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Bridging the Gap Between the Admission and Retention of Students of Color and the Reengagement of Alumni of Color

Posted by Anika Walker Johnson on Aug 14, 2017 1:43:07 PM
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My journey on the path to education as a personal life mission and career choice has an origin that spans long before my earliest memories. Did it begin when I learned to speak my first words? Did it begin when I learned to walk? Did it begin when I entered pre-school? The answers to these questions ultimately do not matter. What does matter is that, somewhere along the way, I learned that knowledge is not just a noun – some thing to be passively obtained. Knowledge is a verb – a communal act of discovery whose true power cannot be realized without intention. I became an educator, in large part, because of my own teachers’ investment of time and genuine care in both my family and me.

While I did not envision certain aspects of my sixteen-year tenure at Tabor Academy – I thought I would retire as a classroom teacher – so many other aspects of my time at the school have been far from accidental. For example, I knew when I started teaching at Tabor in 2001 that my experiences as a student of color at Emory University in the 90s would influence both my desire to include a diverse group of literary voices in my teaching and to work in support of the success of first generation and underrepresented students outside of a traditional classroom setting. Those desires somewhat unexpectedly led me to my current work as the Dean of Multicultural Education and Community Life and the recruitment of students of color through the Office of Admission.

As I began to purposefully bridge the work of diversity, inclusion, equity and justice and the business of student recruitment, it became readily clear to me that many first generation students across racial and ethnic identities were in pursuit of an independent school education, particularly in a boarding environment, with limited aid from their parents. Further observation led me to realize that students were so focused on their potential classroom and extracurricular experiences without a clear sense of why outreach and advocacy from the Multicultural Education and Community Life Office was necessary to the students finding their own sense of place in other areas of the school community.

As I discussed my thoughts with my former Admissions colleague, Lauren Lewis, who shared my observations, we knew that we needed to consider the following questions: How can we use the triple-threat (teaching, advising, coaching) boarding school collaborative approach as a model for the holistic education and support of students to closely align not only the work of the offices of Admission and Multicultural Education and Community Life, but also the work of Advancement – an office whose work allows access, through funding for financial aid, to an independent school education? Could this model also work toward the genuine reengagement of first generation and alumni of color such that Tabor becomes a lifelong, rather than a short term, committed relationship?

It also goes without saying that the Admission and Advancement offices are the two main sources of revenue that contribute to the overall operating budgets for our schools. As such, we must remember that genuine relationship building is relational as much as it is transactional and cannot happen in siloes. Building relationships with our students and their families should begin from the moment they view our websites, meet our school representatives, or schedule their campus tours, and our schools must be prepared at all times to demystify the work of the offices of Admission, Multicultural Education and Community Life, and Advancement to allow for our first generation and students of color to truly access what an independent school education can offer. Lauren and I have also realized that this is a dialogue best had in an open discussion with our colleagues in other independent boarding and day schools because we firmly believe that the model we have imagined is one that will be beneficial to the support and growth of all students in any independent school.

So we are excited to have been selected to present a workshop and engage with our colleagues industry-wide on the topic of “Bridging the Gap Between the Admission and Retention of Students of Color and the Reengagement of Alumni of Color” in September, at the 2017 Enrollment Management Conference in New Orleans, LA. It is our hope that this workshop will move us further toward becoming the inclusive school communities we all desire to be.


Learn about Tabor's  Center for Multicultural Education  and Community Life

Topics: Diversity