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students standing behind 3D OUR sign/lettering at PoCC conference

Tyrone Jean has been at Providence Day since the summer of 2021. Originally the director of Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (EIB), he has recently been promoted to the Assistant Head of School for Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. In December, alongside Brian Li and James Edge, Jean presented at the People of Color Conference (PoCC) in San Antonio, Texas. Titled, "When You are the Only One," Jean discussed racial healing and the current state of EIB at independent schools.

What was your experience like at PoCC?

Not only was this my first time presenting at PoCC, but it was my first time attending this conference, and it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Almost like a homecoming experience, everyone was excited to catch up with old acquaintances, meet new people, and build relationships with students in attendance. Walking into the conference center, all you saw was happy people, embracing one another and really letting loose. Overall, it was an incredibly uplifting space for people of color; it fosters authenticity as a space where people can exist without having to explain themselves. I think this sort of space should be experienced by all individuals who work in independent schools

What key takeaways do you have from this conference?

Affinity spaces have so much value, which was reaffirmed at PoCC. People both need and want these grounding spaces.  At PD, we have had affinity groups for some time, lower school (2019), middle school (2018), and upper school (2016), and we really value giving students an opportunity to feel seen within these groups. But it doesn't end with our students; we also have Black, Hispanic, and South Asian family affinity networks and a faculty of color resource group.

Something that also stuck with me is the notion that there is a lot of knowledge and opinions as to the best practices of EIB which are influenced by many factors such as school size, geographic location, population, and structure, to name a few. Sharing and exchanging this information at a place such as PoCC is extremely important. Some schools are further along in their EIB journey, and others are still developing their efforts. By exchanging information and ideas on best practices and strategies, groups of independent schools can work together to develop and advance EIB at independent schools.

Can you tell us about your presentation? 

My presentation, When you are the only one, was a 4-hour, half-day seminar about racial healing. Racial healing is a deeply personal, yet communal, process and can start at different times for different people. During the summer of 2020 the world had front row seats to the atrocities faced by some people of color. Unconscionable recordings of police brutality saturated our newsfeeds and our hearts and the world was responding. When we see these tragedies on national television as EIB practitioners, we often are expected to tend to the needs of those affected, develop a response, and create space for others. Very seldom do we, as practitioners, pause to take inventory of what we need in terms of self-care. It can be a lonely place and understanding how we feel in that moment is paramount. Developing coping strategies to stay in the work is arguably even more important.

Through PoCC, presenters often have the opportunity to equip attendees with resources and tools. A highlight of our presentation was the development of accountability partners so that we can check in and help one another remain in the spaces that need us. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the challenges we encounter and the resistance we face. But it is so essential to stay in these environments because our students, faculty, and staff need equitable and inclusive environments that breed belonging. The reality is that our communities are better for our presence in these spaces. That is the essence of what we presented. I presented research with an education Professor from Elon University and I was a participant in her research study. It was a full-circle experience participating and contributing to research on a topic that speaks to my profession and calling. Now the research is published and is an opportunity to share with attendees and develop a self-care plan. There are not a lot of people of color at independent schools. Therefore, being in a space like PoCC and having a shared experience with many folks can be inspiring.

You have a new role at PD within EIB. How do you plan to implement these learnings and takeaways from this conference?

Equity, inclusion, and belonging is a shared responsibility. It is not the sole responsibility of the EIB office. I hope that every person in our PD community will learn to see themselves as owners of this work and will take greater responsibility for creating inclusion and belonging. It is a personal thing that individuals need to commit to, and ultimately, when individuals commit, everyone commits. 

I plan to continue to build relationships, have a balanced approach to the work, share the stories of EIB, and build trust. We will continue to offer in-house consulting to faculty, staff, and students, offer professional development, increase parent education opportunities, and celebrate similarities and differences throughout the year. I plan to maintain relationships with colleagues and schools to exchange ideas and share best practices. 

With affinity spaces, there is a lot of grounding, being present, and letting go of everything in the world and for our students this can help with meaning making. An observation that I made at the conference is that there is a spectrum of where independent schools are in their EIB journeys. In many ways, Providence Day is leading in that area. 

To be in a school community that is well resourced is truly incredible. The positioning of me in this role demonstrates a serious commitment to EIB, We are not trying to do one-off experiences or initiatives but really trying to create something systemic and ingrained with every aspect of this school. If there are additional affinity groups that community members want to create, we remain welcome to exploring. 

What are some goals that you have within your new position, the EIB team, and goals you have for Providence Day?

The first primary goal is centered around developing a strategic plan that aligns well with PD’s strategic framework. If you look at the strategic framework, there are 6 priorities, and EIB is one of them. 

Within that, there are sub-goals of PD’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution, making PD the school of choice for EIB, and making sure that we prioritize equity initiatives. So the strategic plan is centered around providing a roadmap for getting there. We want to be able to identify objectives, initiatives, and strategies across the institution, not just from EIB, but in athletics, Institutional Advancement, Enrollment Management, and Curriculum. 

EIB is always evolving and will continue to be for years. This is the next iteration of the work. The work is focused on strategic planning. I am excited to see when we get to 2030 and how we will continue to advance. I am confident the school will be better positioned as a national leader.