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Momentum for Change

Marissa Colston ’00 forges new path as a K-12 school dean for diversity and inclusion

Marissa Colston ’00 has been pushing for inclusivity in education since her Swarthmore days.

Almost 20 years ago, she was part of the Diversity Umbrella coalition that worked with the Dean’s Office to change the way first-year orientation was run and push for equitable spaces for diverse student groups.

These days, she does similar work in a professional capacity at another forward-looking Quaker-founded educational institution, the Westtown School, serving as its first-ever dean for diversity and inclusion. Founded in 1799, Westtown serves K–12 boarding and day students in West Chester, Pa.

Among Colston’s roles are ensuring that students from diverse backgrounds are able to blossom comfortably and to make sure the school’s educational practices line up with emerging standards, like the National Association of Independent Schools’ Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism.

“I have always been an activist and advocate for equitable and just education for all students,” says Colston, who started out as a teacher. “This position, the fact that it exists and the school not only welcomes but wants someone to lead this work—I’m able to make long-lasting, really important changes.”

In the four years since she started the job, Colston has been in constant motion, helping students set up affinity groups, arranging for gender-neutral restrooms around campus, leading professional development workshops for teachers on implicit bias and racial identity development, and helping lead spring break volunteer trips to a partner school in Ghana.

She is also involved in hiring, co-teaches upper-school classes, and counsels students through incidents of bias. “It’s something that has always mattered to me,” she says, “but I never knew I’d be able to do this professionally.”

Her next project is a major review of Westtown curricula, setting new benchmarks for multicultural education for all students.

Colston sees herself as part of a campuswide effort to forge a pathway of change.

“It’s not like, ‘Oh, we hired a diversity person, now they can take care of it all,’” she says. “We’re going to do this together, because it’s all of our work. It’s good education: We’re taking care of all of our students, considering all of their identities and our own identity and privilege, and we’re bringing that to the classroom and curriculum.”