Dr. Mira Gambhir has been appointed Branksome Hall’s new Head, Research (Chandaria Research Centre) and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), effective Wednesday, July 1.
In this new role, Dr. Gambhir will join the Senior Leadership Team and will lead the development and ongoing implementation of a strategic vision and plan for research and diversity, equity and inclusion at Branksome Hall. The appointment builds on the actions outlined in the long-term plan Principal Karen Jurjevich announced in the school’s Commitment to Action message on June 5.
“With this role’s creation, we are embracing a new and foundational strategic priority as an IB World School—a commitment to effecting sustainable organizational action and change at Branksome Hall and beyond,” says Principal Karen Jurjevich. “Bringing together individuals from multiple backgrounds, perspectives and experiences—and ensuring that every person feels valued and welcome—is integral to achieving our mission and embodies our values of inclusiveness and sense of community.”
In her role as Head, Dr. Gambhir will support and partner with the Diversity Council, Black Students’ Union, Gender Sexuality Alliance and other student-led groups to promote initiatives that complement the school’s research priorities, including applying an anti-discriminatory education lens to student, employee and community experiences, and advancing concrete strategies to make lasting organizational change.
Dr. Gambhir was the ideal choice for the role, says Jurjevich. A scholar and author in the fields of diversity education, international education and teacher education, Dr. Gambhir is well-known within the Branksome Hall community as the inaugural director of the Chandaria Research Centre (CRC). Opened in 2016, the CRC joined the ranks of a handful of school-based research centres in Canada and internationally. “In a short span of time under Mira’s leadership,” notes Jurjevich, “the Chandaria Research Centre has made a big impact throughout our community. Mira also played an important role on the Civil Discourse Working Group this past year. Now, with her leading this critically important work, which will build on these contributions, Branksome Hall is poised to make important and necessary change both within and beyond our halls.”
Dr. Gambhir completed an award-winning doctoral dissertation on diversity education and has reviewed curriculum for the Ontario Ministry of Education and organizations internationally. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Education from the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, a Master of Arts in Education from OISE, and Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education degrees from the University of New Brunswick.
“I am proud to be part of an organization that is willing to have difficult conversations, disrupt past practices and find ways to protect students,” says Dr. Gambhir. “The strategies and programs developed and embedded will have a transformative impact on every facet of school life. These include curriculum design and delivery, student engagement and education initiatives. I look forward to collaborating with stakeholders on systems and practices in admissions, human resources, communications and marketing, to integrate and strengthen efforts to support diversity, equity and inclusion at Branksome Hall.”
Dr. Gambhir’s appointment is the latest in a series of recent responses, as Branksome Hall was called upon to address an organizational need for anti-racist education and action, galvanized by the global outcry in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis in early June.
In addition to this appointment, a number of measures have been taken to establish diversity, equity and inclusion as a strategic priority, building on existing strengths in this area:
A report of recommendations has been compiled by the Civil Discourse Working Group and will soon be shared with the Senior Leadership Team;
conversations are underway with the Diversity Council—composed of students, faculty, staff and alum—to continue shaping the Council’s mandate and to inform the school’s approach more broadly;
inter-departmental dialogue has established implications for areas such as human resources policies;
resources for employees have been allocated to support anti-racist education, including concepts such as racial prejudice and white privilege, and this work will continue prior to fall reopening;
a commitment to follow up on and respond to the student proposal for diversity, equity and inclusion at Branksome that was submitted in June to the Senior Leadership Team;
and opportunities for student leadership in the new academic year have also been identified.
To further uphold Branksome Hall’s commitment to taking long-term, meaningful action towards being a diverse, equitable and inclusive place to learn and to work, a new resource website has also been launched to support the school community in living these values.
Reflecting a diversity of voices and perspectives, the website was created based on feedback shared at student forums, listening sessions, on social media and through community consultation with members of the Diversity Council and other school colleagues. Featured resources include recommendations for anti-racism reading, well-being supports, as well as podcasts and videos for further learning. Regular updates regarding news, announcements and opportunities to engage in Branksome Hall’s DEI work will continue to be posted here.
An important part of this work is to develop a shared understanding of how racism and other forms of discrimination operate in elite independent schools. “The way to make change is to disrupt past narratives or the hidden assumptions that are happening within a community, and to take accountability for action,” says Dr. Gambhir. “This includes increasing awareness and taking responsibility for your learning about how discimination occurs, and then identifying personally and collectively what steps you are going to take.”
“There have been hard, honest and courageous conversations with students, employees, alum and parents, as we confront and address anti-Black racism and the need for anti-racist education and action,” said Deputy Principal Karrie Weinstock in her remarks at the Virtual Green Carpet Ceremony on June 11. “Students have questioned whether we will continue to listen and actually do this difficult, vulnerable work transparently. I want to tell you today that as an IB World School, we are committed to action and change and to modelling the IB Learner Profile attributes and our values. This is humbling and uplifting work.”
To that end, a series of virtual student forums for Grades 7 through 11 were held June 10 and 12. An opportunity for open discussion and honest dialogue with the school’s senior leadership, students raised important questions about such themes as incorporating Black history in the curriculum; reviewing the diversity of board members, employees and students; increasing the opportunities for student collaboration on school-sponsored activism; and sustaining momentum on long-term employee anti-racist training.
Additionally, a series of listening sessions was also held mid-June with students, employees and alum. These were attended by the Senior Leadership Team and others, including the input of Joshua Watkis, a spoken word artist who has worked with Grade 8 students for the past four years. The purpose of these sessions was to listen and learn from lived experiences of discrimination and racism in order to understand and then work to eradicate them.
“Schools are a microcosm of society and this is work we enter into with compassion,” says Jurjevich, “as we take responsibility for learning both how discrimination occurs and how we can work collectively to dismantle it.”