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International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

A Look Into Diversity Disparities in the Upper School Faculty

The+WIS+faculty+in+front+of+the+Mansion+on+the+Tregaron+campus.+Though+the+upper+school+faculty+has+diversity%2C+there+are+still+gaps+present.+%28Courtesy+of+Cheryl+Tanski%29
The WIS faculty in front of the Mansion on the Tregaron campus. Though the upper school faculty has diversity, there are still gaps present. (Courtesy of Cheryl Tanski)

The WIS staff represents around 50 nationalities, according to Head of School Suzanna Jemsby, and the WIS website defines diversity as “the full range of similarities and differences–visible and non-visible–that make each individual unique.”

Yet, only 10% of the upper school subject coordinators are not white and just 30% are female (excluding the Chinese department, which does not have a subject coordinator). Subject coordinators are teachers who act as representatives for their department and help organize the curriculum. Several teachers have pointed out the lack of diversity in subject coordinators and the faculty as a whole.

“I can only speak for our division because I know that WIS has a community that’s extensive beyond the upper school, but this is probably the least diverse division I’ve ever worked in,” upper school math teacher Desirae Matthew said.

 

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Diversity Disparities 

When Matthew began working at WIS in 2021, she was the only female and only person of color in the upper school math department. 

“If you look at [subject coordinators] and [faculty] across the upper school, there’s a consistency there that has not changed in quite some time,” Matthew said. “You’ll consistently see in our faculty meetings and in department meetings the same people [are] getting a voice at the table while others do not.”

Though biology teacher Sabrina Hoong acknowledges that WIS has been making more efforts to diversify its staff, especially in terms of international diversity, she says this is not enough. 

“In terms of more racial and country-specific diversity, WIS does a very good job there, but in terms of supporting teachers, I do think that is something that can be refined,” Hoong said. 

Hoong immigrated to Washington, D.C. from Hong Kong in 2022 and began working at WIS. Due to her struggles in immigrating, she encourages WIS to be more supportive of teachers coming from abroad, an effort that could help diversify the school. 

“I would like to see more support [for] the immigration process,” Hoong said. “Not just practically, like setting up a bank account, because I felt very alone in that aspect…, but also, in terms of finding a community and more social and emotional kind of aspects too.”

Geography teacher Sushmita Vargo says the WIS faculty has become more diverse since she joined in 1988. “It was more World Bank wives who worked here, and most of them from the United Kingdom,” she said. “And there were a few who were from [D.C.], but they were also from the elite.”

She does note that WIS still maintains racial diversity gaps. But, she says physical factors are not the only components of diversity. 

“You don’t look at faces and say, ‘are we diverse?’” Vargo said. “That I find is extremely crass…You cannot just look at some group of people and say they’re not diverse. We are diverse in the family, economy [and other aspects]. It may be we behave in a certain way, but once we are in our own little world, the family and things, we are very diverse.” 

On the other hand, WIS’ most senior administrators are women of color and all Upper School Principals are women. Jemsby says the WIS faculty is very internationally diverse and the school is taking important steps to defy traditional gender roles. However, she acknowledges there are still gaps. 

“I think international schools almost develop a culture of their own,” Jemsby said. “…It should feel like a hundred and something different nationalities here every day but I don’t think it quite is [at WIS].”

Upper school French teacher and French subject coordinator Anne Grelier believes accomplishing diversity is a long-term process. 

“I don’t think that diversity is static, so I don’t think one day we’ll be able to say, ‘Wow, look at that! We’ve done it. Now we can move on to another topic,’” she said. 

International-mindedness, Diversity and Inclusion (IDI) coordinator Aldaine Wynter began working at WIS this school year to help teachers evaluate their curriculums and provide professional development with the lens of IDI.

“Diversity is about the people that we see around us, diversity within how we look, how we feel, diversity with thoughts,” Wynter said. “Then, with diversity comes the inclusion piece because you can have diversity with no sense of accountability that all the voices are being listened to.”

All teachers interviewed agreed that diversity in staff and faculty is important in the classroom.

“I’ve talked to students who are not white, [and] they really appreciate having teachers with whom they share a cultural background…” upper school English teacher and English subject coordinator Nicholas Loewen said. “[They] have something in common automatically, and so I think that’s good for students.”

However, various members of the WIS faculty pointed out that WIS has not reached the diversity it aspires to have. 

“I think that there’s also something to be said about the continuous lack of diversity within the [math] division, and that’s something that the school really needs to make efforts to uncover,” Matthew said.

According to upper school physics teacher and science subject coordinator Michael Jollimore, the science department is especially lacking diversity in terms of gender in specific subjects. 

“We’ve never had a male biology teacher and we’ve never had a female physics teacher [during my 10 years at WIS],” Jollimore said. “Which is unfortunate, but, the truth is we can only hire the people who apply, and in 10 years at WIS, there’s only been one female applicant interviewed for a physics position.”

There has also been a lack of diversity in applicants for positions in the English department, according to Loewen. In his time at WIS, Loewen says most of the English department has been composed of white Americans. 

“I think that in all the time I’ve been at WIS we haven’t had a diverse enough staff in terms of different races, especially Black folks,” he said.

Several teachers attribute the lack of diversity to an overall lack of interest in teaching. 

“Fewer and fewer people want to teach,” visual art teacher and visual arts subject coordinator Andrea Burk said. “It does not pay super well, the ceiling of how far you can go in life is pretty fixed [and] dealing with students and families can be very emotionally draining and challenging.” 

 

IDI in the Hiring Process 

When teachers are hired, the school first looks for a strong base in teaching and classroom experience, according to Wynter. 

“But I think what’s more important is where we go [to look for teachers],” Wynter said. “Are we going to places where there are a diverse set of people? Are we using organizations [to hire new teachers] that have a statement around diversity? Are they themselves doing anything to minimize bias?”

Despite not being permitted to ask about applicants’ backgrounds in the hiring screening process, this year will be the first hiring cycle where Wynter will meet candidates. In the past, Associate Head of School Natasha Bhalla has asked candidates about IDI through questions about how they teach diverse learners and about the various immigrant and minority experiences in the U.S. 

Bhalla says the school does not hire a candidate because they “tick a box” in terms of IDI, but emphasizes the importance of IDI.  

“There’s great importance in representation and diversity of perspective, and when we’re doing hiring, that holds a lot of value,” she said. “We’re not looking for everyone to think and be and feel the same way. We want the richness of having people who come from different backgrounds and experience things differently.”

Some workplaces dismiss candidates based on their name, so WIS uses an organization that focuses on not using pictures or names in the initial application process along with other measures to keep hiring as unbiased as possible, according to Jemsby and Wynter. 

Wynter is placing a large emphasis on attending recruitment fairs with a focus on diversity and inclusion. WIS is also communicating with Spelman College and Howard University, historically Black institutions in an attempt to bring pre-service teachers to WIS, according to Jemsby. Pre-service teachers are students taking a teacher preparation program. 

 

Linguistic Diversity at WIS

Senior and Latino Student Union co-president Emilio Pineda, who is Argentine and Mexican, emphasizes the linguistic diversity at WIS. He recalls visiting other schools in the D.C. area before coming to WIS and observing Spanish teachers who could not properly speak the language. Out of all the schools he visited, he says WIS had the most diverse faculty.

“There [are] a lot of teachers that speak Spanish as their native language, which I think is extremely valuable, especially to WIS, where we’re an international school and we’re trying to immerse ourselves in language,” Pineda said. 

He notes that having Spanish teachers from different parts of the Spanish-speaking world has several benefits. 

“You get different accents [and] different ways of speaking language…” Pineda said. “We don’t read the same books in different Spanish classes. We don’t raise the same issues. But I think it’s cool that we don’t because that raises the ability to bring up discussions about different issues.”

Spanish teacher Teresa Baeza also emphasizes the importance of having Spanish teachers from different countries, as the language is not just from one nation. 

“What I think is that every teacher is a completely different world and that what we bring to our class is our culture,” Baeza said. “I don’t think that a teacher can separate their teaching from their culture.” 

Junior and Black Student Union leader Lucas Aemro Selassie shares Baeza’s sentiment.

“I think all of our teachers have very unique histories and cultures,” Selassie said. “They’ve taught from all around the world, which I think really helps us focus in on being an international student.”

WIS is unlike any other school Baeza has worked at in terms of international diversity. She especially enjoys how teachers and students discuss their backgrounds often.

“I always considered myself as the foreigner… but when I arrived at WIS, there were so many ‘foreigners’ that I didn’t consider myself foreign,” she said. “At WIS I consider myself one more.”

 

The Economic “Bubble” of WIS

However many teachers refer to WIS as a “bubble,” which especially lacks economic diversity.

Burk believes a way WIS could diversify its staff is by having a student-teacher (also known as pre-service teachers) hosting program. When she worked in public school, she would host a student teacher from a local college. Many times, they would later start working at the school. 

“We could be grabbing people out of programs and giving them insight into our excellent way of educating and asking them back,” Burk said. “I’m not sure why we don’t have those opportunities available at WIS.”

Jemsby explains that WIS does not currently have programs like this in the upper school because of the “top dollar” families pay for their children’s educational experiences. 

However, Vargo believes that simply attempting to hire certain people because of their diversity is a narrow-minded approach that can feel artificial. 

“What makes us think that they want to come to the school and make us more diverse?” she said. “And [if] somebody, somehow or other, [fits a box]… it’s something very much created.”

 

Diversity in the Classroom

Vocal music teacher John Munt is trying to diversify his classroom by teaching songs from different parts of the world, in different languages. Munt highlights the context behind the songs and tries to respect the original pieces as much as possible. 

“There’s something about performing arts… where you’re actually able to sing music, [for example,] that is from an LGBTQ+ composer or artist,” he said. “Our subject actually really has an opportunity for diversity and inclusion.”

Burk echoed a similar sentiment in the visual arts.

“I believe that art is an easier place to represent diverse voices because art is a language that everybody uses,” Burk said. 

Like the other teachers, Grelier emphasized the importance of continuing to ensure all members of the community feel represented and included. 

“We often talk about education being both a mirror and a window, and I do think that it’s extremely important for students to see through that window,” Grelier said. “…having those mirrors validates experiences and allows…us to feel validated and feel seen and understand that there’s nothing wrong with what we are experiencing.” 

 

By Naomi Breuer and Isabella Duchovny

 

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About the Contributors
Naomi Breuer, Editor-in-Chief
I am Editor-in-Chief of Dateline this year. As a junior last year, I was a Publications Editor and Middle School News Advisor. As a sophomore, I was WIS News Editor, and Arts Editor as a freshman. Other than Dateline, I enjoy baking, playing guitar, biking and participating in Model UN.
Isabella Duchovny, Managing Editor

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