Sag Harbor School Board Hears Calls for Diversity and Inclusion
By Christine Sampson
The outcome of the 2016 presidential election got Ken Dorph thinking a lot about what was being said — and wasn’t being said — publicly about racism and other forms of discrimination.
The Sag Harbor resident knows a thing or two about intolerance, as a consultant who travels for work in Africa and the Middle East and as a gay parent of two children who are of a different race than he is. He has seen it with his own eyes and through the lens of his children’s experiences, too.
Now, Mr. Dorph is one of a dozen community members from Sag Harbor and beyond who have banded together to form a grassroots group they are calling the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. The group has set a goal of promoting understanding of diversity as a positive aspect of society and acceptance of people’s differences in race, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity and more. They have set their sights on the local schools as a starting place to begin spreading their message.
Speaking to the Sag Harbor School District Board of Education on Tuesday night, when the board convened to begin discussing its goals for the upcoming school year, Mr. Dorph described the Diversity and Inclusion Committee as “a group driven by many concerns who decided to work together to increase consciousness.”
“We need to do far more instead of ad hoc programs,” he said. “If we’re going to produce citizens who can thrive in this diverse world, I urge the school board to make an explicit commitment to diversity as a key district goal.”
Sarah Cohen, a Sag Harbor Elementary School parent who also has a multi-racial family, is another member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. She urged the school board to consider ways it can hire a more diverse teaching staff. She said one of her children noticed when the district hired a new elementary school assistant principal who, in her daughter’s words, “looks just like me.”
“Kids notice. We might not, but they do and for good reason,” Ms. Cohen said. “Research suggests that black and Latino children with teachers that look like them perform better in school. In addition, by increasing faculty diversity, all children benefit from improved critical thinking, problem solving and social awareness.”
Also on the committee is North Haven resident Michael Daly, a real estate agent who serves on the Southampton Town Anti-Bias Task Force. He told the school board Tuesday that the work of the committee is akin to that of the town’s task force, and called it a “pilot program that we can bring to other communities.”
“This is our hometown and we’d love to see it start and grow here, so we can share it with our other neighboring towns and schools,” Mr. Daly said.
School board president Diana Kolhoff said Wednesday the comments made by the committee members at the start of the goals session made an impression on her.
“I am interested in learning more and digging a little deeper into this issue,” she said in an email to The Express. “I got the sense that the comments were well received and the board is open to discussing this further.”
Also among the committee’s members are Minerva Perez, a Sag Harbor resident and the executive director of Organización Latino-Americana (OLA) of Eastern Long Island, and Catherine Creedon, the director of the John Jermain Memorial Library.
On Wednesday, Mr. Dorph said one reason the group has chosen to focus its initial efforts in schools is because it believes that is how a future generation can become more aware as a whole. He said he believes there are gaps in school curricula not just in Sag Harbor but all over New York State, particularly when it comes to the history of racism, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, Middle Eastern conflicts and more.
“There’s not a conscious effort to think about how we can explore these issues in a way that enriches our kids’ lives and makes them better citizens,” Mr. Dorph said. “It’s not just about the black kid who asks, ‘Why am I treated differently?’ I have seen how the U.S. goes from catastrophe to catastrophe, mainly because of the ignorance of our population, and one of the best ways to change that is through education.”