Diversity Education Becomes Industry of its Own
Diversity consultant. Equity coach. Anti-racism educator. These are are a few terms for entrepreneurs who make their living tackling loaded subjects like race and discrimination. It’s an inexact science with different approaches. Emily Dugdale takes a look at a growing industry.
It’s not a typical Monday afternoon for the small group gathered in a glass conference room at NYU. We’re only a few minutes into a three-hour workshop tackling issues like racism and privilege – and things are already getting uncomfortable.
Being uncomfortable here is exactly what equity coach Khalilah Brann wants. Brann works as an anti-racist educator and consultant at the Center for Strategic Solutions at NYU.
And today, she is leading a group of local educators and administrators through an exercise where participants rank the importance of personal identifiers like race, gender and more.
Brann is just one of dozens of private diversity consultants in New York who offer custom coaching to educators and organizations who want to talk about race and privilege.
BRANN 1: It’s a good thing that people want to talk. I think it’s a good thing that leadership recognizes that they have work to do.
Diversity education is now a hot industry for educators-turned-entrepreneurs responding to increased tensions around discrimination. Brann says there’s much higher demand for her work now than when she started out in the business 10 years ago.
BRANN 2: We had clients, but we had to really convince people to pay for the work, and now we don’t have to do it as much, because I think it’s just so explicit that we can’t ignore or act like race, power and privilege isn’t affecting every part of our life.
Brann worked in education before making it as a consultant. And most consultants dip their toes in both worlds – like Eva Vega. She’s the director of community and diversity at The Town School – an independent K through 8 on the Upper East Side. Vega was hired by the school a year ago to create curriculum focused on nurturing identity and inclusion.
VEGA 1: I’m working with teachers helping them become more comfortable in talking about race and racism, and helping them understand why it’s important for our white students and our kids of color to have a healthy identity development.
In the classroom, this work takes a lot of forms. She’s currently piloting an interactive project for younger students to learn how ancestry affects their skin color.
VEGA 2: And we showed them a map. And then we say, you know, like people whose heritage is from here have more melanin in their skin. And the more melanin in the skin, the darker you might be. (0:12)
She’s hoping these small – but important – conversations around race and identity will lead to change as students get older.
VEGA 3: In a couple years, I’m going to see how that impacts their experience as children in fourth or fifth grade – does that structure change. (0:07)
As kids grow up, the questions get harder. But getting answers from consultants also doesn’t come cheap – Vega’s own sessions can cost 1,500 to 4,000 dollars. The high cost bothers Meredith Pong, a Hunter College High School alum. Three years ago, she co-founded Project Diversity – a school club to discuss race and privilege. Pong contacted prominent New York diversity consultant Derrick Gay for help after seeing articles and videos of him online.
PONG 1: We met in a cafe and we really talked about what our goals for the club were going to be, and like how to get our message across (0:10)
But when Pong tried to hire Gay for a diversity workshop at Hunter, the school turned her down. Gay’s one-hour session rate was around $2,000 – way out of Hunter’s price range. It’s money Pong says independent schools nearby like The Town School could spend.
PONG 2: It was rough, because I knew they were spades ahead of my school in like doing diversity work and like bringing speakers in (0:10)
It shows that even for an industry working towards equality, there’s some inherent inequities. Consultant Khalilah Brann is just glad people are starting to talk.
BRANN 3: I’m just happy that people are having conversations that we’ve never had before in the workplace, in the schoolplace, in the church house. Our goal is to get people talking and thinking. And get people feeling uncomfortable. (0:12).
Brann says if you don’t leave uncomfortable, then a diversity consultant didn’t do their job. Emily Dugdale, Columbia Radio News.