On January 18, nationally renowned diversity, equity, and inclusion practitioner Rosetta Lee spent an afternoon talking with Park faculty and staff, and then led a workshop with parents and guardians. While the afternoon session focused on how to engage in Courageous Conversations, and the evening session centered on “Parenting with Identity in Mind,” the common thread through both sessions was the importance of listening, of seeing through the eyes of others, for making space for uncertainty, growth, and appreciation, and for modeling and coaching humility. Her visit was made possible by the generosity of the Park community in funding the SPARK Campaign’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives, and was organized by Park’s DEI office. Filled with candor, humanity, and no small amount of humor, both events provided the audiences with knowledge, strategies, and support for how we can best deliver Park’s mission together.
Park’s DEI Office treated parents and guardians to a captivating workshop with Rosetta Eun Ryong Lee, renowned consultant, educator, and activist, on the topic of identity development and the ways in which caregivers can support children in this journey. The evening workshop followed an afternoon session held with Park faculty and staff, creating a thread of continuity from classroom to home about a topic that is unique to every one of us and yet entirely universal to all.
Rosetta Lee was a pervasively warm, frequently hilarious presenter, sharing insights into the ways in which identity develops over time — from innocence and self-esteem in the very young child through a discovery process of internal, external, and institutional identity markers that are privileged or marginalized by society. Identity is complex, multilayered, and ever-evolving, with Lee noting that no one holds a 100 percent privileged nor marginalized identity.
Rosetta urged parents and guardians to initiate conversations about identity and difference with children as soon as possible, approaching them openly and age-appropriately. For caregivers of younger children, that might look like:
- modeling curiosity and delight around new experiences, such as food, music, places
- pausing while reading picture books to discuss bias in plot or character portrayal
- being intensely proud without chauvinism — “don’t yuck someone else’s yum”
For middle schoolers, parents and guardians more effectively support identity development as a coach — rather than teacher — by:
- sharing own experiences and struggles
- challenging ideas about identity
- remaining steady through a tumultuous self-discovery phase
Older children need adults in a consultant role, experts at holding space for conversations about specific aspects of identity development, such as:
- gender and sexuality stereotypes
- personal/familial values and boundaries (acknowledging that older children may push against these as they define their own)
- the role of social media in privileging or marginalizing dimensions of identity
Rosetta recognized the common fears that keep us from engaging in candid, often difficult conversations, but encouraged parents and guardians to find a way forward.
This workshop, held in conjunction with a similarly valuable workshop for faculty and staff earlier in the day, was the first time in quite a while that Park was able to organize parallel speaker experiences for both employees and parents and guardians. The evening’s discussion with a nationally renowned, engaging presenter was such a gift to all who were able to attend that I feel sad that more parents and guardians were not able to participate. I understand the complexity of competing commitments and schedules, and honestly, I require a rousing pep talk to leave the house again when it’s cold and dark … AND I know that intentional conversation about identity within our entire school community is as important as any academic support I can give my kiddos.
Inclusivity will be a determining success factor for our children as they move into the world beyond Park, with colleges and workplaces insisting on proficient cultural competency and a demonstrated understanding of diversity, equity, and social justice issues. It’s an effort worth making to engage in as many DEI discussion and education opportunities as possible, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because community-wide parent and guardian involvement is fundamental to delivering our school’s DEI philosophy for the success of all students.
By Nerissa Fry, Park Perspectives PA co-editor
In her work with faculty and staff, Rosetta humanized the common fears that keep us from engaging in the difficult, courageous conversations that encourage us to recognize and articulate challenges and find ways to move forward. With personal anecdotes and the sharing of her own learning, she helped frame ways in which we can all lean into accountability and care – accountability, because we need to be willing to step into learning and growth, but also care, so that we feel safe doing so.
She talked, for example, about how, as a Korean-American woman, she might lean into the discomfort engendered by a friend who always jokes that “of course Rosetta is good at math.” She might say, “When you say that, I feel sad, because I worked very hard studying for that test. I’d rather you didn’t joke about it.” She talked about her own dawning understanding of ableism when learning from a deaf friend of real obstacles he faced that she’d never considered. Rosetta highlights “vulnerability” as the starting place for all courageous growth, yet also reminds us to be “safe” and “smart.” She reminded us that people come from different places in their learning, leading with facts vs. emotion, moral conviction vs. socially-motivated action, and they can be in different places in their ability to engage with difference. We will find that some friends and colleagues are very receptive to learning and engaging – they are valuable “the 2.0 people in your life,” while others are the 1.0 people you encounter; you recognize that difference and choose where to invest your trust accordingly. She notes, “We have been socialized in the fairytale of happy endings,” and sometimes it doesn’t work like that.
Yet she also highlights the importance of moving beyond “binary thinking” to embrace “polarity” – the state of having two opposite, even contradictory opinions or aspects. We can believe in both free speech and inclusive speech. We can believe in both diversity and unity, safety and bravery, change and tradition – if we are willing to “sit in the gray areas,” listen and trust. Rosetta’s energy, positive spirit, warmth, and humor engaged everyone in constructive thinking about how we can best step into this important growth.
By Suzy Akin, Director of Strategic Marketing & Communications
Rosetta Lee is a teacher, trainer, speaker, facilitator, educator, and activist. Since 2004, she has been a diversity speaker and trainer on a variety of topics, including cross cultural communication, identity development,implicit and unconscious bias, gender and sexuality diversity, facilitation skills, and bullying in schools. Rosetta has presented at numerous conferences and nonprofit organizations such as the White Privilege Conference, Junior League, and City Year. She has also worked with over 200 K–12 public and independent schools throughout the country, as well as a number of colleges and universities. She has served several years on the faculty of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Diversity Leadership Institute, as well as NAIS’ diversity think-tank cadre, Call to Action.
Learn more about Rosetta Lee here.