Apr  2011 05
To Welcome Diversity

Recently I’ve been researching schools for our 4 year old daughter. One particular school had my attention. It's a Pre-K through 5th grade founded over 50 years ago. Its curriculum and facilities are impressive, and during the phone interview the admissions director said all the right things about welcoming diversity. As a non-traditional family – our daughter is adopted from Guatemala and age-wise we could be her grand-parents – finding a school that embraces diversity is important to us.   

Unfortunately, the school’s claim of welcoming diversity is not what I experienced. While I sat waiting for my interview, two of the staff began discussing a student and her family. I became uncomfortable as I heard disparaging comments about the child's parents, private details about why she had changed schools, remarks like “I feel sorry for her having a mother like that!” and mocking that “her father must be close to 60! What’s THAT about?!”  

When I stepped forward and said their conversation was making me uncomfortable, they stopped. But their comments stayed with me. The staff belittled that other family, in part, for having a characteristic of my own family. At age 56, Gary is certainly close to 60!  It was clear that other family was not welcome and I wondered about my own. I felt the embarrassed sting of a teenager wearing the wrong shoes while the “in” crowd makes fun of another kid wearing those same shoes.  

In relating the incident to the admissions director, I asked her, since I had overhear those comments from her staff, what would prevent my daughter from overhearing similar comments? To my surprise, the school's main response was to repeat that they welcome diversity. They were unable to acknowledge that my experience of hearing their staff ridicule a family, in part for being like my own, was the opposite of welcoming. I wondered, if I had overheard the staff mocking a family for being black, or gay, or Jewish, or physically challenged, would the school have simply repeated their words of welcome?  

If so, what does it mean to welcome diversity? Surely it must start with not mocking those who are different from us. And it would have to include the capacity to take stock and make changes when someone shares that they did not feel welcomed – or worse yet, they felt ridiculed or turned away. But those two steps just go to preventing or repairing damage.  

What does it mean to proactively welcome, to make room for, to celebrate and embrace, those who are not like ourselves? I’m not asking about the easy welcome we extend to the exotic variety of other, but the difficult welcome we extend to people whose beliefs or life choices we think are completely wrong, or just plain weird. Are they included in the PTS welcome of diversity? More importantly, do they feel included in our welcome? If not, then what does it mean for us to welcome diversity?



Browse more posts by: Cheri Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Admin/Staff
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