to say that I have had the chance to interact with a diversity of perspectives from my peers, the faculty and staff, and the speakers who have come to Harvard.  I have gotten to attend Askwith forums on topics such as Educational Strategies to Address Racism and Social Injustice to learn from education leaders about the lessons learned from Ferguson as well as their years engaging in an education system that still too often perpetuates racism and injustice.  I have taken classes such as Implementing Inclusive Education which have introduced me to ableism and pushed my thinking about how I make my future classrooms accessible and welcoming to all students.  I have been pushed in discussions in my Contemporary Immigration Policy and Education Practice to learn the history behind the diversity in our society and to think about how I can teach my students that history, as some of my classmates are doing by starting the first Ethnic Studies course at HGSE.  I have colleagues from a diversity of geographic locations, types of schools, languages, cultures, and interests with whom I am excited to continue relationships in the years ahead.

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Class photo after a presentation in Contemporary Immigration Policy and Educational Practice

At the same time, I know that much work still needs to be done to increase the diversity of perspectives at HGSE and our Harvard community more broadly.  I am thankful to have met other students and faculty who are working to increase the diversity of teachers, students, and perspectives at this school, and I hope their efforts continue to grow in the years to come.  As Dr. Tiffany Anderson, Superintendent of Schools in Jennings, Missouri, said at our Askwith forum, “We are interconnected, so if you don’t do well, then I don’t do well, and vice versa.”

Promise (n.)

1. a statement indicating that you will definitely do something or that something will definitely happen in the future

2. an indication of future success or improvement 

3. a reason to expect that something will happen in the future

I love that the word “promise” carries both the notion of a commitment but also of a guarantee.  I have heard it mentioned many times this year that the majority of our students will soon be students of color, or students who have in the past been labeled “minorities.”  This tells me that no matter where I teach in the future, I know that, as a white woman, I am guaranteed to teach students from a different racial or ethnic background from my own.  It also means that in this country, and, given globalization, in this world, my students are guaranteed to interact with a diversity of people and perspectives.

This guarantee is not a foreboding reality, but an “indication of future success or improvement.”  The promise of diversity is that, because of my friends at HGSE, I will be a wiser, kinder, more thoughtful teacher who better understands how to seek out the assets in my students.  I will bring information I have learned about ethnic studies from colleagues such as Cesar Cruz and how to better engage students and colleagues in conversations about race from colleagues like Tracey Benson and Veronica Benavides into my future classes.  I will be more attuned to looking for other narratives after attending so many amazing workshops at the Alumni of Color Conference.  I will be more apt to invite parents and friends and community members and student voices into my instruction because I am ever more convinced that none of us have all the answers, but the sum of all of our knowledge has more than we can each hope to learn in a lifetime.  Just as I have learned from a diversity of perspectives at HGSE, my students can, too, and that possibility — no, that promise — is thrilling to me.

Fulfilling (v.)

1. doing what is required (by a promise, contract, etc.)

2. succeeding in doing or providing (something)

3. making something (such as a dream) true or real

Fulfilling is such an enormous word; the completeness and fullness of it is reflected in the definitive wording above:  “doing,” “succeeding,” and “making.”  On the one hand, such wording can seem arrogant — can we really presume that we could “fulfill” something as grand and important as “the promise of diversity”?  Oftentimes, it feels like we have made only a drop in an ocean of a bucket.

But on the other hand, “fulfilling” expresses an incredible ambition.  HGSE is a place of ambition, but I have been thankful to observe that it is not a place of ambition for individual gain.  No, instead, the ambition I see most often is for justice, and for equity, and for the flourishing of all kids and all communities.  Given that purpose, how can we not strive to do “what is required” by the promise our kids hold inside of them?  How can we not make it our goal to succeed at recognizing the promise held within not only our students but also our colleagues and families and communities?

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The wonderful ladies who invited me into their study group this year, who embody ambition for justice and equity

 

Fulfilling the promise of diversity is a gargantuan task of the most important kind.  I’m grateful that HGSE has given me the passion to pursue this promise, and given me the amazing colleagues to walk alongside as I do.

Sarah Stuntz is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Instructional Leadership strand of the Learning and Teaching program.  As a former English teacher who plans to return to the classroom, Sarah loves learning about how literature and writing connect with adolescent development and social justice.

 

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