After a national search, Evan Thomas, an accomplished educator with deep experience leading diversity efforts, has been appointed Blair’s inaugural Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. A member of the School’s fine arts faculty, Mr. Thomas first came to Blair in 2015 with his wife, Ally, Director of Counseling, and they were soon joined by their daughter, Kiley. Since that time, many in the Blair community have come to know Mr. Thomas from his work in the classroom, teaching courses including the popular “Art for Social Change,” or as facilitator of the Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) program for Blair faculty and advisor to the Black and Latinx Student Union (BALSU).
In his new role, Mr. Thomas will serve as the strategic and academic leader of the School’s diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) initiatives. Key responsibilities include partnering with administrators and colleagues to ensure that faculty training, schoolwide programming and current curriculum align with Blair’s DEIB goals and working to enhance diversity in the employee talent pool. Using a data-based approach, Mr. Thomas will work with Blair’s academic and student life offices to guide equity and inclusion initiatives and measure ongoing growth in these areas. As Dean, Mr. Thomas will also liaise with the broader Blair community, collaborating with the Board of Trustees, parents and alumni on issues of belonging, while also serving as a resource, guide and thought partner to faculty and students.
Integral to this role, Mr. Thomas believes, will be connecting with students and sustaining a culture of ongoing engagement with them in every arena, whether that is in the classroom, on the fields or in the dorms. “We are a community where everyone should feel safe, seen and valued. I am committed to that work and to ensuring that everyone has space to be their authentic selves,” he says.
The last, slow days of summer found Mr. Thomas busily planning the year ahead and settling into his new Clinton Hall office, where, he promises, “There will be time for good music and snacks!” Read on to learn more about Blair’s new Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.
Q: You, Ally and Kiley have made a real home at Blair. How did you decide that this was the place to invest yourselves?
A: We have become a family here. Ally and I came here seven years ago, and since then, we’ve gotten married and had Kiley. This place feels like a really special and unique part of our lives. I remember the feeling I had when we brought Kiley back from the hospital to Insley Hall, where we lived, and students were waiting for us with posters and balloons. We feel connected here. I’ve also experienced times of incredible student engagement and sharing of knowledge, like during our 2021 J-term course “Exploring the Black Experience through the Arts.” Experiences like those stand out to me and have helped us feel this is a place where we feel we belong.
Q: What drew you to this position?
A: DEIB work, in general, has occupied more and more of my time. It is a passion that feels natural. I’m really excited about this being an opportunity to respond to the needs of this community in this position. There’s so much we can do to be deliberate and lift people, and that’s what you need to keep DEIB sustainable. I envision this role touching the stakeholders in this space, supporting faculty and students. I am looking forward to digging into what the experience is like as a staff member or a parent at Blair. I am looking forward to building community and belonging across the space, and I want to bring an air of celebration and build on our strengths, which are our relationships with one another.
Q: How do art education and diversity, equity and inclusion work intersect for you?
A: In a lot of ways, this position is a natural continuation of the things I started to explore in the arts studio. I love the skills-based aspect of teaching art, but art can also be a vehicle for social change. Art can empower students to pursue ideas that are important to them, and it can teach them how to storytell. This interest in storytelling, humanity and imagining of worlds that have yet to exist lends itself naturally to DEIB work.
Q: For the last two years, you’ve taught “Art for Social Change.” How has that course influenced your path?
A: I felt that class leaned into my professional goals by showing students how they can become advocates for themselves. In it, we focus on internal reflection, and through telling stories, we show students how to point that outward.
There’s one activity called the “disagreement project” from the course that is very applicable. We discuss the topic of intellectual charity and the importance of empathy while having a respectful (but passionate) conversation with another person. That project, in particular, extends outside of class. I like the idea of having something that continues the work once the course has ended, and DEIB is an extension of that.
Q: How do you think your experience as a member of the Blair community will impact your new role?
A: The time that I’ve spent here gives me a general appreciation for all the wonderful things we already do at Blair, with the acknowledgment that we still have much more work to be done. And, having those connections already is vital to the work, in helping establish trust and in having a view of where to begin. So, while there is always going to be learning that I need to do, it is good to start from a place of knowing the culture and community here. I already feel a sense of support and autonomy that is an important component. I feel excited and humbled. I am anticipating the work very much.
Mr. Thomas recently earned his certificate in School Management and Leadership from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, and he holds a master’s degree in art education from Boston University and a bachelor’s degree in art education from Kutztown University. An active member of the Art Educators of New Jersey and the National Art Education Association (NAEA), Mr. Thomas serves as president of the NAEA’s Independent School Art Educators interest group and earned the NAEA’s Certificate for Cultural Competency in Teaching and Leadership last year. While earning that certification, he facilitated training that expanded access to professional development focused on DEIB on a national level.