Lisa Pryor is Orchard’s New Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Read Lisa’s personal letter to the Orchard community, where she explains how the inclusive nature of Orchard contributed to the discovery of her own identity. As Orchard’s Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Lisa will strive to create, for everyone in our community, the same sense of belonging, and being valued, that she created in her classrooms for more than 15 years.

Dear Orchard Community,
I joined the Orchard community when I was fresh out of college and signed on as a part-time Teen Connect supervisor. I had no idea that 15 years later there would be so many changes within me. I know that Orchard has played a very big role in my self-development, and I am thankful every day for those who have helped to support, guide, mentor, and encourage me throughout the years. 
When I came to Orchard I was unaware of my own needs to work on self-identity. I was from a small town and moved to a big city for 8th grade. It was then that I was confronted, on many levels, with -isms. It was then that I first remember, consciously, feeling as though I was not “enough.” High school was great, but then I attended a private liberal arts college called Butler, where the sense of not being enough came up for me again. I was a very different fish in a pond where everyone looked the same, came from the same lifestyle/economic background, and again, all looked the same. I felt confused a lot of times. I had never had to really deal with identity much, or I shied away from it. I allowed myself to be a “basketball player.” I consumed myself with my school work and making a better life for myself, and I didn’t have time to explore who I was or, more importantly, who I wanted to be. While at Butler, the intersectionality of my being came at me full force and hit me square between my eyes. College for me was the beginning of an awakening. 
Fast forward 4 years. In those years I did not really have any mentors or models to help me explore my identity. I’m not sure why that is, but it was a reality. When I was hired on at Orchard to be the Teen Connect Coordinator right after college, I was in a difficult part of my life. I was dealing with a lot of identity issues, but had no idea as to how to go about confronting them. 
Enter the inclusive nature of Orchard. 
In 2005 there were numerous people at Orchard who literally took me under their wing and helped me grow and develop as a person. I am 100% sure that I am the person I have grown into because of the love, support, and encouragement of individuals at The Orchard School. I finally had a framework for how to explore my identity and people who were willing to both coach me and encourage me through it. The first time I ever attended the People of Color Conference, I felt awkward and strange heading into the Black/African American affinity group. I had spent the last few years answering the question, “what are you?” and then being told “no you’re not” when I responded. So, I had reservations about going into that space because I wasn’t sure if I “belonged.” Then, I saw the most beautiful color palate of skin tone in that space and soon came to understand that I should no longer allow others to make me feel insecure about my skin complexion. The first time I attended that conference I was also aware of a Gay/Lesbian social. I excused myself from the others who attended with me, because I was embarrassed to say where I was going, then found myself pacing back and forth past the room in which it was being held. I never went in. There was so much shame that surrounded sexuality for me because I grew up in a very religious environment where I had been told where ‘those people’ would go for being ‘that way.’ I was smart enough to understand, at an early age, that there are some things you just don’t share, or so I thought. I had been keeping that part of me hidden my entire life, and it was time for that to change. Enter the inclusive nature of Orchard. Linda Prell and Cindy Larsen, not only gave me the space to grapple with my sexuality, they mothered me through it. I am the confident woman writing this today because of them. 
I have taught both physical education and health in the past 15 years. I have coached soccer, basketball, and softball during that time. I have run numerous camps and offered the ever-popular Dodge Ball camp. But, what I am most proud of at this point is my health class. Remembering the hurt I experienced growing up caused me to be 100% conscientious of the type of environments I was creating. I wanted those classrooms to be a safe haven for everyone. I have been honored to share those spaces with nearly 900+ students who have graduated from Orchard, or are still Orchard students in the past 15 years. They were spaces to discuss hard topics, but to also allow oneself to be fully seen. We laughed, we debated, and we cried… together. I am thankful for the gift of creating space to not only teach, but to learn more about my own self-identity with my kiddos. 
Fast forward to 2019. 15 years later and the only ‘adult’ job I’ve ever had has been at Orchard. My desire to give back to this institution has grown immensely over the years. Not just for our kids, but for the greater community. As the Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, my mission will be to create, for everyone in our community, the same sense of belonging, of being valued, and to be truly seen as individuals, as I was committed to creating in my classrooms. This work can be difficult, and we may laugh, debate, and cry; but, the key is to do it together. We must lean in to what could be difficult and be there for one another so we may all continue to grow. 
As a member of the 8th grade team and its team leader, I have had the privilege of witnessing the Changing of the Guard at Arlington Cemetery numerous times. The intentionality of the ceremony is always striking. You must be prepared, fully, to take the place of the previous soldier on duty. I am prepared. I have spent the past 15 years preparing for this moment, and I will serve with pride. I plan to build on the amazing work of those who have come before me in continuing to create a safe space for all to not only survive, but thrive. This is a Changing of the Guard, and I am thankful to India Williams for the amazing work she put forth and the foundation she built upon from those who engaged in this work before her. I am thankful to Head of School, Dr. Sherri Helvie, for being as excited to engage and move forward with this work as I am, and seeing my passion for this work. I am thankful for those who are engaged in this work currently, Myra Haase, our amazing Diversity Committee, and those who are active in this work on a daily basis in classrooms with our students. I am thankful to be in a community that values this work. I am truly thankful to everyone who has congratulated me and offered me encouragement, including my wonderful 8th grade teammates. I do not take it lightly. 
When people ask “Why Orchard?” we need to be able to tell them that we are a community that is committed to not only the work of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, but more importantly, the work of love. Marc Lamont Hill says this is love work, and I am honored to do it in a place I love. 
With gratitude, 
Lisa L. Pryor
Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

*Lisa's work in this new role will begin formally in the fall of 2019.

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