René Villicaña


Simply put, SEED has been a life-affirming experience.

I first learned about SEED in the fall of 2013 when I began attending a SEED seminar at Sacred Heart Preparatory in Atherton, California led by Corie Tyson. I became aware of the opportunity through Angela Birts, the Director of Diversity at the Menlo School. From the first seminar, I was immediately drawn in by the skillful facilitation of the seminar leaders and their ability to guide participants through authentic dialogue covering a range of diversity and inclusion topics. It was the first time in years that I left a professional development workshop feeling spiritually uplifted, intellectually stimulated, and as if many parts of my identity had been both validated and pushed to grow.

I immediately knew I was interested in bringing SEED to my campus, especially after visiting the SEED website and learning about New Leaders' Week. I teach History in the Upper School and my brother, Maximliano, teaches English in the Middle School. With the enthusiastic support of Menlo's Dean of Teaching and Learning, Bridgett Longust, we applied for the New Leaders' Week in 2014 and have co-facilitated two SEED seminars for Menlo colleagues.

The New Leaders' Week was my best professional development experience in 15 years of teaching because of the inclusive culture SEED fosters, the way SEED norms pushed me to grow in a safe space and the many kindred spirits I met who deeply value diversity work. It gave me space to be reminded of how unlikely my path through formal education was as a son of undocumented immigrants from Mexico who came to Northern California in 1980 speaking no English, with almost no money and having to raise four sons and a daughter on laborers' incomes. Because of my parents' sacrifices, their children had opportunities available to them that would not have been possible in Mexico: four of us graduated from college, two of us earned Master's degrees and we both became educators.

SEED helped me appreciate anew how singular our story is and how grateful I am for the doors my education opened at places like UC Berkeley and New York University. SEED also reminded me of how many obstacles we had to overcome as low-income Latino students in majority White communities and institutions. Most of the time we were too naïve to name the marginalization we experienced and it has taken years to heal from those experiences. SEED is an important reminder that many of my students of color are going through similar experiences when they step into my private school classroom and that it is important for me to be a resource for them.

The New Leaders' Week also reinvigorated my commitment to diversity work in my classroom and inspired me to embrace my new role as a SEED leader for my colleagues. Co-facilitating SEED with my brother has been one of the greatest gifts of my life along with seeing the sense of community we help create for participants. It's hard for me to approach most aspects of my work at Menlo without viewing them through a SEED lens, and I know this feeling will stay with me for the rest of my career.

I am grateful to join SEED staff in 2016 and look forward to the stories and perspectives I'll exchange with SEED participants.

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