Race is yet one of the thousands of possible unique identifiers that contribute to our diversity as individuals, says Antonio da Veiga Rocha, the new director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Providence Country Day School. To serve students well and maximize learning outcomes, teachers must recognize the many differences among today's diverse student body, he argues.
"We are not simply one thing. We, as individuals, are made up of a thousand things. If I, the teacher, approach you as only one, that's the biggest mistake I can make, with any youth," says Rocha.
With Rocha's appointment in August, PCD continues to deliver on its commitment to building an inclusive school community. The expanded focus on diversity and inclusion follows a national trend among schools in secondary education that are increasingly enacting new diversity initiatives to prepare students better both academically and for life after college. New this year, Rocha and other PCD leaders are working to establish an office of diversity, incorporate safe spaces as part of the faculty-student advisory program, and introduce a series of new school-wide workshops and guest speakers on topics related to equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Establishing safe spaces is imperative for school communities today, says Rocha. "We are doing it to maximize our communities' learning possibilities and outcomes and to strengthen our mission's call to inspire lives of engaged citizenship. We will never remove the rigor of debate and sound argumentation from our settings, but we will be more conscious of the wider human experience in every topic we deliberate."
While much of Rocha's work will be guiding respectful and productive discussions among students, he believes fostering a safe and inclusive learning community presents a unique opportunity for faculty to understand the needs of their students better.
"All of our students come to school every day with different backgrounds and experiences. Students with visible and invisible disabilities; students that have undergone trauma in their past; students that may have emotional distress. In a truly safe and inclusive school culture, all those components must come into the class with the student," he says. "This requires more of the educator. We can no longer come to class and teach it the same way it was taught before. To teach and transmit the lesson as effectively as possible, we must not dismiss the individuality of our students."