After working for 16 years in higher education, Terri Roberts-Leonard is convinced that conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion need to begin early.
As Carmel Clay Schools’ first diversity, equity and inclusion officer, she wants to ensure all students are familiar with these issues before they graduate high school.
“Working in higher education, you can see the outcome of when certain topics aren’t discussed at the K-12 level. It’s a much harder transition for students when they’re not exposed to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion,” Roberts-Leonard said. “When you get to the real world and college environment, many times I saw students who were unprepared and uncomfortable and not ready to interact with anybody who wasn’t the same as them.”
Before starting her new role in Carmel on Jan. 19, the Dayton, Ohio, native worked as the director of diversity and inclusion at Franklin College. She also has worked at the University of Cincinnati, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Morehead State University and Ball State University.
Roberts-Leonard said people often misunderstand the role of a diversity, equity and inclusion officer. She said some parents have assumed it will lead to indoctrination of their children, but that’s not what her job is about.
“The goal of diversity education is not to liberalize people or change their views,” she said. “It’s for you to learn about structures and systemic matters, then you have to decide on your own where you land on those topics and issues.”
Roberts-Leonard also aims to ensure everyone in the CCS community — from students to teachers to parents — feels welcome, safe and affirmed. She said her office will have diversity resources available to anyone in the CCS community who may need them.
The Greenwood resident said she wasn’t very familiar with Carmel before taking the job, and she’s spent much of her first few weeks on a listening tour.
In her new role, Roberts-Leonard will be tasked with recruiting, retaining and supporting a diverse staff and ensuring a positive educational experience for a diverse student body.
Roberts-Leonard has a bachelors’ degree in communications with a minor in African American studies from the University of Cincinnati. She has a master’s degree in school counseling from Morehead State University and a Master of Education in sports administration from Xavier University.
In addition to her work at CCS, Roberts-Leonard owns a consulting firm and has conducted diversity, equity and inclusion training for various organizations.
Also an author
When Terri Roberts-Leonard suddenly found herself stuck at home with more time on her hands during the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided to cross an item off her bucket list and write a book.
“Danda the Panda: Welcome to My World” is the first in a series of children’s books she hopes to create focusing on diversity issues. The first book is about adoption and was inspired by her and her husband’s adoption of their three children.
“I wanted to do something for (my children) to leave a legacy for them, a way to talk about and normalize adoption,” she said.
Roberts-Leonard hopes to release the second book later this year.