The Adversity Behind Diversity

April 12, 2019

 

Diversity means variety among people, whether it be racial, ethnic or socioeconomic. Many schools, public and independent, value diversity among their students and faculty. Diversity, especially in a learning environment, is an essential part of daily life and is crucial for an inclusive community.

“I think it is important to have a diverse school community because it prepares [students] for 'the real world,’” said Lilly Meyer, XIIIs.

City and Country School works hard to promote diversity with community gatherings, activities, and a diversity committee. Making sure that students are always happy and comfortable is something that our school constantly thinks about. Currently, C&C is reaching out to nursery schools in different parts of the city with hopes to spread the word about City and Country and increase the number of diverse applicants.

“We have been looking at preschools and trying to bring in applicants who may not know us to develop an understanding of what we do,” said Erika Greenberg, Admissions Associate at C&C.

A student’s background is definitely taken into consideration when C&C reviews applicants during the admissions process, with a goal in mind to achieve diversity. There is more opportunity for diversity in the grades, IIs and Vs, since many new kids apply for these grades. Gender, race, learning style, socioeconomic background, etc: it all plays a role in making balanced groups at City and Country.

“We do not necessarily choose a kid for racial diversity. There is a bigger picture,” said Elise Bauer, Director of Admissions.

City and Country School also strives to incorporate culture and social justice into curriculum, which leads to effective discussions regarding diversity. No matter what culture or ethnic history is studied, teachers are intentionally embedding concepts of social justice into the curriculum. Engaging discussions about history also lead to topics such as gender roles, oppression and class systems.

“One of the strengths of our school is that when groups are studying, they study in depth,” said Elise.

C&C has improved immensely over the years, gaining more diverse applicants and broadening cultural learning among students every year. In the past, the XIs used to only study the Renaissance, but now Ancient Chinese and Muslim culture is a part of their studies.

For the 2018-19 school year, 46% of new students are people of color, an increased amount compared to previous years. In 2016-17, 43% of new students were of color and in 2017-18 the number rose to 44%. Not only this, but the percentage of diversity of the entire student body increased since the 2017-18 school year. Last school year, 48% of students included people of color, same-sex families and recipients of financial aid. This year the percentage is at 53%.

“We have grown immensely. Are we where we want to be? I don't think so. The work continues. We make efforts to enrich our community with all kinds of diversity,” said Millie Cartagena, Director of Community Life, Equity and Inclusion.

However, despite City and Country’s hard work, there have been strong opinions among students in the Upper School questioning C&C’s diversity.

City and Country is not a racially and ethnically diverse school compared to other schools in New York City. Although, this is understandable, considering the expensive school tuition that some people cannot afford. This influences City and Country School’s diversity, meaning that the majority of students come from high income families.

“I think that C&C is trying to become more diverse, but the Upper School only has a total of 3 black children out of 80 children,” said Hanna Kenyatta, XIIIs.

Many students believe that there is a low population of students of color, however, there are more than people realize.

“It would seem that there is a small representation of black people but there are many mixed race students,” said Elise.

Although, Chase Holness, XIIIs, said,“The Upper School is like a pack of wonder bread, with pieces of whole wheat bread mixed in,” using a simile to create a picture of C&C’s diversity in her perspective.

This can be a problem for some students who feel excluded or uncomfortable as one of the only people of a certain cultural background among their peers. It can be difficult to express feelings and experiences, with the fear that nobody will understand them.

“When I first came to C&C, I felt weird about it. I was the only black kid in my class and I felt like teachers did not know how to approach me. Sometimes, I feel uncomfortable wearing my hair out because I feel everyone is staring at me. Topics that have anything to do with black oppression make me feel uncomfortable,” said Chase.

Also, some students feel that certain cultures are not celebrated enough at City and Country.

For several years, towards the middle of January, C&C has its annual Martin Luther King assembly, that honors Dr. King and all of his accomplishments throughout his life. Everyone gathers in the Rhythms Room and participates in singing songs. However, the impact of the MLK assembly and whether it truly celebrates black history could be argued.

“For the MLK assembly, I think we should have a more direct and meaningful celebration opposed to merely singing songs,” said Gitana Savage, XIIIs.

Millie countered this and said, “The MLK assembly had many different formats, and it took different shapes in the past. The Middle/Upper School faculty had many discussions about the MLK assembly. What was decided by faculty was that singing as a community was a way to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That was the goal of the assembly: to gather as a community and to celebrate Dr. King.”

There has been a suggestion thrown around on how to fix this problem of “not enough diversity”: affinity groups. Affinity groups are gatherings of people who share a special bond because of a common background. With affinity groups, thoughts on controversial current events and difficult experiences could be shared in a safe space. At City and Country, there are affinity groups for faculty only, but it turns out that there have been ethnic affinity groups for students in the past. Why did this change? Millie said not enough students were attending the groups.

“We did have a student of color affinity group for the Upper School. This year, for many reasons, I have not been able to facilitate those gatherings. I will be sending a letter to Upper School families during Spring Break. We will begin the gatherings after we come back from break,” said Millie. We are still waiting to hear about student affinity groups at City and Country.

According to a Harvard Graduate School of Education research story, due to a lack of diversity, many students who are not exposed to it are not able to envision the struggles and desires of people who vastly differ from them. In other words, because a student is constantly surrounded by people just like them, the student never thinks about the disparate perspectives of different people.

“At C&C we've begun to make the connection that a school is balanced and includes people from different racial, socio-economic and gender backgrounds creates a space that is dynamic, innovative and high performing and prepares students for the new world of work. We want that for our school!” said Veronica Savage, a C&C parent, member of The Board of Trustees and chairwoman of the Diversity Committee.

As you think about this article, City and Country consistently works to make our school the best it can be, that includes a diverse student body. Over time, diversity has increased and, at this rate C&C will continue to flourish, not only with diversity, but as a school overall.

 

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