RSD Implements Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committees

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Media by Marin Ellington

Dr. Aisha Grace, director of diversity, equity and inclusion, visits the Black Literature class to lead discussions on the curriculum in order to understand improvements in diversity that could be made. “I just want to see kids,” Dr. Grace said. “The teacher invited me, and I was receptive. I’m looking forward to meeting and visiting multiple classrooms.”

The search for a new Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in RSD has come to a close.

The hunt initially began after Brittany Hogan, who previously held the position, resigned in the spring.  

With her experience working as a teacher and a principal in schools around the St. Louis area with a predominantly African American population, Dr. Aisha Grace stepped into the role looking to address issues she saw in RSD.

“I think that oftentimes we see equity and diversity in matters of race, but it’s way more than that,” Dr. Grace said. “We’re not going to create a system where we are ignoring other people in the world around us.”

As a beginning step, Dr. Grace met individually with administrators from schools within the district and asked them to identify leaders in their community to serve as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) champions. Shelly Justin and Dr. Holly Hick have taken on this role at MHS.

Dr. Grace said the hope is these leaders in the school will allow an easy transition into the development of DEI committees that will serve as a liaison between her office and the individual schools. This will allow for more change to be accomplished as Dr. Grace will not have to spread herself as thin throughout the RSD high schools.

Media by Marin Ellington

“Some schools are at the very beginning of the DEI work,” Dr. Grace said. “It’s about ensuring that all kids reach their potential.”

Though initial steps have been taken in creating the committees, Dr. Grace said she doesn’t expect any immediate results as the first step is discussion. However, she said come next year, change will be implemented, and the following year will be used to evaluate the impact of these actions.

“If we don’t have the opportunity to discuss [the world outside of RSD] and to learn about it inside the classroom, how do we guarantee that kids are learning about that outside the classroom?” Dr. Grace said.

Shelly Justin, language arts teacher, serves as one of MHS’s DEI champions alongside Dr. Holly Hick, though the committee has expanded to consist of at least 22  members. 

Justin said she is trying to be more active in bringing in a more diverse staff of teachers.

“We have barely begun the process. We are looking at data first to see where we stand so that we can begin to correct or add to what we already have in place,” Justin said.

Justin said she would like to see equal academic opportunities for students of all races here at MHS. 

Members of the committee are asked to do research on topics that will be discussed at monthly meetings in order to effectively communicate ideas and goals with staff. 

Though the MHS committee currently consists of staff, Justin proposed the creation of a sub-committee of students to obtain a more diverse perspective.

 “It is important to see how students connect with teachers, peers and their school in general,” Justin said. “We will be looking at how to make each group of students feel accepted, respected and appreciated. “ 

Dr. Grace visited Justin’s Black Literature classes Monday, Sept. 13.. Junior Yana Dragnev said it was insightful to hear from a professional perspective.

“She seems like a very assertive person who knows how to communicate things to people,” Dragnev said.

Dragnev is working to become a part of the committee of students to increase the inclusion of minority groups around the school, and recommends having Black Literature as a required class to ensure students are gaining an accurate understanding of Black history.

“I felt like [taking Black Literature] was something that was necessary for me to do as an individual in a school that isn’t really necessarily the most diverse,” Dragnev said. “It was something I had to do to be a more well-rounded person.”

Dragnev is optimistic toward the effect a student subcommittee can have on the school.

“Teachers require comprehensive training on topics that aren’t talked about,” Dragnev said. “I just think that there’s not enough education.”