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DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION

Being an Activist In and Out of School

An interview with Dominique Dalais
By Dominique Dalais
08-Dec-21
Being an Activist In and Out of School


Part One – In an interview with TIE, Dominique talks about his background as a teacher of color and what motivated him to start taking action around Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) issues. He introduces some of the initiatives he has spearheaded individually, through his school, and with his school group.

TIE: Hi Dominique, thank you so much for sharing with us. We are so happy to have you here to give us some insight into all the work, projects, and initiatives you have been a part of in the DEIJ space and of course with the Physical Education educators. Would you give our readers some insight into your background and how you started on your path as an international educator and ended up chatting with us today?

Dominique: Yes, my parents are both from Mauritius, and moved to the UK in 1969. They were actually British citizens, because Mauritius was under British rule at the time so they never held a Mauritian passport.

I was the first in my family to become a teacher, but it ends up that most of my family are now teachers - my older sister, my middle sister, their husbands, and my wife as well, so it is a big family of teachers! But I always had this itch to do something, to go somewhere. Just like my parents coming over from Mauritius to the UK, I wanted to go abroad.

TIE: So that was your calling to try out an international school?

Dominique: Yes, I went to Paris! It was my first venture into the world of international schools. I was a Primary Years Programme (PYP) P.E. teacher. Because of my Mauritian background, I speak French, and France wasn't too far, so I took a job at the International School of Paris. After only three weeks there I met my wife.

TIE: So, you became a teaching couple!

Dominique: Yes, eventually! We then stayed in Paris for a couple of years, then went back to the UK so I could begin my Master's degree in Sport and Culture, got married, and had our son. Then we got that itch, so we decided to move abroad again and went to China for a couple years. Our daughter was born there. Then we moved to Switzerland for six years, then to South Korea, and now back here to the UK. I have not only worked in different countries, but have experience in all the IB programs at this point - Primary Years Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP), and the Diploma Programme (DP). Our family is very much about the IB. My son just graduated this year. He's been through all three programs and my daughter is in grade nine and is the same. It has been central to our international journey.

It has been 26 years now and I can't think of anything else I would want to do. I do have some ideas about some different things beyond P.E. that I am working on and still want to get involved with - that's what I've been doing the last couple years really.

TIE: That makes sense, as we have all seen your name involved in so many initiatives this past year or two. Personal initiatives like your Facebook groups, podcast, and website, and within your school and your school group with your DEI council and networks. The array of things that you've decided to focus your attention on seems to be growing! Is this driven mindset something that you've been developing throughout all these moves? You have so many diverse perspectives of the world and the international school community - navigating schools, recruiting, and moving internationally as a person of color, as a teaching couple, then as a family. How have all of those things come together to inspire the initiatives you started up recently?

Dominique: I had been running non-IB P.E. workshops for a while, and those smaller workshops gave me the confidence to become an IB workshop leader. I just wanted to help people, and connect with people, and have some discussions amongst P.E. teachers. When my MYP coordinator at the time said, "You need to become a workshop leader." I said, “I hadn’t really thought about it. I've just done these mini-workshops here and there." But she said, "I'm signing you up." So she signed me up, and I did it, and I thought it was fantastic, and I love doing that work.

Becoming an IB workshop leader has driven a lot of what I'm doing now. It pushed me to understand more. There were participants with all sorts of different questions I didn't know the answer to and it was up to me to find them out and help. That's what I love doing.

Then, there is the Physical and Health Education (PHE) Facebook group, which I started seven years ago - and I have been dabbling with websites for a long time. I had my own personal website, which I have been sort of using as a half-professional and half-blog site. Then, my MYP coordinator said, "You should create another website for PHE." And I'm like, "I can't handle another one." but then I did, and that sort of snowballed into more conversations with people and the podcast and so forth.

TIE: Sounds like you did get some nudges from the people around you to take some of those next steps. Do you feel like the people around you, that supportive community that you created through these workshops, or that you've worked with, helped you along this path?

Dominique: Yes, I think there have been people around me that I have worked with who've really given me those nudges and support. I already mentioned my previous MYP coordinator, but also my current head teacher, and there have been a couple of other people, especially at my previous school, who've encouraged me to step up and do more. "You can do this." It's been because of those people that I felt I could step up. If you don't have that support in place then it's much more difficult to do things. Especially, I feel, as a person of color. I feel that I can say this now, because I have other people who are there and able to listen to me.

I think many years ago, people didn't want to take my color into consideration. But having these conversations with more and more people now, it is okay to say it. There have been obstacles in the way, and there have been people in the way as well. People who are part of certain structures, and I think, "You're blocking this. What reason, why are you doing this? Is it because of me?”

TIE: So positive, supportive people, but also people and structures that were obstacles... Was it like a perfect storm coming together for you to be able to decide to be vocal in so many spaces recently?

Dominique: I think, growing up, I was exposed to a lot of racism in different ways. Private things and systemic racism where things were said and done or not done. There were microaggressions as well. A lot of these things built up and I felt I had to keep fighting back. But each time I fought back, I didn't get anywhere.

I remember my French teacher at school. I wasn't doing as well in his class, and he would often put me down in front of the class. He would often refer back to my parents, "Yes I know, they speak French, but you're not very good at French," and he'd keep doing this. I would think, "Why do you keep doing this all the time," and, "That's not very nice." Finally, I was going to be put down a level the following year and he seemed really proud of himself. I always remember this smirk he had on his face, and it just drove me.

Unfortunately, there have been so many instances like that. I remember my last year at university. I really struggled with the teacher who was supposed to be my mentor. All the other students who were in school always wondered, "Why is he giving you such bad reports? You're doing so well? The other teachers in the school say you're doing really well. I don't understand."

Then someone tried to find out what the reason was, and found out that he was friends with a particular lecturer at my university, and this lecturer would come to school, and I thought, "Why is he coming to this school,” and I'd see him talking and I thought, "He's just checking on everyone." But he would always come to this teacher in particular. Then I found out ... Well, this is what I was told, that they were targeting me in particular. I didn't believe it at first, I thought, "No, this can't be true at all." But they were trying to make it really difficult for me. It suddenly all made sense. Thinking back on some of the things that he would say and put me through, and why he was treating me in certain ways when I was doing everything right. I passed eventually, but they were making it as hard as possible. That was a real struggle.

Then there've been other situations. I remember going to a job fair once, and during an interview with my wife and I, the interviewer – the head teacher – warned me, he said, "You might not want to come to this country." I said, "Why?" He said, "Because of the color of your skin." I'm like, okay. I didn't get the job in the end anyway, but a couple years later, when we went back to the job fair, I ran into the same head teacher, and I thought, I've had an interview with this guy before, maybe he'll remember me. So, I went up to him with my CV. I didn't say a word, I just approached him and he said, "No, sorry, I'm not going to do an interview." I hadn’t said anything, he had just looked at me. I can't remember what school he was at at the time, but I always remember that. So, there are people out there that are obstacles.

These are only a few of the incidents over the years. These things that have driven me. They should be factors that drive people of color to do things. One of the things I sometimes get really frustrated about is that I want to just teach P.E., and I want to do that really well, and focus on that. I shouldn't have to be doing all this DEIJ work, but I do. And really it was last year where the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement really picked up again, and I was working part time as head of P.E. so I was able to take on some other things.

When the BLM movement happened a lot of things built up in me. A lot of memories came back from my youth, and from my early teaching days. I wanted to do something about this. Lots of these different things have been happening to me and other people around the world. So, that's why I started the International Teachers of Colour Facebook group. I thought, okay let's start this Facebook group. I don't know what's going to happen. I've already got a P.E. Facebook group.

TIE: Sounds like the George Floyd murder and the BLM movement acted as a catalyst for you?

Dominique: It did, yeah. Some of me not doing things previously probably stems from my upbringing, and my parents worrying that if we did something, then something would happen to us.

When it was the summer time they would always say, "Dom, you're going to get dark." Because they didn't want me to get darker, because then they would think it would have a negative effect. When I was younger there was a lot of racism around in the UK, and people actually saying specific words, attacking me in the street. I've had that as well. Out of the blue, just swearing and calling me racist names.

I think a lot of that was inside me, and last year I said I need to do something... I've always been scared to do something, but so many different things have happened, and I didn't feel as if I was getting anywhere…So I thought, no, I'm going to do something. And I knew to face the world, there would be people out there who I could probably gather, and come together. So I wanted to make sure that this group included everybody. I didn't want it to be an affinity group. I wanted everybody who wants to support and have discussions to come together, and that's where it led.

Around that time, my school put out an Instagram post in support of BLM, the movement. I can't remember the exact words, but it said that they were in support of this debate. They called it a debate. There was backlash from parents, from alumni, and they were like, "What should we do?" I thought, you know what, I'm going to say something. So I did. At the time I was a bit worried, because of my own situation at the school. So I wrote an email to the powers that be. I then got an email from my head teacher, HR manager, and the CEO of our schools, and we all started talking. I said, "We need to do something." I felt brave, because this Facebook group had picked up, and I thought, I've got people around me supporting me. I can step up. They're listening.

The HR Manager said, "Let's set up a council of some type." First it was going to be called a diversity and inclusion council, and I said, "No, it needs to be called a diversity, equity, and inclusion council, because we need to go somewhere with this. It's not just about diversity and inclusion, because that's what it's always been about. We need to do something about it." So we then reached out to the three UK-based schools, and asked anyone who wanted to join. I said, "We need to reach out to people who have ‘energy’ and ‘drive’ to do something about this. We can't just ask people to join. And so we got a lot of people. By the end of November 2020, we had about 40 people from across the three schools.

We then started having proper meetings every month. I said, "We need to have these meetings, we need to have a vision, goals." At that time I was getting quite frustrated because I wanted things to move quickly, and they weren't moving as quickly as I wanted. Then I realized I needed to slow down. I needed to take it step-by-step. I actually started seeing a counselor at this point. I had been reading an article about counseling and black folk, and how for many years, counselling is seen as only for white folks, and how black people don't really need it, or shouldn't have to ... But that's not true.

TIE: Thank you for sharing that. It’s such an important message for everybody.

Did you feel like you were now carrying this huge responsibility? Feeling as though you are the one who somehow has to make these massively important changes happen or that you are the one who has all the answers?

Dominique: Yes, at one point I had to tell my own head teacher as much - he wanted to have regular weekly meetings with his senior leadership team and me, and I Initially thought, “Yeah, we'll start doing this,” but then, “What am I doing? I'm just piling things up!” My head teacher has been super supportive. He's been the one who's really built me up. And I think he just wanted to continue this, and he saw me as the sort of person who can drive things... Because I was driving a lot of initiatives. At that point I thought ”It’s too much.” I'm not being given any time to do this at all. This is my own time and energy that I'm putting into this, squeezing it in during the day. A lot of the time I'm having to do it after school, on weekends... I'm the head of the P.E. department, I am also the high school student council advisor - and we were doing a lot of things for the student council around DEIJ on top of our other things- and by then we had started a parent DEIJ group as well, so I was taking on a lot of stuff. I think it was just too much.

TIE: What is your advice for people who might be feeling a similar responsibility to carry these things forward, seeing opportunity and finally being able to push things ahead?

Dominique: I think you need to bring people onboard. Super important. That's what I learned in that first half a year. I may have been driving a lot and bringing people onboard, but I was leading too much. I realized we need more people to get onboard. I think some of my frustrations over the years are, when I tried to lead initiatives, I really have this big vision about where I want to go, and if other people aren't doing that, or stepping away, "It's too much, it's too much," I then take everything on, and I shouldn't do that. So, I think having the DEI council was really important, because then we started to think of structure, and we started to think, okay, who else can help.

We also developed some networks. We developed a gender equality network, a racial equity network, a religion and belief network, and an LGTBQIA+ network. The people who started leading these networks started to take some of the things on. And that helped, and that's super important. My worry is seeing things fall apart. So striving to be successful and making sure things are going to work is really important to me. I suppose that could be because of my history.

TIE: What does success look like for you?

Dominique: I think having a goal and seeing it through, and seeing it happen and work for people. So, seeing people's success. I like to see other people be happy and have success, and see that they have had a positive outcome from whatever they've been doing. My success is when I see other people thrive.

Part Two – Dominique describes the trajectory of the different initiatives he has spearheaded independently, including his Facebook groups and his podcast series, and through his school, including the DEIJ Council and the Networks, and how they developed and continue to move into action.

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Dominique is the Head of Physical and Health Education at ACS Egham International School, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Chair at ACS International Schools, an IB MYP Workshop Leader, an IB MYP BQC Reviewer, an ECIS PE Committee member, and Racial Equity Facilitator.

Websites: www.dalais44.com / www.ibmypphe.com / www.internationalteachersofcolour.com

Twitter: @Dalais44 / @ibmypphe

 




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