From Here to Diversity: where do we go from here? By Sobha Kavanakudiyil

This issue of Diversity has been a hot topic discussed a lot in our field this year. I’ve heard it everywhere. Questions like: how do we diversify arts education leadership? How do we support the diversity of those working in schools to better represent the children we serve? What do these words mean: diversity, equality, equity, inclusivity?

I grew up in Armonk, NY, in Westchester County, raised by parents of Indian descent in a very “white” area.  My parents immigrated here in the 1960’s.  At that time most Indian people were trying to assimilate as best they could and be “American.”   My parents spoke to us in English.

I had really great friends growing up, but none of whom were Indian. In fact, the only Indian people in my life were family. But things at my home were different compared to my friends. I couldn’t really pinpoint what, didn’t have the space to talk about it, and I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.

Last year at Face to Face 2015, I presented a session with Michael Wiggins, James Miles, and Courtney J. Boddie called Diversity in Leadership. The conversations that came out of the session were the first steps toward discussion about this topic of diversity – sometimes uncomfortable, but always honest and questioning.When my parents’ siblings came to the country in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s things were different. There were Indian schools, more Indian churches, and my cousins were raised a little differently than I was. I started to feel “different” sometimes even with my family. I didn’t fit in completely at home or in the circles in which I ran. I had an identity crisis really.  Who was I? I am a woman of color but had a lot of privilege growing up. I started to question – what is the lens that I approach this work from?

This year, the New York City Arts in Education Roundtable started the Diversity Task Force, spearheaded by board member Piper Anderson. Our first meeting was an exploration of terms such as equity, equality, inclusion, and diversity. What did they mean and were we all on the same page? A simple question and one that created such rich dialogue.

The Diversity Task Force has since pioneered a survey to explore information on this topic from Teaching Artists, Arts Administrators, and Practitioners in the field of Arts Educators; started a reading resource list which is now posted in the Diversity Reading Room on the Roundtable website, and in collaboration with the Programming Committee, presented the Day of Learning: Equity and Access for All on January 22, 2016.

It was an inspiring day that had registration at full capacity. We had exciting presenters: Piper Anderson, Jennifer Katona, Michael Wiggins, Tatyana Kleyn and Farah Said and Antonio Alarcon, and Alex Santiago-Jirau; and powerful speakers: Bo Young Lee and Dr. Aaron Flagg.

Here’s what I learned:

Immigration status is dynamic, not static! (People can move from one status to another and the only safe status is citizenship)

When working with young people think about Preferred Gender Pronoun and Gender Identity

I should check myself and think about these questions: what is my privilege, what does that mean, and how does that impact the work I do?

It is important to make the comfortable uncomfortable and be in that space to really have deep conversations about diversity

We all have Unconscious Bias

Don’t run from the work, stay there, do it, fail at it, and then start learning

As an arts educator, create art that represents the diversity of all humanity

We ALL have to be agents of that dialogue

So I continue to think about what this all means, both my experiences and what I gained from a thought provoking day.  How does this all impact what I do as an Arts Educator?

I will leave you with this quote from Jimmy Carter, “We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.”

1 Comment

rachel watts says:

Sobha,
this is a beautifully written reflection. thanks for sharing.

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