Racism does not take a break from pandemics. In May, the USA was rocked by a series of murders of African American citizens at the hands of the police. The tipping point to a national, and then international response, was the murder of George Floyd on May 25. Large demonstrations in the US and around the world ensued. These demonstrations have set off what we hope will be long-overdue changes in our society. Many students, faculty and staff at ISD have given voice to racist acts within our school community through postings on a new Instagram account set up for this purpose by ISD students and alumni.

 

In the June 5th ISD Board & Director's Update, the Board Chair, Ms. Thiaba Camara Sy and the Director, Dr. Alan Knobloch, addressed the murder of George Floyd and joined the rallying cry for justice and equality led by Black Lives Matter movement. In their statement, they both reaffirmed  ISD’s firm commitment to combat anti racist behavior.

 

In the joint Board and Director statement read at the June 9th virtual Town Hall meeting, the Board Chair and ISD's Director committed the school to immediate initial steps during the summer, including:
 

  • Require professional development for all staff on identifying and overcoming implicit bias: administration, counselors, and faculty will participate in the first workshop addressing implicit bias, diversity, and anti-racism in August. Additional professional development will occur by October.  

  • Create forums to listen to the experiences of our community and discuss how to make changes to rid our campus of racism and discrimination. 

  • On June 10, the Administration created the Black Lives Matter at ISD email address so the ISD community could share their experience with the school leadership. 

  • The issue will be discussed with parents at the mid-July Townhall/Coffee with the Director. 

  • The Board will host a listening session with high-schoolers and middle-schoolers by the end of July.

  • The school leadership is hearing the voice and learning from alumni and students’ messages on social media to inform the work of the D&I Committee.

  • Widen participation in the D&I Committee by including additional faculty and enlisting the participation of students. In June, two teachers joined the committee, and outreach will be made in August to include students.
     

As a school, we had started to grapple with racism last year, and although we cannot solve systemic racism around the world, we are committed to being part of the solution.  We will continue to strengthen our work for diversity, inclusion and active anti-racism, and foster systemic and real change at ISD.

The International School of Dakar is a diverse community of students, parents, and staff.  We have students from six different continents and more than 60 different countries, making us one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse international schools in the world.

 

In the late Spring of 2019, following information gathered from parents and faculty  reporting instances of racist behavior within the community, the Board committed to prioritize the issue and to address it through a systemic approach.

 

During our retreat in August 2019, the Board set three goals for the 2019-2020 school year, including  “Ensuring that the ISD community embraces its diversity and that each Individual feels respected, included and connected”.  Recognizing that no quick fixes would be possible, the Board established a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Committee with the mandate to focus its attention on curriculum, recruitment, and attitudes, and to specifically: 

 

  • Define what it means to  “Ensure that the ISD community embraces and celebrates its diversity and that each individual feels respected, included and connected”

  • Take a hard look at where we are along a path to greater diversity and inclusion, based on perceptions and opinions in the ISD community 

  • Identify priorities for action

  • Develop an action plan to address identified needs

 

At the same time, the Director was assigned the specific goal to “Support Board work on inclusion and diversity” including professional development and hiring black and people of color faculty members.” Recognizing that understanding and addressing racism in all forms would require a multi-year effort involving the entire ISD community, the Board also recognized that there was one particular objective--improving the diversity of ISD faculty, which was both important and urgent.  Therefore, while continuing to work on planning for a more comprehensive approach to diversity and inclusion, the committee mandated the Administration to give highest priority to addressing systemic bias in teacher recruitment and retention during the 2019/20 school year.

 

In the area of recruitment of people of color, three roadblocks were identified. 
 

  1. The school’s operating agreement with the Government of Senegal, which prohibits us from hiring Senegalese faculty (to prevent brain-drain in Senegalese educational institutions who might be hired by ISD).

  2. The international education sector at large, where teachers of color are sorely under-represented. 

  3. The systemic biases within the international education recruiting fair sector.  

 

Despite these roadblocks, the school has made progress in expanding the diversity of its faculty for the coming school year.

 

From September 2019 to March 2020, the D&I committee reviewed relevant research, talked with peer schools around the world, identified resources, began conversations with outside consultants to help guide our approach, and developed the following implementation plan:

 

  • Establish a baseline of diversity and inclusion at ISD: 
     

To hear from our community and determine our current status we will: 

 

- Ask all students in grades six to twelve and all faculty and staff to participate in a climate survey on diversity, equity and inclusion administered by an external consulting firm. 
 

- Use the data from the climate survey to craft focus group questions to better understand student experiences at ISD. Facilitators will conduct focus group interviews using these questions with both targeted affinity groups and randomly selected groups of students. 

 

  • Identify priorities and solutions: 

 

Once we have an understanding of where we currently are, then we can start looking at how to bridge the gap. The ISD community will be invited to debriefing meetings, or “World Cafés,” during which small groups will review the data, respond to questions and gather ideas on how to guarantee an environment in which all students and staff feel respected, included, and connected.
 

  • Put in place a system to combat racism at ISD: 

 

Establish a comprehensive framework, embedded in revised school policies, reinforced procedures, regular review and monitoring, and strict enforcement. The Anti-racism framework will be transversal and address:

 

  • Pedagogical and curricular reviews to ensure that diversity of experiences are shared and respected.
     

  • Rooting out implicit and explicit bias, with mandatory professional development, discussion groups.
     

  • Regular monitoring, with quarterly check ups and annual reviews.
     

In March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ISD closed its campus in response to the Government of Senegal’s mandate, and moved its education online. 

 

From March till June, the Administration and the Board turned all their energy towards addressing the COVID-19 crisis, improving online education, and planning for an uncertain 2020-2021 school year. 

 

Understandably, a number of activities were put on hold, including our strategic plan evaluation process, and the roll-out of the surveys from the D&I committee. All efforts were turned towards ushering the school safely through to the end of the school year and paving the way for next year.

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International School of Dakar