We interviewed Dr. Michaela Mares-Tamayo, Poly’s inaugural director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, to learn about her vision for a more equitable campus. Since she began her work at Poly, she has quickly become an essential part of the school.
Q: What’s your role on campus?
A: My role on campus is to work to connect the various efforts that we have going on in the Upper School, Middle School, and Lower School, along with our alumni and parent communities, related to making Poly a more inclusive school and a community where everybody feels like they are seen, like they are heard, and they’re valued. What that can look like is very different on any given day. Sometimes it means working with faculty and staff who are part of the DEI teams and any of those divisions, around programming or curriculum that we can use either with students or with our adults in the community. Sometimes it looks like meeting with parents because we have some really wonderful parent leaders who are working to foster inclusion and also to educate parents about how to just engage in conversation with their students about seeing the world from different perspectives or understanding why it is that inclusion is a part of academic excellence. And sometimes it looks like—my favorite times—is when it's actually working with students and getting to be in the spaces where they’re at. Some of these include planning an event or doing a leadership retreat or thinking about our SLIDE group here in the Upper School and what some of our goals are for both student-facing programming and working with our faculty and staff to create that sense of belonging and value for everyone here in the Upper School. It’s a multipiece role where I get to work with a lot of different people, but really on that idea that we’re stronger and we are more excellent as a community when people feel like they are valued.
Q: What do you like about Poly?
A: I like the energy, the curiosity, and the creativity that our students and faculty, and staff bring to the work that they do. With our students, in particular, I see in the Lower School that the little ones love coming to school like they're just so excited and have that pure joy for being here without some of the pressures that I think start to build in the middle school and upper school. So I love seeing the lower school and just kind of the vibrant world that exists there. And with the Middle School and Upper School, it is a rigorous and challenging place, but I really do enjoy seeing the intellectual spark that people bring to things. It can be a 6th-grader or a 12th-grader and everybody in between, but I just feel like we have a community of thinkers and creators here and so it's exciting to feel that that deep thought and creativity could really be put towards leaving things better than what we found it and becoming leaders in not just the world but I think most importantly here in our community that are going to act to create better conditions and more advances for us as a whole. You feel that sort of potential. There's so much potential here. That's something that I really do enjoy about being here, for sure.
Q: What are some goals you have for this year?
A: One goal that I have is definitely to create more connection, more cohesion, and more consistency between the DEI efforts that we have. There's a lot of really amazing people doing really amazing work, and sometimes it can feel like our circles of excellence are silos or don't necessarily connect to each other as strongly as they could be—which then makes our work that much deeper and have more impact. So a goal is definitely to help bring that work together more and align it in a way that we can then share with the community as a whole.
Also, I want to partner with our students, staff, and faculty to just really hear from them and learn about where we are at right now. I think hearing people's stories is extremely important to building an ability to learn to grow and to change things that we know could be better. There are different ways to learn stories. I'm really looking forward to doing a larger, kind of school-wide piece related to that, with more details forthcoming. But stories also look like meeting with people and asking them questions and listening to them and being able to then see the trends that are present in our community. I would definitely say that's another goal, and I think our students are really critical in that aspect because we can do work where they talk with each other, where they talk with me, where we just are in this process of documenting our narratives that exist here at Poly. The students here are going to go on to do great and tremendous things and so we just become better by knowing what they're experiencing right now and what we can do to continue the things that are supporting them and also to build on and transform anything that we know will make us better and stronger as a community.