My role at Dana Hall is to help create community through a focus on the challenging work of equity and the necessary work of inclusion. You will hear me ask this often: “How do we keep our community whole?” It’s a question I ask myself at almost every decision-making moment in my job. How can I help solve this problem and keep the community whole? How can our solutions move us in a direction of wholeness rather than divide?
We are a group of diverse people, with many backgrounds, but we are one Dana. We are a group with a variety of opinions that reflect the complex tensions of the world, but we are attempting to remain whole and not fractured beyond repair.
I don’t usually go around quoting Oprah Winfrey, but she did say something worth repeating. Oprah said, after many years of interviewing people, that every person from the most famous and wealthy to the most humble and unknown person wanted to know the following three things:
- Can You See Me?
- Can You Hear Me?
- Does Anything I Say Mean Anything to You?
This resonated with me and reminds me of why we do what we do and how we do it. So how do we build relationships in which the answer to these questions are a resounding “Yes!”?
Do You See Me?
That might begin with knowing and pronouncing your name correctly, knowing that you are a vegetarian, which dorm you live in, that Math is your dad’s favorite subject but YOU love writing. It might mean knowing that you need a prayer space, that at home you rarely see stars at night, that you miss your baby brother, that you have never been in such a diverse environment or that things aren’t familiar in the Dining Hall yet.
Institutionally, that means asking how you identify your ethnicity, race, and cultural background. What is meaningful to you about your social identities?
Can I Hear You?
We have many people to listen and hear our students: advisors, house faculty, teachers, Forum facilitators, Dining Hall staff, and coaches. Institutionally, this means having an Equity & Incident Reporting Form. Rather than posting on social media or going to talk to a third party we invite students to “speak up” and come directly to us.
Does Anything I Say Mean Anything to You?
Absolutely YES! This actually flows from the others. This means that once we’ve seen you, and heard you, we take appropriate steps to demonstrate that what you’ve said means something to us. That we are changed by your presence and that we welcome you and your contributions to the community.
The programs and processes we have created flow from student concerns and student voices. They are developed and imagined by educators, passed on to administrators, based on seeing and hearing students say what they need.
What Else Is More Important Than Being Known?
Being known is the foundation and the requirement of all development, learning, and growth.
It is also important to share that the reason we discuss difficult topics such as racism, sexism, or colonialism, is because we can’t avoid it, but more importantly it instills hope when times are dark. For students to know that these challenges exist and that we are actively addressing them, supporting them, giving them skills to handle and cope with them, brings a sense of security. Sharing the struggles of identity-based groups and how they overcame them allows students to be inspired and respectful and hold others with reverence. If we ignore these experiences, we fundamentally ignore the realities of all our students. With intentionality, our community can visualize a path forward.
Lastly, it’s the hard work of connecting with people across boundaries that brings the most joy. It is a mutual process of giving and receiving. Of telling and hearing stories. Understanding who you are, growing into who you are, and gaining empathy for yourself and others is at the center of our why. Connecting to others is JOYFUL. Talking about the hard stuff is hard, but also full of joy, and we must not forget that.