JeffriAnne Wilder Named
District’s First Executive
Director of Equity, Diversity
Shaker Heights Schools’ first Executive
Director of Equity, Diversity and
Inclusion, JeffriAnne Wilder, is no
stranger to education or civil rights
advocacy. Both have been a part of her
life for as long as she can remember. Her
mother, Dr. Gloria Genene Wilder, was
a longtime teacher at Cleveland Public
Schools and is a believer in lifelong
learning; five years ago, she decided to
pursue her doctorate degree and earned
it earlier this year at the age of 72.
Wilder also is a cousin to Joyce Ladner,
a well-known civil rights activist and
sociologist who, as a 19-year-old college
student, helped plan the 1963 March
on Washington. “I feel like the work
chose me,” Wilder says, adding, “The
expectations are high and I’m ready for
14 FALL 2020 | WWW.SHAKER.LIFE
Q: You grew up here in Cleveland?
A: Yes, I grew up on Walden Avenue. It’s just three streets over from the Shaker Heights
border in the Lee-Harvard neighborhood. We moved there in 1978 when I was two and at
that time, it was a sleepy area where a new generation of Black families was moving in. I
had an easy, simple childhood there. Education was always very important in our family.
So when it was time for me to go to high school, my mother sent me to Hathaway Brown.
It was very important to her that I was in that type of environment. I think I would be
here today regardless of where I went to high school, but education was always a priority
in our family.
Q: How did you come to this work in diversity, equity, and inclusion?
A: I think I was always interested in sociology, I just didn’t know it. The things that I was
drawn to in terms of culture and Blackness and feminism and women – they weren’t
words that I always articulated when I was young, but they were things that I was doing
a lot of. I remember my freshman year in college, I signed up for a seminar called Poverty
in American Cities and a Women’s Studies course. I thought I wanted to be a journalist
so my undergraduate degree was in communication arts. But I kept being drawn to those
issues, so rather than pursue a career in television, I decided to study sociology for my
master’s and doctoral degrees. Today, the work that I do combines both.
Q: You were an associate professor of sociology at the University of North
Florida in Jacksonville and the founding director of its Institute for the Study
of Race and Ethnic Relations. Tell us about that experience.
A: I enjoyed being a professor, but I did not enjoy the loneliness of being the only woman
of color among my colleagues. Being a professor for me was so connected to being a
Black woman and that’s what led me to work in diversity, equity, and inclusion at the
University of North Florida. I ended up chairing a commission on diversity and inclusion
and I founded the Institute, but for as much promise as the Institute had, I felt like I
could not leverage my success because there were two important things missing: buy-in
and power around the work. So two years ago, I left my tenured position. I felt like there
were ways that I could amplify my skill set in a different space. It was a great experience
for me at the time, but I knew something else was calling me.
Q: And that something else was your work at the National Center for Women &
Information Technology (NCWIT) at the University of Colorado?
A: When I joined NCWIT, I learned how people were doing this kind of work outside of
an ivory tower and it was a fantastic experience. As a researcher, I’ve spent a lot of time
looking into how learning institutions have put diversity, equity, and inclusion into their
missions. But many of them struggle to move beyond the mission and vision statements
and put this into work. And there aren’t enough organizations putting people into
diversity, equity, and inclusion roles and setting them up to be successful.
Q: What is it that drew your attention to Shaker?
A: It occurred to me very early on how comfortable folks are in Shaker with being
uncomfortable. One of the things that I’ve known about Shaker is this idea to
acknowledge what’s wrong, so there’s a level of ownership and accountability. It’s
innovative for a K-12 district to be leaders in this work. This is an important role
and people here want some action. It’s not about putting someone up as a prop. It’s
complicated work. I feel honored to be in a place where people are excited to hear about
my perspective and expertise. I was excited that I never once heard anyone describe me
as a “diversity person” or just doing “diversity work.”
In Shaker, there is an inherent assumption that diversity, equity, and inclusion are
everyone’s work. I haven’t seen anything like this before. You usually see this done in
isolation without collaboration and resources. I have had so many people reach out to
me, so many folks who want to co-own and co-lead the work. I feel like I’m the point
person who will be co-leading with leadership, teachers, students, parents. For this to be
successful, you have to think about your role and how you can enhance the work overall.