Insight: Identity & Belonging

By Bess McKinney & Dr. Ed Castro, EICL Coordinators

The activist Grace Lee Boggs said, “in the middle of a catastrophe, in the middle of disaster, people—particularly people who have already suffered—see an opportunity to evolve to another stage of humanity.” The 2020-21 school year was a year of drastic change and shift—a year of the waking up of many to systemic inequities and racism and the harm they have caused, of pain, sadness, loss, and anger. But, if we can take inspiration from Boggs, we should be ready and excited to create a fuller and deeper sense of who we are and how we are each critically connected to one another. Building those critical connections requires equity, inclusion, and compassionate leadership. It asks us to act with the recognition that each of us comes to EPS with different privileges, to value and respect each member of our community, and to celebrate the wins and mourn the losses—large and small—of our community. It requires dedication to the fullness of identity and belonging.

This year, our goals as EICL coordinators are driven by identity and belonging. Our work will be aimed to increase understanding and support for identity development, in all its forms, but specifically racial, gender, and ethnic identity development and to increase the discussion, understanding, and adoption of anti-racist and culturally responsive teaching practices, thereby creating a sense of belonging for all in our community.

Our work over the past three years to support identity development has included building up student clubs that are designed around celebration of identity, sending students to national and regional diversity conferences, hosting speakers who elevate and highlight the voices of those who are often underrepresented, and supporting teachers to do the same in their classrooms. As we begin to look at 2021-22, we are excited about the opportunity to build even more support for students in all of who they are—more student organizations that support identity discussions and development, more guest speakers who raise up thorny questions and important conversations about who we are and how we see ourselves, and more learning for all of us on campus about how to build identity development into our classroom practices.

When we feel we belong, we feel our voice is heard and we can, in turn, speak with more confidence, more insight, more compassion for others. Building a sense of belonging for all—in our curriculum, in our teaching practices, in our student and community gatherings, in our systems, and in our communication—must not only be responsive to and lift up the strengths, needs, and experiences of all in our community, but must also lead to a greater understanding of the world around us and our place in it. Last year, we grew that sense of belonging with community conversations about the effect of the pandemic and racially- and ethnically-targeted violence; in musical playlists honoring Pride and Indigenous People’s Day, in our first-ever student-organized Culture Night. This year, we look forward to continuing and expanding these events and conversations. And to making sure that we build the skills and connections that allow all students to feel truly seen and valued for who they each are.

We already have a number of initiatives and events planned and are excited to share those with you over the course of the year. We also need you as partners in this work. If you have questions or want to discuss EICL at EPS please email us (Dr. Ed Castro and Ms. Bess McKinney) at