Who feels included when we use the word “diversity”? Whom are we talking about? Dr. Derrick Gay posed these questions to our students during our all-school meeting this week. Dr. Gay is one of the leading strategists and thinkers around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) work in independent schools around the world, and his work extends deeply into the corporate and non-profit sectors as well, from Barilla to Sesame Street. 

In response to his question, students offered that when we typically think and talk about “diversity” or a “diverse person,” we are referring to people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, people from a lower socioeconomic status, religious minority groups, or other often-marginalized populations. That framing appropriately recognizes the ongoing challenges of individual bias and systemic impediments to equity in our society. But it also – students shared – sometimes has the effect of pushing away or discouraging engagement from people who don’t see themselves reflected in that definition of “diversity.” 

Dr. Gay offers, instead, a common-language understanding of the word. Any one individual cannot be diverse, as the term only makes sense when referring to a group. And given the reality that we all come with complex identities and perspectives, we all contribute to the diversity of the communities we find ourselves in. I have known and worked with Dr. Gay for many years, and one of the things I appreciate most about his approach to this critical, difficult, and sometimes polarizing work is his insistence that DEIB includes everybody; it is the only way it can be successful. The work starts with each of us – understanding our own identities and the influences that have shaped our worldview, for good and for ill. From that common starting point, we can each find ways to celebrate the diversity of our communities and work together to do the hard but indispensable work of making our communities more inclusive and equitable. That framing informs our approach here at BUA, aligns with the mission and character of this community, and is, I believe, one of the keys to doing this work in an impactful, sustainable way.

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