Starting the New School Year with Open Minds

By Melissia Mason
During the days of preparation for the 2022-2023 school year, the Emma community enjoyed a series of workshops presented by Rosetta Lee, a nationally recognized diversity expert. The topics included creating an inclusive classroom, gender inclusivity in a girls’ school environment, cultural competency, and having courageous conversations.
When Head of Institutional Equity and Inclusion Christine Gilmore first came to Emma Willard School, she knew that she wanted all of the Emma community to learn about the important work of diversity, equity, justice, inclusion, and belonging together. Over her years of experience in a girls’ school environment, Rosetta Lee has distinguished herself as a leader in this space, with much wisdom to share that is particularly relevant to Emma’s mission. 

“Rosetta Lee's down-to-earth, no nonsense delivery has always resonated with me,” Christine shares. “Rosetta steps into her own vulnerability by sharing her own mistakes and how she gave herself grace to grow and evolve. This way of modeling grace and non judgment, along with the fact she comes from the girls' school world makes Rosetta 's workshops highly effective and impactful.” These unique qualities were palpable in the series of sessions Rosetta conducted during the days leading up to opening week.

Inclusive Classroom Practices
Beginning with an all-morning faculty seminar on building an inclusive classroom, Rosetta challenged teachers to consider a variety of experiences across difference. From stereotypes to microaggressions to bias and beyond, faculty discussed the wide range of perspectives that both adults and students bring to the classroom. With a focus on practical application, they explored methods to increase trust and inclusion—to make sure that each student feels seen.

Reflecting on the experience, Music Department Chair Dr. Debra Spiro-Allen shares, “We are blessed to have students from all over the world with different experiences. Really making an effort to know something about each of my students is the way that they feel valued. I appreciated that we were spurred to be curious about our students and to share what we can about ourselves so they feel safe in our spaces.”

Gender and Sexuality Diversity
The afternoon session brought all EMployees together to explore the unique dynamics involved with championing our girls’ school mission while affirming the reality of gender fluidity. Rosetta facilitated a dialogue amongst adults noting that fluidity of gender and sexual identity is an ever-evolving concept, and the language around it shifts. Rosetta encouraged the community to strive for clear, congruent, consistent messaging, ensuring that students know what to expect in all spaces. By maintaining a focus on supporting the development of each student, Rosetta has found that understanding follows. “Kids want to be in a community where they are seen, cared for, supported, known,” she concluded. “Look for ways to make them feel that every step of the way.”

Cultural Competency: Success from School to College and Beyond
Parents and families were invited to join Rosetta in a webinar focusing on developing cultural competency in their students, specifically focusing on how this skill impacts college admissions. She referenced the Turning the Tide report, which marked the first time that a broad coalition of colleges collectively encouraged a focus on meaningful ethical and intellectual engagement. 

Rosetta explained that in most of today’s college admissions offices, signs of cultural competency can weigh as heavily as test scores or advanced classwork. Colleges seek students who display critical thinking, a willingness to collaborate, the ability to communicate clearly with people from a variety of backgrounds, creativity, and cosmopolitanism—citizens of the world who see human beings as members of a universal community. 

These characteristics boiled down to four recommendations from the Turning the Tide report:
  • Engage in meaningful, sustained community service
  • Engage in collective action that takes on challenges in your community
  • Engage in authentic, meaningful experiences with diversity
  • Engage in service that develops gratitude and a sense of responsibility for the future.

Courageous Conversations
In wrapping up her time on Mount Ida, Rosetta engaged student leaders in a workshop on having courageous conversations. Proctors, Peer Leaders in Training (PLTs), Wellness Advocates (Wellies), and members of the Student Diversity Leadership Group gathered before opening week to prepare themselves to lead their fellow students in embracing authentic dialogue. Rosetta highlighted the differences between a conversation that is “safe” and one that is “brave,” noting that brave conversations may push us out of our comfort zones, while also treating all with dignity, kindness, and respect. 

PLT Sherry H. ’24 came away with useful tips on how to communicate with others who hold differing ideologies. “What is most important is that we are respecting one another and hearing from each other’s perspective,” Sherry says. “Ms. Lee gave us advice on how to handle conflict, such as taking some time to communicate logically instead of arguing in the heat of the moment. She also showed us ways to engage people in a diversity conversation, which are helpful tips for me running workshops in the future. The session was beneficial overall for me as a person and a student leader!”

Across Mount Ida, there was resounding appreciation for Rosetta’s wise words and encouragement. As we move forward into the school year—centering ourselves in common language and openly sharing diverse perspectives—we are inspired to create an even greater sense of belonging in the Emma community.

More About Rosetta Lee

Rosetta Eun Ryong Lee serves Seattle Girls’ School (SGS) in dual roles. SGS is an innovative school for Junior High School girls, aiming to empower leaders and change agents and dedicating its energies to a diverse community of students and faculty, an anti-bias mission, and an integrated curriculum.  As a faculty member, Rosetta teaches subjects such as science, math, technology, art, ethics, social justice, and more.  As a professional outreach specialist, she designs and delivers trainings for all constituencies of the school community, as well as the local and national educational and nonprofit sectors.

Since 2004, Rosetta has been a diversity speaker and trainer on a variety of topics, including cross cultural communication, identity development, implicit and unconscious bias, gender and sexuality diversity, facilitation skills, and bullying in schools.  Rosetta has presented at numerous conferences and nonprofit organizations such as the White Privilege Conference, Junior League, and City Year.  She has also worked with over 300 K-12 public and independent schools throughout the country, as well as a number of colleges and universities. She has served several years on the faculty of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Diversity Leadership Institute, as well as NAIS' diversity think-tank cadre, Call to Action.

Rosetta has served as President on the Board of Directors of SMARTgirls, a Director on the Board of the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research (NWABR), Chair of the 2006 Seattle Expanding Your Horizons Conference, Co-Chair of the 2006 NAIS People of Color Conference, Think Tank Member of the 2012 NAIS Annual Conference, and as a trainer/facilitator with the National Coalition Building Institute. Rosetta is the recipient of the 2007 Outstanding Partner in Education Award from the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research and recipient of the 2005 Distinguished Teacher Award for the Washington Federation of Independent Schools.
    • Rosetta Lee addresses the Emma community

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Honoring its founder’s vision, Emma Willard School proudly fosters in each young woman a love of learning, the habits of an intellectual life, and the character, moral strength, and qualities of leadership to serve and shape her world.
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