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DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION

Being an Activist In and Out of School - Part 2

By Dominique Dalais
02-Mar-22
Being an Activist In and Out of School - Part 2


(Read: Being an Activist In and Out of School - Part 1)

TIE:
In the first part of our chat together you shared with us how the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement inspired you to take action both personally and within your school and school group, and how one outcome was the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) council that emerged. Does the council have specific goals set or that they are working towards that you might want to share?

Dominique: Yes, this year it will be a little bit more structured. We have people in place now, we have a budget, and we have some co-chairs as well to help lead across the schools in our group. I think our main aim now is to consolidate and sustain. This last year was more about building awareness, trying to build structures, having lots of conversations and bringing people in. Now we need to sustain that, build on it, and see success for the schools in terms of action and initiatives, but also success in how people feel - more involved and positive about themselves and the schools.

For example, one of the last meetings before the summer holidays, I didn't talk much. We had about 25 people, and nearly all of them spoke about the things they were doing, the success stories, the initiatives that were happening, and I just thought, “Wow, this is amazing. It has been nearly eight or nine months across our three schools in the UK, and there are already so many things happening.” But mostly it was that everyone was really happy about what they were doing. This is what we want, people to be able to do this work and feel successful and happy about it.

TIE: Are the initiatives that are being started in the schools student-focused? With the staff? Are they around creating school policy?

Dominique: We are trying to do a lot of student initiatives. I run the student council here at my school and we linked up with the organization United Together, We Inspire that focuses on bringing people together to create and inspire change. They focus on addressing racism in the community and organizations they work for as well as bringing opportunities for young people. The student council had a workshop session with them, then the students led their own webinar. That's one example.

There's been a lot of work with the staff as well, and that's not just teaching staff. There have been workshops, discussions, book reading... Last year the school gave ebooks to all the staff for study with organized follow-up discussions.

There is also an education strategy team that works across the four schools and they have been involved in a lot of things that we've been doing. As the year's gone on, the education strategy team members have been slowly joining the DEI council, bringing in more people, and pushing out ideas, which has been really good. As a result, our school's focus this year is diversity, equity, and inclusion.

There's been a lot of initiatives on everything, and I think one of my main worries is that it's been sort of bitty. This group's been doing this, this group's been doing that, and it is important to try to bring it all together so we have this one vision.

With that purpose, we did develop a charter and a vision with some goals, and that took a lot of work, a lot of collaboration. I think it's important for us to collaborate on that high level vision; that's one thing I thought we really needed to do. We made sure that we had student input, our DEI council input, we went to the heads of school, the leadership team, and then we went to the board. We had their input and feedback. We had a parent group look at all of this as well so that we could make sure that we had input from all areas, and not just a small group of people. We have been purposely involving all non-teaching staff - we want to call everybody “staff,” because everybody is staff. It's really crucial to include everybody in discussions, not only because we want to include everybody, but so we have their voice and their input. Not just teachers, because it's not just about the curriculum, it's the whole school. We have ground staff, we have facility staff, we have maintenance staff, and so we've organized conversations with them as well. What we're trying to do at the school is not just about anti-racism, it's about inclusion. That's why it's really important to bring more people into the picture, and to lead some of this work I've been doing.

TIE: One initiative I know we covered at TIE was your school’s celebration of pride month last year. Was this one of the outcomes of this work that you've been doing? Was this the first time that you've done it as a school?

Dominique: None of the schools in our group have ever done anything like this. I think it was a little bit scary for our schools. We did it across the three UK schools. We had a member of staff here who had been hesitant to get involved initially, mainly I think, because they were unsure where it was all going. He contacted me out of the blue and said, "Look, I noticed you haven't got someone leading your LGTBQ+ network." He said he wanted to step up and join the council, run this network, and try and do something. And he said one of the main things he wanted to do was celebrate pride month. We had some discussions on how we could celebrate the month, but we all wanted a specific day dedicated to it to do something big.

During that month, through the student council we had items like wrist-bands available celebrating pride. The students were really into all of this and during the whole month of June, they just started to do things. Then the parents wanted to get involved, the parent teacher organization, other staff wanted to buy things and so forth. We also started flying a pride flag outside our school. It was amazing. Speaking to other council members, we decided to hold advisory sessions in classes so that the kids would have a sense of what pride month is all about. We had a few sessions leading up to the big day we were planning that was very successful across the three schools.

TIE: That's a fantastic story of spaces being created for sharing voices and empowering people. This person who had been hesitant initially to join could step into this key role. I think it also speaks to how once you as an individual were able to step into a space of taking action, it inspired others to follow suit. It reminds me of how, in the beginning of this interview, you shared that when the BLM movement started, you felt there were now people around you taking action, that you felt surrounded and supported and so you could too. Hopefully by you sharing here even more people will feel like they are surrounded, and maybe take some first steps for themselves and their schools.

Dominique: Yes, that's the idea of all my work really.

TIE: Your “work” includes many things being done in parallel. Besides this work within the school, you have had many other personal initiatives. The podcast series comes to mind first. How did that start?

Dominique: Last summer, a friend had me on a podcast about physical and health education and afterwards he approached me about doing a podcast together. I had never done anything like that before so the idea was a bit scary, but he assured me that he would take the lead and I could just talk. We've done two seasons now. That got me thinking about doing one on my own. I really wanted to reach out to those people who are doing the real DEIJ work in their schools.

At the time, our school was thinking about the charter I mentioned earlier, and we spoke to Atlanta International School for insights on their work. It got me thinking about other schools I could reach out to. I came up with a series of questions based on what I wanted to know about their DEIJ journey and I then used my Facebook group for outreach to start finding out what people were doing. As I did this, I thought, okay, let me start recording this with video. I wanted to see their reactions. I didn't want it to be like an interview, and I didn't want it to be about me talking. I wanted to try and focus on them using these questions as a guide and I sort of went from there. The main reason I wanted to do this was to learn and share with others, so other people will hopefully then say, "They are doing this work, let's all go and do it." It's not about criticizing, it's about showing that we can do this, other people are doing this, let's all try and do this, and share with as many people as possible.

My second idea after approaching schools was to reach out to organizations in the international school community. I reached out to Search Associates, and we agreed to do a podcast session together - it came out great. That's what sort of got me thinking about what other organizations I could talk to about their work. I really think that all the different organizations, the work that they're doing, and the collaboration between all the organizations, is going to put pressure on international schools to do the work too.

TIE: All the players in our community need to be on board and have a part to play.

Dominique: And having everyone on board helps people not to be scared as well. If you see other people doing this you are more ready to do something too. When I saw the Association for International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC) group, that there were other people out there doing this work, then I saw the other organizations doing things, it just gave me more hope. It also made me realize that it's okay to do this work, other people are doing this, it's not just me being crazy trying to do all this stuff. It gives you hope to move forward, and it's not just about me. I don't know how much will change, but I'm going to try as much as I can now, for the rest of my life, to dedicate myself to DEIJ work. This is what I want to do. For many years I've been trying to find what it is that I really want to do, and this last year has given me that light.

I don't mind putting myself out there. I think that there are a lot of people who are scared to do that, but I just want to try and connect with people. We can all help others grow in their own area. Abena Baiden did one of the podcast episodes and she's now started her own Facebook group and website “Diversity in Mind.” It's great to see that.

As people connect, there's lots of opportunities which open up, and those opportunities can lead to others. Like having an opportunity to speak with you that can then lead to writing an article, or writing a book, all that will help spread the word. I think the more you can open up and put yourself out there a little bit, and not feel so scared, the better.

This podcast also tries to make the issues in our community more personal. It allows people to see the actual person speaking and talking on the screen, what they feel and think. I'm hoping that these videos can go out and we can see these are real people. They might be part of an organization, you might want to slate them for this or that, but they're real people. They are trying to do things. Listen to them. Listen to their story, and let them explain what they're trying to do, and try to believe in that. Don't think it's something that's always against you.

We've got to have that sense of belief and hope, I think. I'm coming to realize that more. There will be some ups and downs and the downs can be very hard and disheartening. I know, I'm going to come across many, many obstacles, and I've spoken to many people who find it hard to understand why I have to keep striving to do this. There are people out there struggling because they don't have enough support around them, or people to listen to them, and so I'm hoping that my experience is going to help. I'm not an expert. There are some really experienced people out there, but I'm going to just keep learning constantly, and just keep striving forward to do the best I can in the spaces I am in.


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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

Facebook Groups: PHE in the MYP / International Teachers of Colour

Twitter: @Dalais44 / @ibmypphe




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