A Different World: The Call to Action for Independent Schools and College Counseling

I recently returned from St. Louis, where the 2023 NAIS People of Color Conference occurred. Like many of my fellow educators who were there, I smiled a lot. Seeing people I had known for decades still growing and thriving in this space was awesome. To steal a line from my favorite Head of Upper School, “my cup has been filled,” indicating how refreshing and necessary it was to see a robust number of people dedicated to independent school education. As someone who attended private schools for twelve years, worked at them in various capacities, and is still very connected with my professional work and even as a parent, I truly know, love, and support these educational communities. Before evolving professionally as an educator and entrepreneur, the People of Color Conference was where I felt most at peace with my purpose, and being in St. Louis reminded me of the incredible potential of diversity, equity, inclusion, and, most of all, belonging.

Admittedly, I was not an official participant in the conference. I was there to reacquaint with old friends and colleagues and share a book I co-authored: The Black Family’s Guide to College Admissions: A Conversation About Education, Parenting, and Race. Upon arrival, I wondered if any programming would address college counseling. I found a description of sessions, hoping there would be at least one featuring information about the recent Supreme Court Decision on race-conscious college admissions. There was not. Nor was there a session about the necessity (or not) for students of color to write about race and lived experiences in their essays. Most importantly, to my knowledge, there were no sessions to discuss the impact of the college admissions climate on our students’ mental health. Collectively, I found this troubling and neglectful.

Our institutions are responsible for educating students, parents, and faculty about college admissions and how it’s changing. The process is often considered the pinnacle of the high school experience, and some of our schools consider themselves college preparatory institutions. If this is true, we must understand how the college process is rapidly shifting. Not having any educational sessions about it presents a significant void in an area that may be central to the school’s mission. Many parents intentionally send their children to independent schools to be exposed to “better” college options, but some institutions are hesitant to share information proactively. With an ethical desire to diffuse the media-driven anxiety about it, we sometimes delay the learning, especially for Black and Brown students who, given the end of race-based affirmative action, may need to approach the process differently than they have in the past.

I know this is a larger conversation, but this is also a call to action for ALL of us. Here’s how we can start:

DEI Administrators – Please engage appropriately with your college counseling office. If part of your job is being specifically attentive to the well-being of students of color within your school, please extend this to the beginning of the college search, application, and admissions processes. These are all separate, and hopefully, with your own professional development in areas where you need edification, you can help students and the college counseling office. I am sure the coaches and Athletic Director are involved in some capacity for students who want to play sports at the next level. Same thing.

Heads of School, Upper School/High School Division Heads – Invest in professional development for your college counseling staff beyond NACAC and ACCIS. They are working with a range of students, and thankfully, many of you have the resources to support their continued education. Support programming that supports specific populations without fear of how others may feel about it.

College Counseling Offices – Be eager and curious to learn more about Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions. Be open to redefining success in college admission and higher education. We are educators for the kids; thus, we must prioritize their needs and remind ourselves that we, as life-long learners, should create opportunities for them.

I share this because Brooklyn Friends and Westtown School poured into me, and I owe much of my success to these communities. However, I urge anyone reading this not to be complacent or content; there is work that needs to be done, and we should use this moment to learn, grow, and lead all students as they navigate the sometimes confusing college admissions process.

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