“I dwell in Possibility” the title of Emily Dickinson’s poem was ingrained in her upbringing, lingers in her leadership and is now woven through the threads of PLAID, a parent-led group within our beloved Hamlin community.
Wanda Holland Greene grew up in Brooklyn, and during her formative years (from ages 5-11), her father stumbled upon the opportunity and insisted that she and her older sister Donna, take the yellow school bus along with 10 other African American students out of their district to integrate into Public School 68 in Queens, led by Head of School, Milton Schwartz. Schwartz believed, “The world is going to be fair one day. I believe in what is possible.”
In July of 2008, Holland Greene proved what is possible when one is afforded excellent educational opportunities, when she began her tenure as Head of School at Hamlin. She recalls one of her first meetings with a small group of Hamlin parents who were called the Parent Diversity Council. Priority was given to reconcile the future of the newly formed affinity groups as they had been awkwardly introduced and met with contention from some of the parent community. After a listening campaign to determine the school’s state of affairs, Holland Greene decidedly moved past the mindset that ‘opening a door’ was enough and real inclusion meant digging deep into all families to share their stories. In addition to affinity groups, it would require the school to make a cultural shift in order to meet families’ needs. Institutionalized changes in systems and policies initiated extended school hours and twelve more days of school, varied meeting times to accommodate working parents, and rewriting guidelines for parent-sponsored events. The changes prompted Hamlin’s Diversity Council to be born, inaugurating various parent groups for the first time to integrate into the Parent Association. In doing so, the groups were afforded a seat at the table within the Executive Committee of the Parents Association and the Board of Trustees’ Committee on Community. As HDC gained momentum, it was then determined the group would help execute the school’s strategic plan in creating a ‘Vibrant and Inclusive Community’ by undergoing another name change to help rebrand and broaden its reach within the parent community.
Our school recently rebranded Hamlin’s Diversity Council (HDC) to its current distinction of PLAID: Many Threads, One Community. In doing so, the committee pronounced, “The mission of PLAID is to support a vibrant and inclusive environment in which all members of the community can celebrate their authentic selves.” Can you speak to the mission’s key assertions?
As part of the strategic plan, we wanted to pay close attention to diversity and inclusion, and we deliberately chose two words for that plank of the plan: ‘vibrant’ and ‘inclusive’. We also knew we had to create a community statement to accompany the mission statement because our school’s previous mission statement used to be four paragraphs long. In 2012, we revised the mission to read, “The Hamlin School educates girls to meet the challenges of their time and inspires them to become extraordinary thinkers and innovators, courageous leaders, and women of integrity.” Because the mission statement no longer refers specifically to the type of community we are and the values we espouse, it was important to create a community statement to pair with the school’s mission statement.
What we also learned after eight years (since HDC’s inception) was that the word ‘diversity’ was getting confusing. We integrated the group with the Parents Association and the Board of Trustees and took the work from the edges of the school and put it at the core—yet there were still those who perceived that the work of the Hamlin Diversity Council was only for families of color. Thus, we wanted to say even more explicitly, through the name and programming, that we all have a story that is worth sharing and celebrating. Changing the name from HDC to PLAID was a really important step in sending a message both in name and action that the work of diversity and inclusion belongs to everybody at Hamlin. Among many things, we do an annual parent survey and ask parents what they feel and need, and we create exciting programming so people are invited into courageous conversations about topics that impact all of us.
It is imperative that all members of our community celebrate their ‘authentic selves’. No one is blank or bland. Not one person. That’s why we’re all members, emphasis on ‘all’ in the PLAID mission statement, and ‘celebrate’ does not mean tolerate. Celebrate means that everybody gets to relish who they are and where they come from. ‘Authentic’ means not hiding.
How would you define diversity and inclusion pertaining to Hamlin’s community?
We are 100% diverse because no one person in this building is like someone else. I believe that real diversity and inclusion work keeps everybody at the table. Feasting from the same set of experiences and not feeling as if, “You’re the hosts, and you’re the guests. We’re just tolerating your presence at the school and trying to figure it all out as we go.” That’s not the kind of school I want to lead.
Instead, we use the iceberg metaphor when we teach the girls how to celebrate their stories. We draw a picture literally of an iceberg. We say, “What is that phrase, ‘that’s just the tip of the iceberg’? Where does that come from?” They have an “aha” moment then. I ask, “Where’s most of the iceberg? Under the water, you don’t see it.” We have the girls write down, “What aspects of your identity make up the tips of your iceberg? What can people see about you that might signify a difference?” Someone might say, “I wear glasses, so people know that I’m visually impaired.” “They see that I’m brown skinned.” “They see that I have Asian features. They know my ancestors and my family is from Asia.” “They see that I wear a yarmulke so they know my family is Jewish.”
Then I say, “What are important aspects of your identity that people can’t see or know about you, and look how much of the iceberg is under the water?” Then they write, “I’m dyslexic.” “I don’t have any other people in my family who look like me because I was adopted.” We then ask, “How do we connect with each other so that we’re not just existing at the tip of the iceberg?” It’s a very powerful visual because most of a person is unsaid and unknown until you lean in and ask, “Who are you? Where are you from?”