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PD Welcomes Tyrone Jean as Director of Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging

Tyrone Jean joined Providence Day School in July 2021 as the new Director of Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) from higher education and will lead PD in the advancement of a strategic vision for equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Prior to joining the PD community, Jean was the Assistant Dean of Students and Director at Elon University’s Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity Education. In that role, he served students, faculty, and staff by providing visionary leadership, strategic thinking, and content expertise in the areas of race, ethnicity, and diversity education. He led university-wide educational workshops and equity initiatives in fulfillment of Elon’s strategic plan. But most importantly, he worked to create a community of belonging for all students. He believes strongly in being able to meet people where they are and assists them in creating pathways for development. He possesses a deep philosophical understanding that DEI is a shared responsibility within a school community.

Prior to his work at Elon, Jean was at Duke University, where he was the Associate Director at the Center for Multicultural Affairs. Before that, he was the Assistant Dean in Duke’s Housing, Dining, and Residential Life Office. He holds a B.A. from the University of Virginia and an M.A. Ed from Virginia Tech. He is a national speaker and presenter and is a trained DEI professional. He serves on the National Advisory Council of the National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in Higher Education and is an alumnus of the Social Justice Training Institute.

My title is Director of Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, but my greatest titles are father and husband. My wife Isabel, we’ve been married for six years. We have two kids; Mateo is three years old and Micaela is five months old [at this writing]. So, they are my everything, my world, and I do everything for them. I often reference my family because that identifies who I am as a person. I’m a family man first, but I’m also deeply passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion and spent my entire career working in the higher education sector with DEI.

My passion really comes from personal experience. I grew up in a predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood and my high school was very diverse, with probably 80% students of color from different ethnic backgrounds. From there I went to UVA which was a huge cultural shift for me because, for the first time, I was in a predominantly White environment.

I was able to witness and observe my experiences and exposure to racism at that time in my life. I couldn’t make sense of that at 18 years old – I couldn’t understand why it was happening – so I spent my college years trying to search for and understand the ways in which identity shapes human understanding and interaction. I ended up switching majors about five times before landing in African American studies and I stayed in that because I felt like the material and the coursework spoke to me, spoke to humanity, and allowed me to engage in skills that it brought out of me.

I had this thirst for knowledge and thirst for truth that I started to pay attention to when I was in college and that has been the driving force – that hunger for truth – in my pursuit to do DEI work professionally and make my career out of it. For me, DEI work is more of a calling. This is how I plan to leave my mark on the world.

I’ve been working in higher education for the past 15 years and I’ve learned that working with students really is about asking the right questions and sometimes guiding them to answers that lie within. In my own K-12 experience I often got asked the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up? Who do you want to be?” As a young child, I wanted to be a lawyer – it was my No. 1 pursuit – and I always said it but I never questioned why I wanted to be a lawyer. That is, until I had some experiences in college where I did an internship with a lawyer and he would ask me questions about why I wanted to pursue law as a career. We had conversations about his over commitment to his work and under commitment to his family and there was a values realignment for me.

His level of questioning never left me or escaped me, so in my interactions with students, I think, what if we ask different questions to kids at a younger age? Not about who do you want to be or what do you want to be as a professional when you grow up, but what problems do you want to solve in the world? That sort of shift in thinking allowed me to ask that question to college-aged students.

At that point, I realized that college-aged students had to engage in so much unlearning at the collegiate level before they could engage in the relearning process. They came to us having preconceived notions of who they thought they were, or there was a misalignment between who they wanted to be and who their parents wanted them to be, and that sometimes created conflict for what they wanted to pursue as a career. I met a lot of students who were really oriented toward social justice, toward humanity, and they were receiving messages from their parents that they should go into finance, medicine, or law but it was not congruent for them.

This led me to wonder what it would be like to work at an institution where you could ask the question at a much younger age. My hope and my goal are not to have people major in humanities and social sciences, my goal and hope are that students can think differently about problem-solving and then enter the collegiate world asking a different set of questions. That may impact what they major in, if they combine majors and minors, what programs they pursue, what clubs and social things they do, and that has a greater impact on the world.

I’ve thought about my transition from higher education to K-12 as an opportunity to work with younger students and have an influence on an institution where we are looking at problem-solving at the K-12 level. We are developing their DEI lens so they can understand that there are inequities out there in the world that they may not experience in their own community but they do have a social responsibility, which is part of the mission of Providence Day.

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My role is evolving. One thing to note is that DEI work at PD has been in existence for 20+ years and it has evolved in every year that it’s been in existence. My role as I view it is to lead the institution and provide a strategic vision of where we are going while honoring where we have been. I think Dr. Nadia Johnson [director of DEI at PD from 2016-21] did a phenomenal job of outlining and detailing where we have been and it’s my job to inherit that and take it to the next level for grades TK-12, along with our alumni via Alumni Fostering Inclusion, Respect, and Multiculturalism (AFIRM), as well as our larger community..

I hope to provide a strategic framework for how we move forward around this and make sure that we are focused and on track with what we committed to. There’s a lot of terminology in DEI work that people get lost in, but at the core of it we are trying to transform the hearts of people. So many terms – diversity, inclusion, multicultural education, equity, antiracism – all of these terminologies have their own respective meanings but at the core of all of them is that we are looking at humans and getting people to engage across differences and foster a sense of belonging.

The community I find here is special. Everybody is invested, everyone has the same goal, to have the most successful students having the best experience. As I’ve met with parents, alumni, current students, faculty, and administrators, it’s all consistent that we are working toward the same thing but sometimes we have different pathways to get there. Everyone has been super welcoming to me and very inviting, not just to me but my family. Being a family person that’s really important to me. What I have appreciated most about the community thus far is the willingness.

So as we roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty in the messy work that is DEI, I hope that same energy will sustain itself and continue to have people invested in my work. I firmly believe that DEI is a shared responsibility and while it’s my role to lead it, I’m not the only person doing it. I would like everyone to know that they have a role in it and they should be just as committed as I am, fully knowing that we are going to make missteps. We are not perfect, but our goal is not perfection but to make progress and advance. If we can keep that front and center collectively the institution will advance, and in turn, so will society.

 


Providence Day School's 
Anti Racist Task Force
by Jana Dorsey

In 2021, not only did Providence Day commemorate 50 years as an institution, but 20 years since the founding of the Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. In 2001, the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA, now EIB) was established.

One group in particular that worked closely with OMA was the Parents’ Multicultural Task Force, which was spearheaded by the Board of Trustees in 2004. By 2008 this group became the Multicultural Advisory Board.

In 2020, in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and an accompanying community-wide anti-racism movement, Providence Day School acknowledged and addressed its founding as a white flight school. Coupled with this acknowledgment comes the drive to continuously hold ourselves accountable as a community.

Recognizing the need to address these issues, the now-dissolved Multicultural Advisory Board became the Anti-Racist Task Force in the summer of 2020. The Anti-Racist Task Force is a parent and alumni-led group committed to supporting Providence Day School’s stated objective of becoming an anti-racist institution.

According to the founding co-chairs, Anna Bobrow ’10 and Ned Sergew (alumni parent – ’17, ’19, ’21), the primary mission of the group is to “provide strategic and goal-oriented solutions to ongoing racial equity issues in the PD community to school administration and the Board of Trustees, informed by best practices in education, anti-racism scholarship, data from recent school-wide racial climate assessments, and community feedback.”

Members of the Anti-Racist Task Force include a cross-section of stakeholders, bringing in a range of perspectives and experiences. In summer 2021, Bobrow, Sergew, Dr. Stephen Hancock (alumni parent – ’25, ’20, ’17) and Amy O’Neil (current parents & alumni parents – ’25, ’23, ’21), Givin Van Dam (current parent – ’27, ’26, ’24), and Tyrone Jean/Jana Dorsey (Office of Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging) came together for a retreat to reflect as well as plan and set goals for the 2021-22 school year.

Anyone interested in more information about PD’s Anti-Racist Task Force is welcome to reach out to Jana Dorsey, Associate Director of Equity and Inclusion Outreach, at jana.dorsey@providenceday.org. Follow the office at @pdinclusion on Instagram and Twitter.

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