Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competency

Diverse Individuals in a Cohesive Community

Central to all Kingswood Oxford activities and programs is our deep commitment to diversity and inclusion. Indeed, we strive to not only model but to teach the skills needed to thrive as a diverse, inclusive, and socially just community.

Diversity programs, assemblies, and conversations are part of everyday life at Kingswood Oxford. In addition to the programs listed here, we work each day to create a community of self-aware students and faculty who develop cultural competency skills by deliberately engaging in candid conversations.
“It is not our goal to be perfect, but it is our goal to be the best community we possibly can be — and that is done through the intentional act of inclusion and by building our cultural competency skills.”
Joan Edwards, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Cultural Competency

MLK Day Assembly

Diversity & Inclusion Programs

Middle School Diversity Program – Middle School students participate each month in programs and assemblies based on an age-appropriate, anti-bias curriculum. Topics include understanding key terms, identity, and being an ally.
 
NAMES – Working in collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League’s A World of Difference Institute (AWOD), Kingswood Oxford sponsors a full-day assemble (for grades 8-12). Student leaders and faculty train with AWOD staff in order to lead presentations and small group workshops.

People of Color Conference/Student Diversity Leadership Conference– Students, faculty, and staff attend this annual conference sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools.

SPHERE – Kingswood Oxford participates in SPHERE, a consortium of ten local independent schools that hosts diversity-related programs and events. Favorites include Hot Topics (student discussions), Cultural Fest, and Fall Recess.

Martin Luther King Jr Assembly — The entire Kingswood Oxford community comes together for this annual celebration of civil rights, which is organized and facilitated by students. Follow-up discussions occur in student advisory groups.

Additionally, several Student Clubs promote equity and inclusion practices including United Students, Orange is the New Grey, Gender and Sexuality Alliance, and the Conservative Club.

Director of Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competency

Joan Edwards’ 30+ year career in education — which included positions in admissions, student life, and as a French teacher— informed her expertise, leading to the position she now holds at KO. As the School’s first Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Cultural Competency, Joan oversees programming and conversations that empower the Kingswood Oxford community to live its mission with courage and confidence.

Contact
Joan Edwards, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Cultural Competency
860-727- 5004
edwards.j@kingswoodoxford.org

A Q & A with Joan Edwards

List of 11 frequently asked questions.

  • Tell us about your background in education.

    My education has been a combination of being educated, both in, and outside of the United States. My formative years were spent in London, England. Coming to the U.S. was an impactful time for me because I learned a lot of things I didn’t know I didn’t know. My training and my education in other countries have enabled me to reflect upon who I am as a person. What was my conditioning? How did my education and upbringing inform and continue to inform my teaching? What I learned in the different schools I attended is the reason why I’m so passionate about institutions being equitable and inclusive.
     
  • When did you initially begin at KO? What was your journey like?

    My launch into my teaching career was in 1987 when I started as a teaching fellow during the first year of the Kingswood Oxford Teaching Fellowship program.  I was attracted to the program because I had not had extensive training in teaching and the  Fellowship Program promised a year’s worth of observing classes, mentoring students while getting paid a stipend, and living in school housing.

    [I left KO in 1990 to pursue my Master’s Degree] with the  Middlebury program that included the summer on the Middlebury campus and then nine months in Paris. The experience of living, being educated and teaching in a different country gave me added confidence in my teaching.

    [Upon returning to KO in 1993, I joined the Admission Office and was able to learn about a different part of the School and what it takes to support the work of attracting families to KO. In 2001, I left KO to work at Greenwich Academy as Director of Student Diversity. There I became certified as a SEED leader and gained practice at supporting student diversity work. I returned to KO again in 2010 as Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Cultural Competency, a title and job description created with former Head of School, Dennis Bisgaard. My job description is now aligned with NAIS Principles of Good Practice for Equity and Justice thus guiding my work from a national standard of institutional change.
     
  • What does this role mean to you?

    My current position is designed to shed light on where there is inequity in our school system, where it does not align with what we promise we’re going to deliver as an education. […] The creation of the role was because I am passionate about being an anti-racist educator dedicated to breaking down any systems of oppression. I wanted to move beyond student activities focused work, and move towards impacting those who have more influence on those young minds-- their teachers.
     
  • What are some of your responsibilities in this role?

    There are regular meetings with my advisees, administrative teams and the Head of School, Tom Dillow that are spread out throughout my week.  I also attend student club meetings and support student groups to promote inclusivity on campus. This year, I am the club advisor two affinity groups: Girls Group of Color and a newly formed middle school affinity group for students of color and advisor to the Empathy Club. I am co-advisor to the KO Conservative Diversity Club. I also try to attend clubs like Orange is the New Grey, GSA and the Culture and Climate Team. These student clubs serve as informal focus groups where I can learn also about issues that impact the student experience.

    I also meet with diversity practitioners in the Hartford area and with educators on the CAIS Commission on Diversity to plan student and educator diversity events for the state. I go to those meetings once a month.
     
  • What is your personal definition of diversity?

    When I first started work as a diversity practitioner in the 1990’s, I was defining diversity work as training folks to be aware of all the differences that exist in a school community.  However, I now realize that the work is about equity. I need to be supporting KO to be equitable in its policies and practices. Teachers need to be equity-literate educators which means looking at our school as a system with power dynamics of who are the dominant groups and who are the non-dominant ones. We need to continually align our mission by providing a full educational experience that is equitable.
     
  • What does it mean to have a commitment to diversity & inclusion?

    My job is to shed light on where inequities exist and to inspire in others to do the same. My intention is to be a resource for the educators and students. I am also committed to grow and test myself so that I’m actually engaged in growing as an educator as well.  If I can model our motto -- Vincit qui se vincit, I will be more credible when I’m asking my colleagues and young people to engage in that critical self-work.
     
  • How do you foster an environment where students from different backgrounds respect each other's ideas & opinions?

    In my work with students, I invite them to be courageous, curious, self-aware, and forgiving. While I’m not able to personally interact with all students, I do enjoy those who attend club meetings and conferences with me. There’s so much to learn from the young uns! My work with adults requires the same level of courageous curiosity and self-awareness. I realize that it is hard to be what I call a “paid knower” working with other people’s children. It is a daunting task but it is an important one. I engage with colleagues on a personal and professional level to inspire them to shift their practice to meet the needs of as many students as possible.
     
  • How do you support the staff when it comes to thinking about & building an inclusive campus?

    I work closely with the Director of Teaching and Learning and I try to ground what we’re doing in what’s good teaching practice and being an excellent educator. Professional development in cultural competency is critical work for a school like ours that aims to reach every student. This means that we are constantly asking our educators to navigate stretching more even when we feel like we’re stretched enough. And sometimes we are totally stressed and feel that we have reached our limits when someone like me says “Hey, let me introduce some more information that should impact your teaching practice.” Educators are legitimately exhausted and say “I don’t know what else I can do.” So I try to be as compassionate as possible with my colleagues as they grapple with dissonance and disagreement. However, I also aim to not let those challenges limit us.
     
  • What are some of the programs that students have organized dealing with these issues?

    Over the years, groups like United Students and the GSA have sponsored interschool dialogues designed to provide other teens with a forum to explore what it means to grapple with personal relationships across difference. Groups like the Culture and Climate Team and Empathy Club are working to inspire empathy on our campus by teaching and modeling what empathy is. There are a number of students that consult with me if they have some sort of fundraising campaign that they’re doing because I want to make sure that they’re thinking about it from as full of a perspective as possible. There are groups like the Girls Group of Color who are sponsoring a student of color summit in March.  I continue to be impressed and appreciative of the labor of our students who plan and execute events and meetings in addition to being full-time students. They work really hard in their free time. The agency that our students have and their generosity of sharing their intellectual strengths really do help me do my job well.
     
  • What would you like to see in the future from the KO community?

    Be brave to hear feedback about the KO experience that may surprise us or make us mad. The tendency in small schools like this where we tend to do so many things well is to say “we’re great” and “there’s nothing else to do.” […] At the foundation of any equity work that we’re doing is to grow and shift as we model how to be courageous in facing what it is that is hard to face. I think that’s also true of this country facing its own history. If we can as a school do this work authentically across all constituencies, anyone in our community can feel empowered enough to say “Hey, this policy or practice doesn’t work for me and here’s why,” and be received by a school system that’s ready to hear that feedback, then we are well on our way to being an equitable and inclusive school.
     
  • What do you wish people ask you about your work that has not yet been asked?

    I would love to be asked what brings me joy.  In so many instances, I am sharing with folks serious information about where inequity exists here.  I do want folks to know that there are joyful moments in this work, too. I relish seeing teachers try something new in their teaching practice; I love when students highlight a problem or an opportunity and find support to address it. I also love when I can share my passion for equity work. 
     
Located in West Hartford, CT just steps from Blue Back Square, Kingswood Oxford is a private school inspiring co-ed day students in grades 6-12 with a college preparatory curriculum. Empowered students become clear confident communicators, resourceful problem-solvers, and ethical leaders. KO: where unlimited potential meets endless opportunities.
Copyright 2018. Kingswood Oxford.