VILLANOVA, Pa. – For most of his 23-year career in education, Anthony Stevenson, EdD, worked in suburban schools in the Philadelphia area, and more often than not, he was the only teacher of color at his school. He often felt isolated without other teachers who shared similar backgrounds. He also knew he wasn’t alone in feeling this way and wanted to find a way to connect minority educators in the region.
“While I enjoyed positive work environments, I still wished I could talk to people with shared experiences,” Dr. Stevenson said. “‘How can we get people together?’ I thought. ‘How can we start the conversation?’”
Dr. Stevenson, who is the principal of Radnor Elementary School and an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Education and Counseling at Villanova University, collaborated with his colleagues at Villanova to host an Educators of Color Meet-up at Villanova this past January. He worked with Jerusha Conner, PhD, the Graduate Program Director in Education, and Krista M. Malott, PhD, the Graduate Program Director in Counseling, to organize the event, which included speakers such as superintendents and HR directors from local public school districts, the head of a network of Catholic schools in Philadelphia, and Terry Nance, PhD, Villanova’s Associate Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer. The event also included small-group breakout conversations and networking.
Nearly 80 educators attended the meet-up, the news of which spread mostly through word of mouth.
“I emailed the superintendents in all of the school districts in Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties, and word spread from there,” Dr. Stevenson said.
According to Dr. Stevenson, the event had three main goals: 1.) to simply bring people together, to create an opportunity for people to establish professional networks; 2.) to establish mentorships by connecting younger teachers with more experienced teachers; and 3.) to help identify allies—Dr. Stevenson noted that 20% of the attendees were white, and the Haverford Township School District sent its entire leadership team to learn more about recruiting and supporting teachers of color.
"We are interested in working with local districts to not only strengthen our efforts to recruit and prepare teachers of color but also to support them in advancing their careers."
“Many people voiced their appreciation for the event and their hope that we would continue to host such gatherings to build and fortify the network,” Dr. Conner said. “We are interested in working with local districts to not only strengthen our efforts to recruit and prepare teachers of color but also to support them in advancing their careers.”
Denzell Stanislaus ’15 VSB, a current master’s student in School Counseling at Villanova, attended the event to engage in meaningful conversations and connect with other black individuals who are passionate about education and learn from their concrete experiences in schools.
“I got the sense that many of the educators yearned for the opportunity to not only connect with peers who looked like them and might share similar experiences but also to vent about the challenges they are experiencing and the changes they hope to see in their schools,” Stanislaus said. “What the members of my breakout group were sharing resonated in the space. Having a designated place where you do not feel like you have to be ‘on,’ as black individuals often feel, and where you can have your thoughts and feelings normalized and understood is incredibly important.”
Plans are in the works to continue the conversation by holding a series of workshops beginning this spring, and to build a database of educators of color to grow the program and share information more effectively.
“I can’t say enough about Villanova,” Dr. Stevenson said. “An adjunct came in with a crazy idea, and they gave me their full support.”
While the support network for educators of color in the area is just getting started, Stanislaus already observed the seeds of potential for the program and the exponential effect it can have.
“I find this initiative essential for black educators, especially in suburban schools that may be predominantly white from a student, faculty and staff standpoint,” he said. “Having been at Villanova for seven years, I have had several instances where I have needed to retreat to predominantly black and brown spaces, not only for connection, but also to keep my identity as a black male from being white washed. I suspect that pieces of this sentiment, if not all of it, would resonate with other black educators, particularly those in environments where they are minorities and minoritized. That is why being able to congregate, to share stories of challenge and success, and to network are crucial. Ultimately, this is not for us. It is for the students we serve.”