By DR. MARCELLE MENTOR
The Sandy Spring Friends School (SSFS) is a private, affluent Quaker school just outside of Baltimore, Maryland. They have a predominantly white faculty and staff, but at least 50% of their student population across middle and high school are of color, and includes an international student population with students from the East and Africa. The school’s administration has been eager to have the demographics of their student population reflected in their teaching faculty, as well as across their administrative staff. To address this, they began the process of examining their current hiring practices.
When I was initially approached to tackle this work, I was excited — not only do I have experience with anti-bias and anti-racist training, but I was happy to be focusing this work specifically for hiring and the hiring committee of the school. Studies have shown that hiring committees are often implicitly biased when in comes to broadening a homogenous group of staff members. Though we logically understand the need to make a staff more diverse, our implicit bias often prevents us from doing that, and as a result, impacts the hiring process. However, when we are aware of the way implicit bias works, we can take deliberate steps to check ourselves and our colleagues as we move forward.
Working around issues of race and bias is by no means easy. Sandy Springs Friends School stands out as an example for schools who want to deliberately and fastidiously address some very hard and painful truths about themselves — both as individuals, and as an organization that upholds the pillars of a rich, traditional Quaker value system.
Interrupting and reducing bias requires that we learn how to pause, slow down, and be more mindful in how we make decisions and relate to others (or those that we perceive to be "the other"). Finding a new place, a better place on race (and other forms of difference) does not require a lot of money. But it will require time, internal motivation, and sustained practice in order to form new individual and organizational habits.
Here are some initial steps to take:
Across two separate visits to the Sandy Springs campus, we examined what internal, personal bias looks like by reviewing current research, as well as what other schools or educational institutions are grappling with. This information allowed us to begin a plan of action that would benefit the team at SSFS, which included concrete steps that administrators could take to begin improving hiring practices at the school:
In just a matter of months, the faculty and administrators at SSFS made great strides in addressing this action plan. The school completed a diversity audit, which revealed some hard truths about the community. Focus groups reports strongly suggested that students — especially boys — of color felt marginalized at the school. The same was true for students and staff of the LGBTQi population. Teachers of color reported that they felt unfairly burdened by the need to step in an explain racial situations and struggles. International students felt that they did not have any representation in the staff on the school dormitories. Clearly, there were many places that needed attention.
You may be overwhelmed by all of these layers and may be wondering how to begin the work of addressing hard truths in your community. My answer to that would be: start with yourself. Slow, steady, and continued work will be the most effective.