For Grant Hightower, director of community and equity at Concord Academy, common trust is indispensable to striving for equity
In his first year leading the Community and Equity (C&E) Office, Grant Hightower is partnering with Robert Munro, dean of academic program and equity, to help Concord Academy become the more equitable school its mission envisions. Before joining CA in July 2021, Hightower, also an experienced consultant, was an administrator in the Reading and Wellesley public school districts in Massachusetts, where he helped teachers develop anti-racist and culturally responsive instructional practices and worked to empower students. This year at CA, Hightower has introduced the C&E theme of “extending grace.”
Why did you want to come to Concord Academy?
Coming from the public school environment, I didn’t know CA existed. Something in the position statement made me take a look, and I saw that community and equity work had been going on here in a formal way for well over a decade. The interview process was rigorous, but also fun and energizing, and I fell in love with the possibilities I saw for CA.
How do you approach DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice) work?
I don’t call it DEIJ. I call it good human work. How do we honor humanity in all its differences? How do we stop thinking along the good/bad binary? At CA, we’re working on a whole-institution strategy to center equity. We’re looking at how we communicate, at policies, and hiring and retention and professional development. We’re bringing in speakers, providing in-house programming to give tools to our staff and faculty, and we’re also helping students understand their agency and speak with peers about changes they’d like to see at CA. Most importantly, we’re fostering community.
I think CA could lead in recognizing students in their whole humanity.”
Director of Community and Equity
Why did you choose “extending grace” as a theme?
Extending grace is an attempt to align common trust with another commitment in CA’s mission: striving for equity. We cannot strive for equity if trust is eroded. As humans, we are going to make mistakes, so how do we experience conflict as a natural part of growth? What can happen when we forgive others, and ourselves, for inevitable missteps? To me, extending grace means that, even against transgression, my aim is to support you and I trust that your aim is to support me. It isn’t an end goal: It’s an entry point into harder conversations.
How do you approach difficult conversations?
Part of my work is to help parse out attitudes around systems. Privilege is inherent in institutions like CA, but can we shift from considering power as a zero-sum paradigm, where for me to have means others can’t have, to seeing power as a more fluid thing that can be shared, that can allow others to access what they need? Sometimes pushback comes from a sense of not wanting to get below the surface. The question for me is how to honor those voices at their core, which isn’t hateful or spiteful but just unwilling to change. Fear is where a lot of us live. One of my hopes is that we can become a school that leans in to create space for kids to be who they believe they can be.
What are some of the possibilities you see for CA?
I think CA could lead in recognizing students in their whole humanity. I can imagine a globalized program that fosters love of self and community and extends that in fellowship. Teaching students not to brace for change but to actively participate in it, to claim their space and collaborate with folks who are both like and unlike them—that’s the next frontier in education. When you’re helping kids figure out their inherent power, that’s when you’re creating world-builders.