In the 1990s, diversity fatigue was a corporate phenomenon that came about as a result of “institutions who broadly supported efforts to create a more diverse American workforce,” and found the effort of “recruiting and nurturing of minority talent hard, often exhausting,” staff writer Hua Hsu wrote in a 2017 piece for The New Yorker.
The meaning of diversity fatigue has evolved from its origins in corporate America to a broader definition that includes all professional fields including education, Hsu wrote. What does diversity fatigue mean in education? And what exactly does it mean for diversity practitioners in independent schools?
Diversity fatigue in independent schools is real and more prevalent than we know. It is that feeling that the work is never-ending and often unrewarded. The diversity practitioner in independent schools may describe diversity fatigue as a sense of feeling overwhelmed and misunderstood. It’s also often described as an all-consuming feeling of two steps forward and three steps back. This is true even in schools where this role has been carefully and thoughtfully planned.
As the role of the diversity practitioner reemerges in the age of political extremism, independent schools are expanding these roles, which in turn means more opportunities for diversity fatigue within schools, according to Hsu. How do diversity practitioners do their work and remain fully invested in their school communities? They should work to minimize diversity fatigue by taking care of themselves first. Before heading back to school, check out a few self-care tips for diversity practitioners.
Listen to your inner voice. Before considering self-care resources, it is paramount that diversity practitioners develop their inner voice. This voice serves as an alert system whenever there is danger of fatigue or burnout at school. This voice also serves to help determine what may or may not be needed in order to prevent fatigue or burnout. Ultimately, this voice is there to say “no” or “enough” when necessary.
Reduce professional isolation. Like other educators, diversity practitioners need to have an established group of peers they can trust to share their accomplishments and frustrations with. This is a group who are there to brainstorm ideas. In the technology profession, the idea of a PLN, or personal learning network, is a vital resource. Diversity practitioners should also develop a PLN both inside and outside their school communities.
Create a mindful space. Whether you have been trained in mindful practices or not, creating a “mindful” space in your school community is essential to a healthy diversity practitioner. Adding time in your daily schedule to take a quick walk around campus or find a quiet space to meditate can help to reset a stressful day. Make building a mindful break in your day a priority.
Recognize allies and accomplices. Beyond the PLN, diversity practitioners often find support and self-care resources through another key group of colleagues and peers. This group of allies and accomplices can be vital to the health and wellness of diversity practitioners. By definition, the ally and the accomplice are those who serve as co-conspirators and collaborators in the work of diversity. In the world of diversity practitioners, the relationship between an ally and an accomplice is vital.
Create a nurturing external community. Establish relationships with people who care about your well-being and spend quality time with them. Developing realistic expectations of your time during and after school hours is important to the health and well-being of diversity practitioners. Your time off is as important to the work that happens in school. This year maximize your workday and leave work at school when possible so that your evenings are free to build in time for a walk, a cooking class with friends, or participating in a service-learning activity. Increasing the amount of time that you spend nurturing your mind and spirit can make a huge difference in your work life in school.
It is vitally important that diversity practitioners develop a system of self-care that allows them to be high functioning professionals in the workplace. Hopefully these simple tips can be the start of a successful school year free of stress and fatigue.ν
Tiffany Bridgewater is Head of Lower School at Louisville Collegiate School in Kentucky, where she is also the co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Steering committee. This article in ran in the fall 2019 issue.