Diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI): What is it?

with Chief Diversity Officer Ken Morris Jr.


Art by Julien Noble using Procreate

Ankeny Community School District’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Framework was developed over the course of 2021 to 2022 in order to outline how the district will achieve its goals of success for every student and continuous improvement through informing strategic planning, policy and practice decisions, staffing decisions, and professional development.

Julien Noble, Design Editor

Diversity, equity, inclusion - What is it? Ken Morris Jr. Is Ankeny community school district's chief diversity officer and deputy Title IX officer. He has held the title of chief diversity officer since august 2022, but has been the director of equity since July 2019. An important part of his work is the district's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Framework, as well as the Mentors in Violence Prevention Framework (MVP) and Title IX. But what are all these frameworks, and why are they important at Ankeny High School and the rest of the district? Ken Morris Jr: "My name is Ken Morris Jr. I am the chief diversity officer here at ACSD. So that is just a wordy way of saying that my role makes certain that all our students have what they need to meet grade level standards without any barriers to their success, whether academic or otherwise. My work also extends to families and communities, and to make sure our faculty and staff don't encounter any barriers, whether that's inequities in pay or discrimination of any type, especially in hiring processes. I am also the equal employment officer as well as the deputy Title IX coordinator. What that role entails is that it makes certain our environment is free of any sex-based discrimination, whether it's participation in activities, or staff or students that may encounter harassment of any type." Before Mr. Morris was in Ankeny, he was in similar positions in education as a diversity resources coordinator at the University of Iowa, a manager of student equity in the Cedar Rapids community school district, and a director of intercultural life at Cornell College. He holds a master of science in educational leadership and administration, and is currently a PhD candidate in educational leadership and administration at Drake university. But before all of that, he was a high school student in Peoria, Illinois, hoping to go to college.

Ken Morris Jr: "So my parents, blue collar- my dad worked at caterpillar tractor, never went to college. My mom went to nursing school later in life, so I was considered a first-generation college student. So they knew the importance of college education. So they told me to sign up for college prep. And so you know, I did what my parents told me to do. When the counselor came to sign me up, he asked me “what did I want to sign up for" and I said "college prep." He just looked at me and was like: “You're not college material. You should think about a career in the trades or a career in the military. He didn't know anything about me and I was just trying to figure out like - Dang, what's that about? And so at the time I didn't have the articulation for what I experienced - He made some assumptions about me based on very little information. That I was a black man. He had lower expectations for me and that's what I call “spirit murdering" and educational malpractice. What it did was - because he was an authority figure - if he says I'm not college material, I kind of believed him. So I began to lower expectations for myself. It wasn't until later I had some really dynamic instructors who poured into me and basically was like "No, you can do whatever you want to do- and we're going to help you do that.” I realized that that's the kind of educator I want to be. I don't want any student to experience that have somebody dash their hopes, their dreams, aspirations. And put limits on them based off of very very little information." The DEI Framework is important for school culture - how students, teachers, and administrators get along and work well together to be successful. However, many students currently don't know about these policies in place. "What do you know about the District's dei framework?" Abby Stratton, sophomore, she/her, SPEC (Student Political Engagement Club): "We talked about it in spec, so I should know. We talked about it within the school and how there's a dude that's supposed to go around and manage that stuff, but he has to go back and forth between the North and South side, and all the schools so we never see him, and the school basically just ignores that he exists." Ainslee McDowell, junior, she/they: “Not much.”

“So what do these terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion mean?” Ken Morris Jr: “Diversity is just those differences that make a difference. Diversity encompasses so many dimensions of difference that we don't consider as difference. Equity is getting what you need to be successful so you meet grade level and beyond. Inclusion is making certain that everyone feels valued and engaged." Things like sex, gender, disability, race, ethnicity, national origin, age, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status are all protected in public education by law by Title VI and title XIII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendment, Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Iowa Code section 216.9. All of these factors contribute to the diversity of our school, district, and all of Ankeny. According to the district website's section on the DEI Framework, “our ability to improve all students' access to high-quality learning will continue to be dependent on the district's ability to understand the competencies, conditions, culture, and context of our community as we continue to grow.” The district understanding the different aspects of student and staff's identities helps to build supports for certain marginalized groups so they can succeed as well.
“So how do we make people feel included in our school culture?”Dr. DJ Johnson, head principal at Ankeny High School: "That's what I'm trying to figure out. I'm not that arrogant to think I can get everybody. We can get more people. We can use multiple approaches. That's why I go around and talk to students, I may send out a survey. We gotta do a better job of setting up discussions with students." In the larger scope of Ankeny, diversity, equity, and inclusion are also incredibly important. Recent events in Ankeny have contributed significantly to the city's culture, including the first annual Ankeny pride celebration, as well as the second annual Juneteenth celebration in the district, commemorating the emancipation of enslaved black people in the United States. These celebrations have been important steps in recognizing the different cultures of the growing population of ankeny. Ken Morris Jr: "Y'all really starting to put ankeny on the map. Y'all making ankeny a place that people feel like they have some options. They may have assumed that ankeny was one way - they're starting to see that 'wow, opportunities not only for education, good quality of life, housing?' people are starting to begin to see that, from the changing demographics, services, and opportunities. That's been really good for me, kinda helping to change some of those perceptions and seeing this place as a viable, safe, welcoming community." By Julien Noble
Art by Julien Noble using Procreate

Information about how Ankeny Schools uses the DEI Framework and Title IX can also be found on the Ankeny Community School District website.