The Centre for Conscious Design

Interview With Andrew Prince Dean of Multicultural Education at Taft School

Andrew Prince earned a Master of Arts in private school leadership from the Klingenstein Center Teachers College at Columbia University. His teaching career includes graduate studies work at the Dalton School in New York City and a faculty post at Montclair Kimberley Academy in New Jersey. Originally from California, he graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts in government, with a minor in moral and political philosophy. He also played Division I baseball at Harvard. A faculty member at Taft since 2017, he serves as Dean of Multicultural Education, teaches AP U.S. Government and Politics, and is an adjunct in Centennial. He is also an assistant varsity baseball coach and an assistant varsity football coach. Andrew was recently invited to become a member of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) Commission on Diversity in Independent Schools (CODIS). CODIS ‘exists to inspire a wide spectrum of individuals in the effort to make our school communities rich in the experience of human differences.’

Andrew Prince (AP): We, in this country, have been talking a lot about race; so, we have to talk about other kinds of diversity and certainly the intersections of different identifiers. 

I think that independent schools have done a decent job of diversifying their campuses – more on the student side than the employee side, but, even still, that’s something.

I think it’s the next two parts – equity and inclusion – where independent schools have not succeeded as much as they like. 

Equity being, you know, our efforts to ensure that all students have what they need in order to succeed. Part of that is recognizing that different students are going to need different things. A white student is going to have a very different experience than a black student in an independent school, which is going to be a very different experience from an Asian student, which is a very different experience from a multiracial student, a male and female student, etc. 

I say inclusion a lot, but my head of school brought up a good point which is the idea of belonging. We want to ensure that folks feel like they belong on campus. We know that many students with traditionally marginalized backgrounds don’t feel that they belong on these campuses. And this is what I look at as the overarching goal of my work.

Elizabeth (E): How have you approached ‘designing for intersectionality’ in your work?

AP: It was kind of fortuitous  – Miss Porter’s hosted the young women of colour conference. There was somebody who was supposed to chaperone a few students, the person was unable to go. So I went and it was eye-opening for me to hear female students of colour talk about their experience. 

As happens with intersectionality, the difficulties compound as a result of the intersections of their identifiers – and that was really eye-opening. 

Elizabeth (E): Can you speak more about the resources that are already being offered to students of certain intersections and just like what structure has kept already laid out and whether or not students actually use these resources?

AP: We talk about what it is to have healthy relationships at Taft, and there’s this thing called walk backs – where people walk each other back from our sit-down dinners in the evenings. And those mostly revolve around gender and students problems with gender norms and expectations. 

We have affinity groups at Taft. We have a black and Latin X male affinity group, which goes by the name of shades. We have a black and Latin X female affinity group, which goes by the name of mosaic. We have an Asian and Asian American student affinity group. a female student affinity group, an LGBTQ+ student affinity group, a European student affinity group…

We also have a white anti-racist caucus for school employees. The students do avail themselves of those resources. For example, we had a joint meeting between shades and mosaic, the Black and Latinx, male and female group of female affinity groups. We had some 45 students there, which was great. 

Our Asian American and female student affinity group is frequently very well attended.

All the affinity groups have some sort of fun activity – whether it’s getting food together like going to Asian market or getting food from a West African restaurant, or for example –

A number of years ago, we took black and Latinx students to see black Panther. The LGBTQ+ affinity group and allies went to see Love Simon. The students tend to take advantage of those resources additionally this year. 

Additionally, we’ve contracted with a guy by the name of Dr. Roland Davis who works for the Stanley King Institute and he provides support services to students of colour on campus. We have a fantastic counselling office and they do amazing work – they also all identify as white. The idea that students of colour might want to speak to somebody who is a person of colour and who might have some of this shared experience is something that came up.

I guess the other thing that we haven’t formalized as much as we want yet is an alumni support. We’ve got alumni who are really want to support students. And I think that we, as a school, need to do a better job of facilitating that happening in a more structured way. So, that is something we’re working on.

All to say, the students do seem to be taking advantage of those resources and everything from that to like, “Hey, we’re going to do haircuts” to getting cultural foods. 

We are endeavouring to support that self-pride, and of course, we need to do more always.

E:  To trackback and ask a super simple question, maybe a really complicated one, why is representation important in your opinion?

AP: Representation is important for a few reasons. And I guess you’re asking a different question. I was about to talk about diversity, but you’re asking about representation. 

Have you run into the work of Zaretta Hammond at all?

She writes about the 3 D’s – the dimensions of equity. She says that when we’re talking about equitable teaching, there are three things we can look at: One is multicultural education including windows and mirrors, culturally responsive pedagogy, which is a way of teaching that is responsive to the various students in the room with the various background and perspectives they have…

Representation, I believe is important in part because folks need windows and mirrors. They need windows in the lives of people who don’t look like them, who don’t act like them who have different backgrounds and experiences than they do, because that’s how we learn and grow. And, and they need mirrors to see themselves reflected back to them, to know that they have a space on campus.

It’s the right thing to do, morally, in my opinion. But practically speaking, more institutions are going to be more successful when there are windows and mirrors because students will be more comfortable being their full selves on campus.

This is part of where it connects to the question of diversity. You could have a diverse community and that’s great, but if people don’t feel like the community is theirs, you’re not gonna bring their full selves. They’re going to share the parts of themselves that they feel like are the safest to share.

We have to work to ensure those representations so that students know that this is their place, that this is home. Especially given it’s a boarding school and it’s where people live. And that, and that’s true on the faculty side as well you know, the student side.

Take me, for example – It’s important for them to see a multiracial man who presents as Black and who went to Ivy League schools, and now eaches a government class.

I mean, they have to see and know that I am out there that my experience is real. My background is real, who I am is real. And for the students, for students of colour it’s likely to be an affirmation. And for students who haven’t had a teacher of my particular set of intersections, they need to experience that as an “Oh yeah, that can be a part of the world.”

There was a workshop at which when I talked about on ‘cognitive bumps’. People have to have their cognitive bumps where their worldview, their schemas are challenged.

Hopefully, we have taught them that when they experience those cognitive bumps, or that example that’s outside the norm of their schemas, that they can take it  and incorporate it.

I mean, it’s not just something nice – the data’s also clear that students that any institution that has diversity in it, diversity that’s fully welcomed and wanted, and belonging, is going to function better. And students, in particular, benefit when they have teachers of different. It’s a moral imperative and it’s pragmatic and imperative.

E: Can you speak to the issue of burden of representation?

AP: I think that’s a part of what independent schools have to look at – what is it like to be the only of anything in, in a classroom? How does that impact your experience? How does it impact the way that you perceive yourself and perceive others? 

It likely is the case that in order to have a diverse array of students on campus, you need to have a certain number of diverse students, of students, of different backgrounds, of identifiers on campus. So they don’t feel like they’re the only ones because, I mean, that’s a really difficult position to be in. To feel as though you’re the representative for ‘your group’.

This idea of critical mass what is critical mass? Without getting into quotas, how do you ensure that there are enough students on campus to ensure that everybody feels like this, this is a place for them? I don’t know what the answer is there. I don’t know what a critical mass is. And I think that’s something that we have to look at as well.

E: Do you, in your opinion, think that there should be more of a focus on dissecting whiteness within a school curriculum or within any number of spaces, as opposed to solely centring the narratives, of people of colour who might already feel the burden of representation in classrooms?

AP: We have to dissect whiteness. I am aware of my multiracial-ness and the fact that I am perceived as black. It would be impossible not to – I don’t know how I could not be. 

It’s something we certainly need to do more of. It’s part of the reason I’m really excited about our white antiracist caucus that school employees are part of. I’m confident that it’ll transmit down to students, but we also need to have a white student affinity group. If we have white students together talking about whiteness and trying to dissect whiteness and understanding their white identity, that’s great.

I certainly can and should do a lot of thinking about it, but I also have been forced to by the world to recognize myself, whereas white people in this space may not have had to think about their whiteness and what that means, how it impacts the way that they view and understand things. 

Working with privileged groups is absolutely important. 

E: What’s your opinion on providing monetary conversation, especially when we explore lived experiences and opinions of individuals? Specifically persons of colour and people from historically marginalized backgrounds? Do you think if it’s a devaluation of a person’s time and lived experience if we don’t offer that compensation?

AP: I guess I’d be a little hesitant about that at the outset. Because it’s about the kind of exchange there is. My experience for other people’s experiences. I was lucky to go to very diverse schools and the things I learned from people that I still carry with me to this day, be it music or the way that people cook or understandings of the educational system of Poland, because I had a Polish roommate, I would tend to think of as the exchange. 

I get the point about it being an unfortunate burden for some folks. I guess I want to try to focus on making sure those folks don’t have to teach rather than simply being within that exchange, that equal exchange of experience. 

E: What changes, if any, has Taft made to to the curriculum to support DEI work?

AP:  In the last number of years, departments have undertaken a number of changes within their curriculums.

We have taken steps in the last couple of years to do more multicultural education classrooms, to try and provide more windows and mirrors. I think that the social justice piece has been less systematic and is something that we need to look at and think about in a more intentional way, but the culturally responsive pedagogy piece is something that all school employees have been thinking about in trainings as well as their own individual work department evaluations and so forth and so on. 

I’m a teacher in the history department, and I know we took a look at our primary sources a few years ago and decided that there needed to be more voices of colour. A few teachers in the science department did this thing about “what is a scientist” or “who is a scientist?” to challenge those stereotypes. I had students think of a scientist off the top of their head, and it fit some pretty predictable stereotypes.

E: Can you touch on, if you’re able to, on the legacy and complicated history of boarding schools, independent schools in the United States? Specifically, their history surrounding like white supremacy.

AP: My understanding is, and I should do some more reading on this, but my understanding is that independent schools were a place of a white flight. To be more specific  – white, affluent, Christian flight from integrated schools. 

We have to be very conscious of the efforts we take to make changes, and they have to be done in a systematic way because systems produce what they’re designed to produce. 

And these systems were designed to produce a relatively homogeneous population that needed and wanted a certain kind of experience. We cannot continue to offer that experience to a population that is fundamentally different for who it was initially created. 

What independent schools were designed to do and what we’re asking them to do today are two very different things. And we have to try to align what we’re asking them to do with the school’s practices.

E: How do you think the image of exclusivity and eliteness that these schools project becomes more and more complicated as you incorporate this sort of work and try to change the system?

AP: What’s the nature of the exclusivity? Is it about wealth? Is it purely academic achievement? Is it purely athletic achievement?

Or is it something else? Taft strives to be a family where students feel close to one another and are kind and caring.  To the extent that you can measure that in an interview, that might be part of what elite and exclusive means. I think it’s possible we can reimagine what we mean by elite and exclusive, maybe get rid of those words altogether, and think of other words – but who knows? Maybe that doesn’t make sense.

EK: How do you navigate conservative donors and administrators and trustees when you’re trying to pass “progressive” policy. D you think money and expense should ever be a conversation in DEI work?

AP: I think it’s really all about the kids. And if we all have the kids in mind and are working to serve all of our students, then we can provide data to show that that efforts we’re undertaking are going to support students. 

It’s been unfortunate, the conflation of things that are political and things that are not.

That all people should feel like they belong in the places they inhabit, particularly in these schools, is not a political issue. That’s just a statement of fact.

I mean, that was a big, a big question this summer – would independent schools come out and say that black lives matter?

That’s not a political statement. I don’t care. Whoever is trying to say that it is – it’s not. All people should be able to jog in their neighbourhood without being shot down, play in a park with a toy gun without being shot down, but those are all, now, political things. 

Really being guided by the missions and the motto and the foundational documents of independent schools and keeping student voices and experiences front and centre is key.

We certainly had a lot of conversations this summer and into the school year, but anything that has been framed and shown as an effort to improve the experience of students and particularly students of marginalized backgrounds is something that folks have been on board with. And I wasn’t surprised by that, but it was really affirming.

Further Resources:

The Ongoing Work of Inclusion: A statement from Taft School.

Taft Statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman

Zaretta Hammond: Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain.