Expanding cultural understanding is critical to us at Outschool. To build a great education platform, we need to do everything we can to live our core organizational value of bringing others in, which means going beyond Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) lip service.
It means recognizing our individual privilege and biases and actively working to empower the under-served. But to do those things well, we need perspective. We need to learn. And we need to listen, especially to leaders like Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand, the founder of Latinx Parenting.
We recently had the privilege of having Leslie join the Outschool team for a fireside chat. The conversation was raw, insightful, and powerful.
For those new to the term Latinx, it means a “person of Latin American origin or descent.” It’s also a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina.
We’re honored to count Latinx Parenting as our partner. They’re a dedicated and ardent organization doing incredible work.
Latinx Parenting believes passionately in shifting the paradigm of raising children towards creating a trauma-informed, healing centered, nonviolent and cultural sustaining approach where Latinx familias can nurture connection in their homes and culture in ways that support individual, family and intergenerational collective healing.
Our conversation with Leslie was profound for several reasons. First, it helped the team better understand the challenges and beauty of Latinx culture. It was also a unique look at what it means to disentangle ancestral legacy: identifying the good parts we want to pass on and the harmful practices we want to leave behind. Lastly, it affirmed the importance of gaining context to be the genuinely inclusive organization we want to be.
Culture Is Not Trauma
Leslie’s fireside chat focused on “Ending Chancla Culture: The Movement Towards Latinx Collective Healing.” This vulnerable conversation unpacked Chancla Culture, exploring the normalization of oppressive parenting strategies in Latinx/Chicanx homes, like that of corporal punishment, and also explored the colonialist roots and additional social and systemic factors that contribute to Chancla Culture.
It was timely because, as Leslie pointed out, the Latinx community is the fastest-growing demographic. This population is also at greater risk for adverse mental health and five times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.
A crucial part of Leslie’s work is helping families separate culture from normalized harmful customs. For example, fear and shame-based parenting tactics may be the "norm" in a geographical area or an ancestral group, but that doesn't define that group’s culture.
Or, as Leslie put it so beautifully, “culture is not trauma.”
Leslie also pointed out the power of reframing. For example, some Latinx people laugh when they see the La Chancla memes and videos of parents disciplining or spanking their kids with a sandal or flip flop. But those people tend to stop laughing if they consider that same punishment coming from a man to his wife. Or as someone striking their elderly parent.
As Lisa Fontes, Ph.D., lecturer, and author of Child Abuse and Culture: Working with Diverse Families put it:
I think people from all groups joke about the punishments they've received because it is a way to cope with ambiguous feelings, trying to make sense of the love and loyalty they feel toward their parents, today, and also the shame, fear, and humiliation they felt when young.
Leslie pointed out that sometimes these corporal punishments started as a way to protect children or prepare them for an oppressed society. Other times they stemmed from colonization and conquest culture. They can also be complicated by guilt and shame-focused religious teachings.
But just because at some point they made parents feel like they were keeping their kids safe, doesn’t mean we need to keep holding on to them.
No More Passing Down Oppression
Leslie said that even when people recognize that some of the practices they’re accustomed to are harmful, it can still be difficult to let them go. Some feel like if they discard one piece of their heritage, like using a shoe or spoon to discipline their children, they’ll lose the elements of the culture that they value most. The parts that make them feel understood, known, and that they belong.
Leslie likened it to thorns and roses – you can keep the beauty while removing the things that hurt. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We can replace parts of our upbringing and take the rest of our heritage with us. As she put it:
The value stays. But the expression shifts. Yes, we respect our elders and families, but we don’t need to use corporal punishment to do that. You’re not rejecting the value. You’re reclaiming it.
Leslie said it can be difficult when you first start to set boundaries contrary to your cultural norm. But it's helpful to know that pushback will come. Remember that collectivism and cultural belonging go beyond blood relatives.
She also pointed out that it is essential to lead with kindness and empathy. You can acknowledge both the pain experienced and the fact that people did the best they could with the resources they had. She pointed out that it's challenging to be a calm and patient parent when dealing with the intense stress of immigration, financial strain, or food insecurity.
Leslie reminds herself that we don’t all have the same privileges, so be careful not to judge.
We all get it wrong. The difference is how we apologize, own our mistakes, and repair. When we repair well, we stop handing down oppression from generation to generation. Amidst the hurt, it’s important to celebrate the beauty of where you come from. Celebrate what has emerged out of the manure.
Actionable Ways To Further Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
It’s easy for organizations to say that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion matter to them. But it’s harder to figure out how to make it an actual priority. It can help to start with looking at what others are doing. So, here are a few of the ways we prioritize DEI at Outschool.
Identify How DEI Specifically Impacts Your Business
Each organization needs to think about why DEI matters to them. For example, at Outschool, we’re always thinking about how it impacts our learners – the kids who take our classes. As Amir Nathoo, Co-Founder & Head of Outschool, said:
As an education company, we aim to set an example for our kids on how to stand for our values and stand for others. Our goal is to serve a large, broad community. So to achieve the full potential of our business, we seek out extra efforts that include underrepresented groups in the Outschool community.
Having greater diversity, equity, and inclusion means our company will be more creative and resilient, and have fewer blind spots. As a result, we’ll be more effective and have higher business and societal value. Continuing to diversify our classes and educators offers more opportunities for kids to have positive learning experiences that are outside their normal horizons, which inspires more learning.
For Outschool, these goals of building community and belonging translate to several tactical initiatives. It starts with attracting and recruiting educators from underrepresented backgrounds and supporting them in creating culturally-focused classes that celebrate their heritage. But it also requires intentional product changes, like creating more granular class tagging, so folks can find courses and instructors that teach cultural heritage.
Our goal is to do whatever we can to help kids understand and appreciate heritage: not only their own but the ones that surround them.
Help Your People Broaden Their Perspective & Recognize Biases and Privilege
As humans, we don’t realize how limited our perspective is. But the brain is wired for bias, and prejudices will flourish – until they are challenged. In other words, we have to intentionally grow our perspective and build empathy by learning from people who are different from us.
Empathy is crucial to Outschool. Because we help serve kids and educators in education, but more importantly because that's the kind of culture we want to create. It's the kind of people we want to be.
As our Parent Community Coordinator at Outschool, Latonya Moore, put it:
Most of us are well-versed in the stories of others whose lives are most similar to ours. We must engage and learn about other people's stories. Stories that may not be as familiar–to continue to grow in empathy and understanding.
When we engage through conversations, texts, and training, we open our minds and hearts to see humanity more fully. With this understanding, we can better serve learners on their quest to love learning.
One practical way we encourage this growth at Outschool is by giving each employee a DEI budget to spend on resources that will help broaden their perspectives. Such as workshops, books, training, and seeking out team learning opportunities like the fireside chat with Leslie.
Similarly, we also seek to equip our Outschool Educators. Sometimes this means offering training on using diverse imagery in classes or unpacking the negative connotations around specific heritage labels. Through our partnership with Latinx Parenting, we will also be providing a series of hands-on sessions so educators can learn and ask questions.
But whatever the tactic, the end goal is the same: to help people feel safe and understood. As Cara Delzer, Head of Community at Outschool put it:
We want every learner who comes to Outschool to feel that they belong, they are seen, and that Outschool is a safe space to explore their passions. Teachers are instrumental in facilitating transformative learning opportunities that unlock learners’ unique talents. We also know that serving our learners well requires understanding who they are, their backgrounds, and what lived experiences they bring to the classroom.
In a partnership with Latinx Parenting, we’re inviting our educators to join us in a series of fireside chats to deepen their awareness of Latinx learners’ experiences and expectations. The learning, listening, and reflection process is one that the Outschool team is engaging in as well. We hope that you’ll join us on this journey on behalf of the learners we serve.
We’re so grateful to have partners like Leslie and Latinx Parenting who are constantly working toward inclusivity and healing. Thank you for teaching us. Thank you for helping people move away from fear and judgment and move towards empathy and connection.
May we all keep finding new ways to bring others in.