Reflections from the International School Anti-Discrimination Task Force, 14-15 October 2022

By: AIELOC Fellows – Justin Garcia (they/them/theirs), Kristina Pennell-Götze (she/her/hers), Iyabo Tinubu (she/her/hers), and Cultural Wealth and Lifelong Learning Practitioners – Rama Ndiaye (she/her/hers), Nayoung Weaver (they/she)

What does joy look like in the international school ecosystem?

On 14-15 October 2022, positional and thought leaders gathered at the International School of Geneva (Ecolint) to attend the inaugural International School Anti-Discrimination Task Force (ISADTF). 91 educators coming from 5 continents participated in this historical moment.

During these two days of reflection, connection, and co-construction of knowledge and shared understanding, members of the global majority and those of dominant groups held space for one another. Throughout the event, members of the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC) engaged in line with Our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Policy:

“We acknowledge that​ ​the diverse backgrounds and voices of our community represented in the collective make us​ ​stronger and better equipped to make a positive impact globally… Our goal is to ensure that our association and our global partners demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and anti-racism and that this is reflected in policies, programs, practices, recruitment, curriculum, and the life of the institutions in general.”

As we worked, we found solace in gathering as a community.

We heard from the founders of the Task Force – the Educational Collaborative for International Schools (ECIS), the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), the International School of Geneva (Ecolint), AIELOC – and we were graced with a presentation from Xoài David and Clara Reynolds, founders of the Organisation to Decolonise International Schools (ODIS). During an impromptu moment, we also had the opportunity to hear the heart-wrenching experiences of an Ecolint alumnus, Eloise Hughes, and an Ecolint student, Violetta. Equipped with this additional knowledge, educators entered committees motivated to collaborate and generate commitments. The committees were:

  • Governance, facilitated by Kathleen Naglee (she/her)
  • Leadership, facilitated by Fandy Diney (she/her)
  •  Accreditation, facilitated by Nunana Nyomi (he/him)
  •  Humanising Pedagogy through Teaching and Learning, originally Curriculum, facilitated
    by Angeline Aow (she/her)
  •  Recruitment and Retention, facilitated by Justin Garcia (they/them)
  •  Agency, originally Student Agency, facilitated by Katrina Sunnei Samasa (she/her)

From AIELOC;s perspective, one of the goals of the conference was to model, in real time, our commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice, also known as DEIJ. It was extremely important to us that members of the global majority – and other historically-marginalized folks – bring their authentic selves to discuss radical possibilities with those possessing systems knowledge in order to co-create strategies for a more equitable ecosystem. Another goal was to ensure collective accountability for our tasks. In order to reach that goal, each committee
pledged to have at least three commitments by the conclusion of the Task Force. Our dedicated facilitators understood too well that in spite of the extraordinary collaboration that took place, the commitments shared should continue to be a work in progress.

As AIELOC members, we are still in disbelief that we all came together on the sunny weekend of October 14th and are still buzzing from it. Although many of the bodies we hugged were those of the faces we only saw via Zoom until that weekend, it all felt familiar and easy. We all
already knew each other. As advocates that continue to be systematically oppressed at our jobs, being seen and embraced for exactly who we are was refreshing and a (radical) dream come true. Thanks to our cultural wealth, as marginalized folks, we have the critical lens to
observe and talk about the oppression all around us, even though existing structures continue to refuse to acknowledge its existence. Unpacking these systems, to ideastorm solution steps, was invigorating. As AIELOC members, we were there for the movement, the joy, the radical imagination, and of course, being together in solidarity.

Nevertheless, history continues to repeat itself: Even during a Task Force aimed at creating anti-discrimination policies in international schools, we still witnessed – internalized and externalized – oppressive behaviors. We heard from educators who were still surprised that
racism and all the other -isms still exist. As AIELOC members, we were reminded that many institutions are still at the stage of reckoning with the idea that all human beings in their community, no matter their identity, should matter. Many with power and privilege do not have to
come to terms with their experiences of oppression in their lives and thus continue to exploit, appropriate, and commodify our knowledge while continuing to erase our existence in the ecosystem at large.

Even the existence of the taskforce shed light on the privilege we hold within the community. Many attendants could not attend because of distance, travel costs, or illness from the ongoing pandemic. Options for virtual participation were limited. Voices of international school support and maintenance staff were missing. This reinforces our own commitments to learning and action for future taskforce endeavors.

The strategies that emerge from genuinely diverse, equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist sessions are new and unparalleled in international schools. Some of us understand that expertise does not mean authority and, as Keynote Speaker Cynthia Roberson stated, passion alone does not make us experts. Many people “in DEIJ” have not made a personal connection to its history and therefore have a lack of understanding of its true meaning. Our ancestors have invited us into this work – we are in a multigenerational effort and need to stay humble. However, divesting in capitalism is challenging when we are taught that succeeding in that realm is our life’s purpose. In shifting systems, we all have a role to play. We must all fight back against these systems and the people who uphold White Supremacy Culture.

As James Baldwin stated, “The place in which I'll fit will not exist until I make it.” We, members of the global majority, historically-marginalized folks, and AIELOC, had a taste of a genuine space of belonging during the Task Force. Channeling that creative space for our students is our primary job as educators. We have a lot of work to do – but we will do it our way and with a
focus on liberation. But let us start by centering ourselves and our lived experiences, front, back, and all the way. Let us continue the journey with humility while inspiring each other.

To answer the question from the beginning of the reflection: the joy in the international school ecosystem should look and feel like an AIELOC meeting. A space where people gather to be with each other, actively listen to one another, have each other’s backs, and fully realize the importance of authentic solidarity. As AIELOC founder, Kevin Simpson, always says: “it’s about WE not me”.

To non-members of AIELOC: Whatever position you hold, include colleagues that are AIELOC members who breathe and live the work every day simply by showing up to their institutions. Move beyond “allyship” and engage as an advocate. Advocate for a system of time and financial support for them so they can sit next to you at any table you access. Their presence is
revolutionary – uplift them, and in turn, you will play a part in breaking the cycle of oppression that plagues our ecosystem.

To our AIELOC family: coming back to reality after being together is tough. We know. Until our next family reunion, take care of yourself, stay in community, and reach out. Keep being you.

We love you.