Isa Aguirre and Jacob Rivers, co-directors of equity and inclusion, are tasked with helping to ensure that Stevenson’s core values of safety, trust, respect, belonging, and inclusion are not just words. They work to help each member of the community feel that these values permeate their experience. With over two decades of combined experience working in equity and inclusion across various independent schools, the co-directors are in constant collaboration to ensure that the office is never just the vision or voice of one person.
Aguirre and Rivers inherit a four-year-old department launched in the upper division by Dr. Mashadi Matabane, a forward-thinking visionary who recently passed the baton to them before heading to a new journey in Atlanta. “She was an absolute force when it came to supporting, seeing, and advocating for students,” states Ms. Aguirre. “She also navigated learning and feedback to and for colleagues with enormous grace and tact. She set the tone for the office to be a place of encouragement, support, and increased well-being.” When speaking about the office, Mr. Rivers notes that he has been and always will be “a revolutionary, and we hope to create a program and a vision that reflects our strengths and areas of growth, and in the future, be a model for other institutions.” The co-director model is an important start, as having two directors who work so closely with one another is a rarity. “This work is wonderful and incredibly difficult, so to have someone like Jacob to process with, to laugh with, and to refine ideas with, makes the work much more joyful and effective,” remarks Ms. Aguirre.
It is the centering of joy, celebration, and excellence that marks their work. With colleagues, they work to form connections and happy encounters through different events. They also co-facilitate a year-long professional development program called SEED (Seeking Equity through Educational Diversity). The curriculum is a mixture of deep self-reflection, education around key terms and concepts, and carefully designed tasks that allow faculty and staff to bring this learning back to their students and colleagues.
This year, Stevenson has seen growth in its affinity groups program. An affinity group is a specific group where you have one of your identities in common with everyone else in that group. The goal is to speak from the “I” perspective, work to advocate for needed change, create friendships amongst students, and learn about identity-specific topics. This year, students led the charge to include two more affinity groups (the Alliance for Students Who Learn Differently and the Multi-Racial Student Union). They join a bustling program made up of the Black Student Union, the Gender-Sexuality Alliance, the Latinx Student Union, the Asian-American and Pacific Islander Student Union, the Jewish Student Union, and Atheneum (a feminist-identified affinity space). Ms. Aguirre notes that “working with the affinity leaders is one of the most energizing parts—to see the way they support one another, the way in which they co-lead initiatives, and the way in which they work to educate those around them. You just know that this is the beginning of a long, incredible journey in advocating for those with marginalized identities.” Mr. Rivers remarks that the way students advocate “is almost always fueled by a sense of wanting to ensure that Stevenson really lives out its values. They take an older sibling approach when it comes to the younger affinity members, and they work tirelessly to ensure the next students’ experience is even better than theirs.”
The co-directors feel a deep gratitude for being chosen to steward this program, which is still young, and they are excited to consistently train the school lens on these issues going forward. After attending the People of Color Conference (POCC) with a group of Stevenson students who, in parallel, attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in San Antonio in late 2022, the co-directors feel grounded in their vision of the work, and feel grateful to have so many colleagues who are ready to fight the good fight. As Mr. Rivers is fond of saying, “There is no corner of the school that E&I doesn’t touch, so it’s up to us to make sure everyone feels that they are part of this office.” Ms. Aguirre adds that it’s a cycle of “learning and unlearning for us all. While that can feel overwhelming, it’s uplifting to see the progress we have already made and the support we have to grow our initiatives.”