For the last three years, Aisha worked at Indianapolis Classical Schools, Riverside High School, first as a lead English teacher and, most recently, as dean of students. She also served as a specialist in racial equity and culturally responsive teaching for Indianapolis Classical Schools. Before that, Aisha was an out of school time program facilitator at Education Works in Philadelphia. Early in her career, she worked in South Africa as a research and development team member at the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy and as a teacher/volunteer at the Ikhaya Primary School. Aisha earned a B.A. in English and urban secondary education from Howard University and a M.S.Ed. in international education development from the University of Pennsylvania.
How have your life and work experiences prepared you for your role as DEIJ director at Hawken?
My preparation for DEIJ (unknowingly) began for me around the age of 8 when my younger brother Tre was born. Tre was born with cerebral palsy and autism, and I spent many years observing and supporting my mother in finding equitable ways to give Tre the quality of life and learning that he deserved. I saw how my hometown’s school system, health care providers, and government liaisons alike often treated my brother and family differently because we were African American and low income. I lived through that struggle for equitable treatment and support on behalf of my brother, and it lit a fire in me from a young age to be more attuned to the needs of folks who are marginalized.
Outside of my upbringing, my tenure at Howard University and the University of Pennsylvania also provided ample opportunities for learning and practice that addressed marginalization and inequity on theoretical and practical levels. I have been blessed to be able to work in educational settings within communities in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, PA, Newark, NJ, Cape Town, South Africa, and Indianapolis, Indiana designing solutions with students and families that address diversity, equity, and inclusion. As such, I am excited to bring these experiences to the beautiful city of Cleveland and dynamic Hawken community.
Given that this is a relatively new position at the Upper School, what do you see as your greatest challenge(s)?
In this new position, I love that there are so many spaces where the DEIJ office can provide support and partnership. As such, the greatest challenge (which is a positive one!) will be learning how to properly time based on the most poignant interests and needs of the Upper School community.
What aspects of your job excite you the most?
I am most excited for the opportunity to work with students and support them for making their visions for a more equitable and inclusive school community a reality.
What drew you to the Hawken community and to this position?
I was immediately drawn to Hawken due to this community’s open and forward commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. DEIJ is embedded in the ethos of Fair Play, and members of Hawken’s leadership team are fully committed to the work.
Who inspires you and why?
The individual who inspires me the most is my mother. She is driven, loving, supportive, and doesn’t take no for an answer when it comes to helping those she loves most. I strive to be as dependable as she is for all those I encounter.
What do you like to do in your free time? What are you eager to explore in the Cleveland area?
I am a reader and love to take time to delve into good books (currently I am reading a beautiful novel by Isabel Allende). Reading relaxes me and allows my mind to creatively flow. I am also an avid foodie and music lover; so if there’s a space with good food and good music, I’m in!
What are 3 character traits that your friends would use to describe you?
Responsible, caring, and driven
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
I played club softball for 10 years of my life. At one point in time, my team was first in the U.S.!
What’s something you’ve done that you will never do again?
Cut my hair. I’m a naturalista and love letting my fro grow.
What is your favorite book? Favorite movie?
I am a lover of science fiction, so my favorite book is Kindred by Octavia Butler. Movies… not so much. If I watch Modern Family I’m more than a happy camper 😊.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Chocolate. Chocolate. Chocolate.
Name your favorite song or artist.
R&B is my favorite genre of music, and SO MANY great artists live within that genre. If I had to pick ONE it would be Jasmine Sullivan.