“Having Authentic Conversations and Learning About Each Other”

An interview with Jasmine Love, Catlin Gabel’s Director of Inclusion and Outreach

Reflections on her first five years at Catlin Gabel, and how the community is strengthened with connection and support

Since coming to Catlin Gabel in 2015, what changes have you seen at the school, in terms of the community’s understanding of and action around diversity and inclusion? How has the dialogue changed over the past few years?
When I first arrived at Catlin Gabel, there were some people eager to have the conversations we needed to have around diversity, equity, and inclusion. But there were also those who were reluctant to broach these conversations for a variety of reasons. Some had had bad experiences in diversity workshops, especially workshops focused on race, and were very uncomfortable participating in another. Some had a real fear of offending others, so just stayed silent. Because of the particular value in Portland of being polite, some of the questions I raised were seen as impolite. I worked hard to dispel the notion that asking questions, particularly about race, was impolite, and encouraged people to ask questions and not be so afraid of offending. If you do offend somebody, that can become a part of the conversation. Of course, that is a tricky line to walk, but it has to be walked if we want to have authentic conversations and learn about each other.

You have been an advocate for having conversations across the lines that normally divide a community. Is this happening now at Catlin Gabel?
I am really impressed by how far we have come in having these conversations at Catlin Gabel. People are eager not only to have the conversations needed but are eager to figure out how their practices can be more culturally responsive. This goes for people in and out of the classroom. There are more and more things being initiated that do not come from the Inclusion Office and this is so heartening. This is where you want to see a community standing.

What has been the engagement level in terms of community members initiating and engaging in affinity groups and events that celebrate diversity?
We have had active engagement in affinity groups with new ones being proposed every year. The parent/guardian affinity group program is overseen by the Parent Inclusivity Coordinator and we have several groups now, including the Asian American Affinity Group, Black Affinity Group, Latinx Affinity Group, Multiracial/Multicultural Affinity Group, Rainbow Families (supporting LGBTQ+ families), Children with Learning Challenges, and two new groups focusing on children of neurodiversity and a Jewish Affinity Group. Whereas five years ago there was a lot of controversy surrounding affinity groups and people questioning their existence, now these groups are seen as standard. I think parents/guardians have received the message that these groups are not about fragmenting a community, but affinity groups are a place that anyone can form a group and receive the benefits of a smaller community within our community for connection and support.

The student affinity groups mirror the parent/guardian groups but wax and wane depending on the student leaders and availability of adult facilitators. We used to only have affinity groups in the Upper School but in the last couple of years we have seen adult facilitators rise up to offer affinity groups in the Middle and Lower divisions as well. The wonderful thing about having affinity groups in all divisions is that we can start focusing on cross-divisional programming and give the younger students more role models by interacting with Upper School students.

In your time here, have you seen the school take meaningful steps to be more diverse and inclusive? What more would you like to see?
Yes. We’ve changed how we approach hiring and currently we have a specific time in a candidate’s day dedicated to interviewing for cultural responsiveness. We have worked with some specific “minority recruitment” firms, but we need to do more outreach to organizations that support the hiring of people of color. Portland becomes an obstacle at times for attracting and retaining diverse candidates. But we can’t rest on that as the only obstacle, though it is a real player in our conversations about hiring for racial/ethnic diversity.

A way we’ve been more inclusive is to be very clear about how we value all genders. We have very clear values and practices around accepting, including, and supporting non-binary, genderqueer and gender fluid students. We’ve changed how we record gender on our records to reflect the diversity. We’ve looked deeply at our overnight policies on trips and conferences. We’ve had several conversations with parents about how we define gender and all the different permutations of gender that exist. Our community is very educated and accepting in this area and students who are questioning, or transitioning, can find lots of support on campus.

I would like to see more diversity in the area of socioeconomic diversity, LGBTQ+, and racial/ethnic diversity both in our student body and among our faculty and staff. I am excited to partner with our new HR Director, Gloria Martin, to review how we’ve approached drawing a variety of people to the school and see what new strategies she might bring to the table.

I’d also like to see us proactively address the fact that a lot of our campus is not completely physically accessible. I am hopeful that as we move into the East campus that we address some of these standing issues with the architects, both on the new and current campus.