Last summer, Putney welcomed Director of Equity and Inclusion Lisa Muñoz. With a background in law and education, Lisa brings a wealth of experience and a passion for learning and teaching through the lens of community, inclusion, and sustainability.
The Post sat down with Lisa this fall to learn more about the role, her vision, and the role of students in the work.
What brings you to this work?
Personal experiences brought me to this work. I attended independent boarding schools from grades 4-12. As someone who identifies as an Afro-Latinx woman, during those formative years, I was one of a few students of color on campus in a very white space. After law school, I decided to work in education. I have taught in both private and public schools and I felt a calling to talk, learn, and grow my own learning about how diversity, equity, and inclusion impact educational communities.
What brought Putney to the point where this role was created?
I believe all constituents of the school, board, alumni, faculty, staff, and students were ready for this role to be a reality on campus. Putney’s Fundamental Beliefs outline the importance of this work in a variety of ways. This work is not for one person to complete alone; this work involves everyone.
What is the work Putney has done so far in this sphere?
The board had made this work a priority in the three- and ten-year strategic plans. Putney’s student leaders have organized the community on and off campus, ranging from weekly meetings, Putney Panels, school-wide MLK Day events, climate justice education and rallies, and attending the March for Our Lives, Women’s Marches, and, recently, the Climate Strike.
What is the work you plan to accomplish this year?
For my first year, I plan to: (1) Be self-reflective/Be visible/Ask questions; (2) Spend time learning the community; (3) Understand my role and authority within the organizational structure; (4) Be transparent about my role, my motivations, and my intentions for the year; and (5) Complete the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism Survey, and then set goals based on the data and self study. This assessment can help Putney take inventory of current efforts or perceptions of diversity and inclusion within the community, provide Putney with an opportunity to benchmark progress, determine whether objectives are being met effectively, and sustain forward movement and growth. It can also yield valuable information to help Putney think strategically and make informed decisions regarding resources, energy, and future action. Additionally, the process of self-reflection and critical analysis can deepen knowledge of diversity issues while engaging the whole community in meaningful and productive dialogue.
You talk a lot about concepts of “belonging.” Can you say more about that?
One of the outcomes of this work is people feeling like they belong. If you belong, then everyone is free to bring their full selves to the community. The theory under which I work is that it’s the job of the community to welcome people, rather than making a new student or faculty member shapeshift to truly be a part of a community.
What is the role of students in this work?
Students are the best part of this work. We live in a diverse and global world. More than ever, we need well-functioning, highly inclusive people to solve problems. During student leader training, we discussed this theory of belonging, which sparked a lot of great conversation about the difference between fitting in and belonging. We worked on practices all student leaders could do to help the sense of belonging, putting the onus on themselves as student leaders and not on people arriving at Putney.
I also work with the student diversity committee, whose work is student-driven and focused on what they see and feel is important. I’m there for support and guidance and suggestions but I let them develop what that will look like. I challenged them to work with all student groups this year. So far, they’ve worked with the sustainability committee on the September 20 climate strike; the next challenge is to identify the next student group which which they’ll partner, and figure out what can they do together.
What is the role of adults in this work?
The NAIS assessment will hit all constituents—board, faculty, and staff. It’s a deep dive into this work that contains very pointed questions about people’s comfort level with equity and inclusion work and how it reflects the school’s mission.
I plan to provide multiple entry points to equity and inclusion because faculty and staff are in different places along the continuum of this work. Having multiple entry points will allow for different approaches for (1) adults who still need help articulating their racial identity (and who that makes them as a teacher); (2) those who are ready to dive deep on being an anti-racist educator; and (3) those who want to lead the charge in this and to be a segment that prioritzes it.
Another example is our plan to look with the faculty at Putney’s unspoken rules, with the goal of identifying them and articulating them so students and faculty can know what they are. It will help make an equitable playing field if we can say, “This is what success looks like here.”
Belonging is a continuum. This work is never done. There’s no end point. This work is ever-changing and it’s our responsibility to learn, to grow, and to keep up with it.