Why are diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) important for Teton Science Schools? What does an equitable, diverse, and inclusive TSS look like? Last week, TSS explored these and other important questions and DEI topics, such as uncovering individual, institutional, and industry biases, with the help of DEI facilitators from The Avarna Group. TSS staff members were surveyed in early March 2016, and results showed that of the 89 respondents, 92% believed that DEI work should be a priority at TSS.

 As I sat through the meetings that our facilitators held with every department and program area of TSS, from property management and information technology, to leadership and the board of directors, themes similar to those in my Masters research on Strategies and Visions for Diversifying Residential Environmental Education emerged. TSS’ mission is to connect people, nature, and place through education, science, and stewardship. Our place-based education (PBE) approach includes connecting people to their local natural and human communities to inspire global citizenship. Since communities, with all perspectives and backgrounds included and engaged, are the heart of PBE, DEI work is an essential component of this mission. For TSS, engaging the whole community and not just a subset means reflecting the changing demographics of both our local community and our nation.  For TSS to engage 100% in PBE, diversity, equity, and inclusion - and, perhaps most importantly, access - must occur across our organization, from participants, to staff, to board members. 
 
As we discussed why DEI work is important at TSS, we looked internally to identify areas where we are contributing to DEI. One part of the TSS Educational Framework is intentional culture, the creation of inclusive, positive learning environments in the classroom, on the trail, and in our staff and board meetings. In all of these places, we create and value a culture of learning that fosters collaboration and allows all voices to be heard. We provide differentiated and individualized instruction for some, tuition remission and scholarships for others, because we believe that an intentionally diverse, inclusive, and equitable learning culture is the most rich. Through strong and long-standing partnerships with Grand Teton National Park, Wind River Reservation, Common Ground Outdoor Adventures, and Bhutan Royal Council of Education, we offer field education programs and teacher professional development for youth and adults from diverse backgrounds and geographic locations. Grassroots interests and efforts have led to organization-wide DEI trainings focused on topics such as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning identities. 
 
These are just a few examples of the DEI work that we are already doing at TSS. Being aware of, communicating, and celebrating these bright spots helps us better understand where we are in this work, and reminds us of the lessons learned along the way. Of course, identifying the challenges of DEI efforts at TSS is also important and has sparked many discussions on how to prioritize and move this work forward. 
 
Last week, over sixty-five staff members participated in a professional development workshop on “Tackling Biases for More Inclusive Teton Science Schools.” With The Avarna Group’s guidance, we gained fluency in the language of diversity, equity, inclusion, and cultural competency. We explored personal biases and how they contribute to institutionalized inequity. Using the American conservation movement as a case study, we learned how personal bias and institutional inequity can influence an industry over time.  
 
What I appreciated the most over the course of the two days simply having these important and uncomfortable conversations as a group. It seemed an important step towards formalizing DEI work as a whole organization. From here, The Avarna will create a report with recommendations for implementing DEI across all levels of TSS. This report and these recommendations will inform strategic planning for DEI at TSS. As we move this work forward, we will look to our community and beyond for diverse perspectives, dialogue, and participation. And so I ask you, what does an equitable, diverse, and inclusive Teton Science Schools look like to you?
 
Support for this work was funded internally through the Jack Shea I4 Innovation Fund to promote creative thinking and innovative solutions that further the mission of TSS.