An Independent School • Grades 5-12

By Amanda Darling, director of communications
Photos by Jessica Rycheal

Pictured above: Director of Student and Family Support Jamie Asaka ’96 (left) with Debbie Bensadon, who takes over from Asaka in July 2021 as Lakeside’s director of equity and inclusion.

In my role as communications director, I can’t remember how many times I’ve written some version of how Lakeside “has a longstanding commitment” to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). But words — and commitment — don’t always equal action. While Lakeside has made progress in making the school more inclusive and equitable, it has stalled in some key areas. Some things have simply not changed. We still have very few teachers who identify as Black, Latinx, or Asian American, and none that identify as Indigenous. A significant percentage of Black students still leave before graduating. And students still report racial aggressions that come from their peers, parents and guardians of other students, and sometimes even their teachers. 

There’s something else I often write versions of: Lakeside is a community made up of individuals. We don’t all have to believe in the same things, but we do need to support some shared, core values: Academic excellence. Global citizenship. Ethical behavior. And equity and inclusion.

At Lakeside today, more and more individuals — students, alumni, parents and guardians, faculty, staff, administrators, and trustees — are embracing an equity and inclusion mindset and working to strengthen that core value of our community. We’re attempting to make Lakeside (its policies, procedures, and norms) into a place where all members of our community feel a sense of belonging. In meetings, texts, affinity groups, and late-night phone calls, those of us involved in Lakeside’s DEI work have labored, planned, commiserated, celebrated, and sometimes cried as we try to enact change. Particularly in the past year, many of us have the growing sense that our efforts may finally be resulting in systemic change.

“Optimism for me has never been an option. Because there’s too much suffering in the world,” said philosopher Cornel West in an interview last summer. “But hope is something else, you see, because hope is not spectatorial. It’s participatory. You’re already in the mess. You’re in the funk. What are you going to do? Hope is a verb as much as a virtue. Hope is as much a consequence of your action as it is a source of your action, as Roberto Unger always said. So that hope is something that you find in your immersion. And you decide you’re going to fight till the end. No matter what.”

As we approached the end of the academic calendar, I asked some of my colleagues: “As you think back on the last year and look toward the future, what is one reason you’re hopeful about Lakeside’s capacity to be a place where every person feels like they belong?” 

“The people. This is a community where all hands are on deck; we have support from board members, administrators, faculty, staff, parents and guardians, and, of course, student leadership. The momentum we have right now is a result of all these people coming together with their commitment and passion to create a school where every student feels seen, valued, and heard. It’s the people in our community that make belonging an accessible goal.” Debbie Bensadon, Director of Equity and Inclusion

The collective effort that Bensadon references didn’t happen by accident. It is an outcome of Lakeside’s most recent equity and inclusion initiative, Our Work Together: Inclusion, Multiculturalism, Respect. When it launched in 2018, Our Work Together was the fourth DEI initiative at Lakeside in 20 years. Some of its goals were carryovers from previous initiatives — most notably, increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the faculty to reflect the diversity of the student body. Other pieces of it were new, including examining the root causes of inequality and exploring the impacts of systemic racism and monoculturalism on our community.

The biggest change was a focus on the racial awareness and actions of white individuals at the school. The initiative was crafted with knowledge that all individuals have implicit biases: unconscious attitudes or stereotypes that affect how we understand and act. It also addressed the fact that racism is a system of oppression, which occurs at individual, cultural, and institutional levels. No person or group is immune from the negative effects of racism.

Unlike other initiatives at Lakeside, there was no opting out of Our Work Together. Every employee was expected to participate and grow their understanding — something made abundantly clear by Head of School Bernie Noe and Jamie Asaka ’96, director of student and family support, who served as Lakeside’s director of equity and inclusion from 2018 until the end of the current school year. “We should all anticipate bumps…. We just need to keep moving the needle on this, each of us,” remarked Asaka at the launch of the initiative.

“To do this work will require a high level of mutual trust,” wrote Noe when he introduced the initiative. “It will also require grace, the understanding that none of us is perfect and we will not always say exactly the right thing at the right time, and that both of those truths are OK. We all have our baggage and are in different places in our understanding of the world and each other, and that is where we will begin our discussions.”

“One of the things that has held back progress, institutionally, is the lack of people actively working on DEI,” shares Asaka. Too often the burden fell on people of color. “But the ‘Our’ part of Our Work Together has become more than a word — more people than ever before were willing to step up and be actively engaged.” As time went on, employees who had leaned into DEI work — or who had joined the school community with DEI expertise — stepped into leadership roles. 

At the same time that white community members were advancing in their understanding and abilities, the administrative leadership group at the school was becoming more racially diverse (one of the outcomes of Our Work Together’s priorities). Upper School Director Felicia Wilks joined Lakeside in fall 2017 (and was named assistant head of school in 2019); chemistry teacher Betty Benson was named Upper School assistant director in fall 2018; Middle School Assistant Director Rob Blackwell came to Lakeside in 2019; in 2020, Wellesley L. Wilson and Reem Abu Rahmeh joined Lakeside as, respectively, the director of admissions and financial aid and the Middle School director; and in summer 2021, Bensadon officially takes on the role as director of equity and inclusion. In June 2021, half of the members of Lakeside’s directors group identify as people of color, and four of the six senior administrators at the school identify as people of color.

These two things — white community members taking a more active role in DEI and the growing racial diversity in the leadership group — has helped contribute to a shift. Gradually, Lakeside’s adult community is engaging in more regular and more honest conversations about racial aggressions, problematic school policies, personal responsibility, and the need to repair harm.

“The very first meeting I had at Lakeside with students was a listening session with the Black Student Union. [Bernie, Felicia, Jamie, and I] had met with parents and guardians and then we met with students. There was a lot in those conversations; it was heavy. There was a yearning to see things done differently. I had seen Lakeside’s commitment to DEI through my interview process, but, as a newcomer, I didn’t realize how much need there was for this work. Hearing an authentic voice — as difficult as it was for the families and students — has impacted how I approached the work and the urgency of making it actually happen. If this year is any indicator of the kind of work Lakeside can do, this is where I want to be. I think our students and families put their trust in us as a school and I feel like Lakeside will not let them down.” Reem Abu Rahmeh, Middle School Director

Middle School Director Reem Abu Rahmeh (left), who moved to Seattle from Jordan during the pandemic, with Assistant Head of School / Upper School Director Felicia Wilks.

In the past year, members of the Lakeside community who identify as Black have been sharing their experiences and stories in public and private forums. This conversation is part of a larger one, nationally, about racial violence, discrimination, and harassment against Black Americans. The stories and information shared by Lakesiders were not surprising to many — particularly to those administrators, teachers, and trustees who have firsthand knowledge of what people with marginalized identities routinely confront in our culture. But this was the first time that many of these stories had been shared outside of friends, families, and trusted adults.

On July 7, 2020, the first post appeared on @blackatlakeside Instagram account: “One day in assembly, I was passed a note that read, ‘nobody likes you blackie chan.’ I never found out who it was from.” In the following weeks, 29 more stories were posted, sharing individuals’ experiences with racism, prejudices, or biases at Lakeside. The @nbpocatlakeside account shared similar stories from non-Black people of color at the school. These two accounts, founded by Lakeside alumni, were part of a widely reported movement on social media in which Black students and alumni at private high schools and colleges took to social media to share their experiences of being Black at majority white educational institutions.

Lakeside alumni likewise called for change in an August 2020 letter sent to administrators and trustees. Signed by over 450 people, mostly students and alumni from the classes of 2015 through 2019, the letter addressed concerns regarding racial justice, diversity, and inclusion at the school. “We call upon the administration of the school to acknowledge the myriad ways in which our institution too has been complicit in upholding white supremacy and to invest in anti-racism education,” wrote the authors. “We write this letter with the hopes of improving the institution that we love and that has served a very formative role in all of our lives.”

As students, alumni, and families talked and wrote about their experiences, Lakeside’s administrators renewed their commitment to listen, seek to understand, and to help members of our community understand the different perspectives on our school. Before the start of the 2020-2021 school year, Noe, Wilks, Abu Rahmeh, and Asaka began meeting on Zoom with students from the Upper School Black Student Union and, separately, with members and guests of the Parents and Guardians Association (PGA) affinity group for parents and guardians of African, African American, and Caribbean students — the meetings Abu Rahmeh references above. In these listening sessions, which occurred regularly throughout the year, Black community members talked about their experiences and shared their ideas about how to make Lakeside a more equitable learning environment for Black students. “It gave me new insights into what their experiences were,” says Abu Rahmeh.

In a communitywide October 2020 update to Our Work Together, Asaka, Noe, Wilks, and Abu Rahmeh shared four takeaways from what they’d read and heard from Black members of the community.

  • There are persistent racial aggressions in the Lakeside community, and community members are unable to report them or have somebody else stand up for them or interfere on their behalf.
  • Students need to have more teachers who share their racial identity.
  • Black and African American students need to see themselves accurately and fully represented in Lakeside’s curriculum. Stories of oppression and struggle need to be balanced with stories of Black success in philosophy, politics, the arts, in every area of life.
  • It’s important for our Black, Latinx, and Indigenous alumni to feel like they're connected with current students and for our students to connect with them.

Those takeaways helped refocus Lakeside’s DEI efforts. Based on the unfolding events of 2020 and ongoing feedback , Asaka and Bensadon revised and added strategies to Our Work Together that zeroed in on systemic issues and used anti-racist and social justice filters to design new approaches. They also began to build a coalition of allies: administrators, faculty, and staff who would join them in leading the work. If Lakeside was truly committed to eliminating institutional racism, leadership needed to change seemingly entrenched systems, policies, and practices that were holding us back.

Abu Rahmeh, starting her first year as Lakeside’s Middle School director, stepped forward to lead. She and Birage Tandon, assistant head of school/chief financial officer, took on the task of formalizing an employee evaluation system of DEI feedback, support, and oversight. Listening to students’ experiences with and concerns about racial aggressions helped Abu Rahmeh understand the stakes and the need for immediate action. “We were given an open slate,” she says. “What were the areas that needed to change? What reporting system will work here, and how will it work for middle and high school students?” This process of making concrete and active steps to improve students’ experiences gives her hope, she says. Things will happen and harm should be reported. The new system that Abu Rahmeh and Tandon will roll out in the next school year will make reporting easier.

Abu Rahmeh stresses what we all feel: “Nobody here should be patting themselves on the back.” But the commitment to keeping students at the center, to working together toward change, keeps her and others hopeful. 

“There are two things [that give me hope]. One is the work Debbie [Bensadon] did around finding candidates for open [teaching] positions. We had much broader pools than we’d seen before and we’re learning new ways to connect with people to bring them to Lakeside. The second thing is being more aware of how we treat people during hiring and being more intentional in creating a welcoming and inclusive process. Something as small as saying ‘We’re really glad you’re here, we’re impressed with you, and we want to learn what you have to share’ — you see people’s shoulders go down. Even if they don’t come to work here, we want candidates to have a good experience learning about the school. I don’t want people to feel that Lakeside’s hiring process is telling them that they don’t belong.” Felicia Wilks, Assistant Head of School / Upper School Director 

Wilks and Human Resources Director Sara Skinner led a second workstream: using anti-racist and social justice filters to design new approaches to hiring and retaining faculty of color. “An array of research shows that students of color benefit academically and socially from having teachers who share their racial backgrounds” reported The Seattle Times in 2019. A diverse adult community brings a variety of perspectives to the table and provides students with role models who represent a broad range of backgrounds and experiences. 

For more than a decade, Lakeside had been stressing the importance of students having teachers who share their racial identity. The first goal of Our Work Together is “Increase the racial/ethnic diversity of the faculty, administrators, and trustees through focused recruitment, hiring, and retention strategies.” But in 2021, when Lakeside’s student body is the most diverse in the school’s history, that diversity is not reflected in the faculty. Over the past 10 hiring cycles, the school has seen a net gain of five faculty and staff members who identify as people of color, bringing the total at the school to just 18. 

The school has made slow but steady progress in recruiting candidates of color to apply for open teaching positions. We are being more strategic in how we craft job descriptions and where we post them. We hosted our first annual diversity career fair in February 2020, and administrators attend diversity hiring fairs around the country.

Solving this problem will require a dedicated, long-term commitment. Wilks and Skinner plan to move forward in several ways. One is changing the role of academic department heads in hiring and retention. “We’re revising the department head job description to incorporate DEI as part of their work, and to emphasize their role in onboarding faculty,” says Wilks. Despite Lakeside’s much-discussed tradition of embracing change, the school’s academic departments have traditionally prioritized continuity over new ideas. “We say you have to understand what we’re doing here. But there needs to be a balance. This emphasis on learning ‘the Lakeside way’ comes from a good place but the impact is harder on people of color, who don’t feel trusted by their colleagues. New faculty do need to be onboarded — but we also need to be explicit how people can contribute their own ideas.”

Administrators and department heads also need to play a role in protecting employees of color. “We have families who question or push employees of color in a way they don’t to white employees,” says Wilks. We see this particularly with how parents and guardians treat employees who are young women of color. School leadership can be a buffer. “We want to make sure faculty and staff feel supported and that their department head and manager have their back.”

More research is needed, she says. Exit interviews will continue to be important, as will “stay interviews,” regular meetings to check in, hear about faculty members’ experience, see what they need for professional development, and learn how the school can support them in their career aspirations. This type of open-door policy benefits everyone.

“I’m hopeful because we’ve moved beyond people talking about what we need to do and have started jumping into how to change. Through research, through working with consultants, through having small committees (with internal and external people) that help us, we’re formulating a plan that will help us re-create our systems. Our work addresses how students join us and how we keep them — how they are part of our community. This school is their school; they’re coming here to be part of the community.” Robert Blackwell, Middle School Assistant Director

“It seems like enough time has passed for us to move past an intellectualization of issues to an internalization of issues and events — a move from head to heart. This internalization has motivated the action we are now seeing in our community. There’s more momentum given where we are in terms of national dialogue, the reckoning around race. There’s an understanding, a desire, and a willingness to do better on behalf of students.” Betty Benson, Upper School Associate Director 

Benson and Blackwell led a third workstream this year: employing a DEI mindset to audit Lakeside’s discipline practices, policies, advisory programs, and community expectations. “Our goal is to ensure that our policies, practices, and external and internal communications are in full alignment with our mission and foster interactions that enable all voices in our community to be heard, especially those that have historically been marginalized,” says Blackwell. 

Upper School Associate Director Betty Benson (left) and Middle School Assistant Director Robert Blackwell.

They started with the Statement of Community Expectations and the school’s advisory program: pillars of Lakeside’s infrastructure. “They’re both integral pieces of how we shape our community,” says Benson. Every student, employee, and family engage with the Statement of Community Expectations, every year, before they set foot on campus. And every student goes through the school’s advisory program. Blackwell likens them to straws that stir the drink. They are the pathway by which students, and families, experience the school.

“It’s codified that everyone should be held to the same rules,” says Benson. But when the workgroup began to look at the Statement of Community Expectations, there was quickly consensus that language was vague and unhelpful. The committee evaluating the document recommended a shift toward more inclusive language and an emphasis on all community members being held to the same expectations. There was acknowledgment that a framework of shared responsibility promotes a sense of belonging and builds a foundation for accountability.

The recast Statement of Community Expectations essentially outlines the same “rules” as before but refocuses on how Lakeside is welcoming people, representing the school, and identifying our community. There is more clarity about being responsible for the school’s mission, shared values, and beliefs. “The expectations that follow reflect the commitment each member of the Lakeside community makes to themselves, to each other, and to supporting and living the mission of Lakeside School.”

The new document will be fully rolled out to the community this August. With this new version, “we want people to find themselves — for them to feel buy-in and a responsibility and a willingness to uphold that community,” said Benson and Blackwell in their presentation to trustees. “We have to embrace and celebrate and recognize ALL and lead with that.”

Heading into the summer, Benson and Blackwell are putting final touches on updates to the advisory program. “If we’re saying we want people to buy in to community, all of our advisors have to be equipped with the tools that foster that community,” says Benson. “Advisors can shape and influence who is included. If we want ‘all’ to feel a sense of belonging, we need to be constantly finding out more, learning more, celebrating more as we learn about who we are. All of the richness we can benefit from.” 

“Trying to change the culture of an institution is long-term work; you can’t shift culture with only one or two events or a few emails. Trying to create an environment where all parents and guardians feel like they truly belong takes a sustained and measured effort over a period of months and years. There is a lot more work to be done, but the increased willingness of so many parents and guardians to learn more about equity and inclusion and to join the journey that their students have been on has been so positive and bodes well for the future of the Lakeside community.” Winston Yeung, outgoing Parents and Guardians Association Vice President of Community, Equity, and Inclusion 

Advances in Lakeside’s DEI work has been due to individuals building coalitions to enact change. These coalitions have been years in the making, often starting informally and then, in recent years, taking on more structure and visibility.

Parents and guardians have been a critical part of Our Work Together and Lakeside’s path to becoming a more inclusive and equitable environment. The strength of the parent and guardian affinity and alliance groups is part of the reason. Now finishing its fifth year, the Parent and Guardian Association’s affinity group program sponsors seven affinity groups for parents and guardians.

Winston Yeung P’23 ’25 has served two years as PGA Vice President of Community, Equity, and Inclusion.

The PGA’s T.J. Vassar Diversity and Community Committee also has grown in numbers — every member of the Lakeside parent and guardian community is welcome to participate in this alliance group, which focuses on supporting the school community in its efforts to understand, embrace, and promote diversity and inclusion. This year, the PGA added another alliance group, Active Allies, a group of parents and guardians actively learning about allyship and anti-racism.

“In the past two years, there has been a strategic push to expand the audience engaging in DEI from just those who attend the affinity and alliance groups to include all parents and guardians,” says Yeung. “There is recognition that we can’t really change the culture of the institution with just a smaller subset of participants; it’s something we have to all be willing to do together.”

The effort to increase parents’ and guardians’ understanding of and commitment to DEI is part of Our Work Together. This past year, the PGA launched a DEI resources webpage and a lending library for parents and guardians. Materials represent a variety of perspectives, tools, and vehicles to help community members develop an equity and inclusion mindset. And a significant number of Lakeside parents and guardians participated in the 2020-2021 Virtual Equity & Inclusion Speaker Series, which featured speakers who focus on different aspects of anti-racism work.

In February 2021, the PGA launched the We Are Lakeside project, in which all parents and guardians were asked to commit to “actively engage at home in learning about equity, inclusion, and anti-racism” — the same learning journey as students and school employees. “Inclusion is one of the core values of Lakeside School,” read the commitment form. “While each family has its own set of values, we can only be successful as a community when we have some shared values that bring us together.”

“With everything that has been difficult over the past year — the pandemic and racial issues — it’s made me realize how much Lakeside has done with their DEI work. For example, the administrators meeting with BSU to listen to us and receive what we have to say about our experiences was amazing. I saw how fortunate I was as a leader of BSU to have these meetings. When I attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, I saw students who didn’t even have a DEI team at their school or people who really cared about this work. During my time at Lakeside, I’ve seen how much the school cares about students of color having a voice and being heard.” Kalkidane Yeshak ’21, Black Student Union Co-Leader

“As a facilitator of the Black Middle School affinity group, I’ve recently heard about several instances in which Middle School students spoke up to combat ignorance and inequity on campus. This makes me very hopeful and excited for Lakeside’s future in the DEI sphere. It shows that Lakeside is fostering an environment where students are beginning to feel empowered.… I believe Lakeside is headed in the right direction.” Danielle Taylor ’21, Black Student Union Co-Leader

“I am confident and hopeful that Lakeside is not only capable but will be a place where everyone belongs.… This past year Lakeside has made the notable shift from just talking about change to effectively and actively changing. One example is that administrators have met with the Black Student Union a couple of times to listen to us about why we don’t feel a sense of belonging.… The fact that the school is taking input from students, staff, and other members of the community makes me hopeful that sometime in the future Lakeside will be a place of belonging for all, no questions asked.” Nathalie Blackwell ’21, Black Student Union Co-Leader

Two defining aspects of Lakeside are the strong relationships among students and between students and their teachers. The school’s affinity and alliance groups are, in many ways, an amping up of both — forging sustaining connections between students and the adults who advise them.

“The groups are an important part of students’ learning and community experience,” says Latasia Lanier ’90, who serves as the Upper School student equity programs coordinator in addition to her roles as LEEP director and family support liaison. Alongside Tearon Joseph, associate director of admissions/financial aid director, Lanier also advises BSU. “[Affinity groups are] an amazing space where students with a shared identity can talk about their experiences and a range of topics,” shares Kalkidane, who first experienced affinity groups after coming to Lakeside as a 7th grader. “Coming into high school, I knew I wanted to be a leader of the BSU…. Having opportunities to share the Ethiopian culture that means so much to me and being able to empower my peers and help them see the beauty in their Blackness is truly inspiring.”

Black Student Union leaders, and new Lakeside alumni, Nathalie Blackwell (left), Danielle Taylor (center), and Kalkidane Yeshak (right).

Formal affinity groups at Lakeside started in the 1980s. The first were Brotherhood/Sisterhood, a precursor to today’s BSU; Lakeside Asian-Pacific Students; and the LGBTQ+ alliance group POSSE, a precursor to GLOW. The school’s student affinity group programs were revamped and expanded as part of Our Work Together; they’re now part of the student equity program coordinated by Lanier and personal development teacher Yvette Avila. At the Upper School, 11 affinity and alliance groups were offered in 2020-2021, many of which have taken on a role in education and advocacy at the school. All Middle School students participate in one of six affinity groups facilitated by trained Upper School students, who are supported by a faculty or staff member. The Upper School students spend hours preparing lessons, sometimes missing class to facilitate the conversations. Wilks, highlighting the leadership of these students, shares, “Middle School students talk about how important those conversations with Upper School students are for them, in terms of making them feel more comfortable bringing their full selves to school each day and in making them feel that they are a part of a larger community on campus than they see in the Middle School.”

Advocacy played a larger role in affinity groups this past year. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd and other incidents of racial violence at the beginning of the pandemic, Lakeside’s Black Student Union met regularly throughout the summer for support and discussion. Some gatherings included Black students from around the city in meetings that could last for hours. At the same time, Lanier was launching the first-ever virtual LEEP program, and Joseph was working on defining an all-virtual admissions program at Lakeside. Even as increasing numbers of white faculty and staff become more knowledgeable and active in this work, stresses Bensadon, Lakeside’s faculty and staff carry a higher burden when it comes to supporting students at the school.

The BSU meetings took a further turn toward advocacy at Lakeside when the affinity group’s members sat down with administrators starting in August. The listening sessions built trust and created pathways for honest feedback. “I’ve only been here for two years and have seen changes in classroom dynamics, the relationship between administrators and Black students, and the overall enthusiasm from the school to be a better place,” says Nathalie. “Teachers are taking the time to reevaluate based on feedback and are implementing the changes needed to solve the problems in their classrooms.”

One thing BSU students advocated for was more connections with Black alumni — particularly since there continue to be few Black teachers at the school. Lanier again led the response, with the creation of a mentoring program for students who identify as Black, African, and African American. Fourteen students were paired with Lakeside alumni during the first year; in 2020-2021, the program doubled in size, to 39 students connecting with alumni around the world. Lanier also co-led the creation of a Black alumni group. Lakeside trustee Brandon Vaughn ’06 and Lanier organized Black Family Reunion virtual get-togethers, where alumni have talked about everything from former teachers to church experiences to the differences in friendships between male and female classmates. Even among alumni from different decades, there is a tangible sense of connection and support.

“Throughout my time as a student and employee at Lakeside, I have seen tremendous change and growth in the school’s equity and inclusion efforts. When I reflected on the work a couple years ago, I felt proud of all we had accomplished and could list of a number of things we had in place to make Lakeside a better school for all students. This past year has been very challenging for me because I had to revisit those accomplishments and ask myself, ‘But why are Black and brown students still reporting similar experiences?’ This caused me to pause, listen, reflect, rethink, and get real about what actually needs to be done. Examining the systems we have at Lakeside and asking ourselves, ‘Do these systems center and support the Black and brown experience?’ has opened my (and our) eyes to new possibilities. Our administrative team, supported by the board of trustees, has never been so vulnerable, open, honest, and willing to examine the systems that will lead us to systemic change. Because of this paradigm shift and new approaches, I have never been more hopeful for what’s to come.” Jamie Asaka ’96, Director of Student and Family Support, outgoing Director of Equity and Inclusion

In late April 2021, Asaka and Bensadon sat down with me to talk about how to update our community at the close of the school year. We had launched a dashboard for Our Work Together in the fall, and we were struggling, yet again, with how to update it given how up in the air everything felt.

“This has been a year of uncovering things and investigating them in a systematic way,” said Asaka with a sigh. “On one hand, I’m glad that we were able to do this work to interrogate systems. In the next phase: Are we willing to change them? If we’re not, we’re not going to change.”

A month later, Asaka and Bensadon stood before a group of Lakeside administrators, leading a conversation about what they had learned, their concerns, and their excitement for the work ahead. In addition to the three workstreams mentioned above, they discussed a fourth stream, focused on transforming the curriculum and our ways of teaching, and briefed the group of the work of the PGA and of the Board of Trustees’ equity and inclusion committee.

After their presentation, Head of School Bernie Noe spoke to our concerns. “We’re not going back. We are going to change systems that will change the experience of individuals,” said Noe. “We’re recognizing systems and patterns that embed systems of privilege.… Students can’t be having the same experience that alumni were having 30 years ago.”

When I think of the biggest change I’ve seen at Lakeside in the past two years, an openness to listening, to dialogue, and to learning is at its heart. "We welcome your feedback" is written again and again. In a time of political division, of culture wars, of tragedy and loss, we are doing this work together, learning from our failures, acknowledging where we can do better, and trying again. 

Why? Because we believe in our students, collectively and individually, and their ability to contribute wisdom, compassion, and leadership to a global society. Because believing in students and centering their experience mean listening to them, empowering them to act, and involving them in decision making.

In a video that will be released to Lakeside families this fall, former Washington Governor (and former Lakeside parent) Gary Locke says, “Lakeside’s ongoing DEI efforts acknowledge the very real imperative that a world-class education is no longer just the academics in the classroom. It is also the difficult work of knowing how to build and support a cohesive community that those classrooms operate within. In an increasingly connected world with immense and complex problems that affect all of us — from climate change to economic equity to shared prosperity, even pandemics — we can no longer operate in silos.… Our kids will need skills to work effectively across borders AND identities like race, class, religion, gender and creed. In a world where so many people talk without listening, progress and opportunity will fall to those who are skilled at building bridges connecting all of us.”

This work — of education, of supporting students in their learning, of striving toward excellence — is ongoing. So how do I end this article when there is no end to the work? When does Our Work Together become just part of the larger whole, the work we are doing, together?

We welcome your feedback, yes. And we welcome your involvement in making this school — our school — a place where every person feels like they belong.


Visit the Our Work Together dashboard to find updates and tracking on how we are doing on each of the initiative’s primary goals.