iane Nichols is WT’s first Director of Equity and Inclusion. She served in the same role for four years at Worcester Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts and for 17 years at Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Nichols is a Licensed Counselor with a B.A. in Psychology and a M.Ed. in Community Counseling, and she recently completed a certification in Organizational Leadership from UMass Dartmouth. Nichols is a trainer for the Anti-Defamation League’s World of Difference Institute, a faculty member for the National Association of Independent Schools’ (NAIS) Student Diversity Leadership Conference, and a founding faculty member of the National Diversity Practitioners Institute. Nichols has taught AP psychology, health & wellness, and several diversity seminar electives for middle and upper school students, and was a contributing author to the NAIS publication, Diversity Work in Independent Schools, the Practice and the Practitioner.
A: We have created laws and expectations that overt acts of discrimination and bias are not tolerated. But laws do not change hearts and minds—we are continually fighting to erase old tapes and to unlearn biased behavior—to see, value, and affirm multiple identities and experiences. It is important that someone, working within a structure of support, is responsible for exploring, identifying, and assessing ways in which we are providing access and opportunities for each of our students.
I like to describe the Director of Equity & Inclusion as the pea under the mattress, from the children’s book, The Princess and the Pea. The roles and responsibilities of the position are designed to create a level of discomfort within an institution—reminding us to question what we are doing, how we are doing it, and who are we hearing, supporting, and speaking to in our programs, policies, and curriculum. To be inclusive and equitable in our practices, we must remain aware of our own cultural context and that of those we serve and interact with daily.
Q: How did you begin your work in equity and inclusion?
A: The “work” is an ever-evolving journey in a world of human difference. I recall waking up one day in college and realizing that my sense of “normal” was being challenged by the inequities that continue to plague our society today. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of our youth and began my professional journey as a Licensed Counselor. I have always been interested in the stories of the “other.” I entered the independent school world as a student diversity coordinator, a position designed to support the student experience, particularly for African American and low-income students.
Q: Why is it important to talk about equity and inclusion?
A: The demographics of our world, country, communities, and schools are continually changing. As educators and humans, we must develop and teach the competencies and skills needed to be culturally responsive and aware. Our students must be equipped
“Our students must be equipped with the competencies needed to navigate, interact, and engage effectively in a world of human difference.”
with the competencies needed to navigate, interact, and engage effectively in a world of human difference. This requires more than acquiring intellectual knowledge, it includes personal and practical application in our classrooms, our homes, and in daily interactions across cultures.
Q: Do the benefits of equity and inclusion extend beyond school?
A: Understanding issues of diversity and equity is no longer a choice. We are diverse; it is quantifiable, visible, and invisible. As the world flattens, our students are moving into a diverse and global experience daily. We used to play with our neighbors, those who appeared to have similar backgrounds, stories, values, and experiences. Today students have opportunities to engage with diverse individuals more and more. Those who don’t have a level of comfort and competency in engaging across different cultures will be at a disadvantage in the college process and the work force. We need to challenge ourselves to engage around difference, which should result in our understanding the structures and experiences that demonstrate the value, or lack of, placed on our identities. I tell our students in independent schools, “Don’t sit in sameness and miss the opportunities to develop the skills and competencies needed to navigate a diverse world experience. Those opportunities are available in your classrooms, clubs, curriculum, and your friendships. Don’t miss this!”