Ciera Young, Director of Equity and Inclusion

Director of Equity and Inclusion Ciera Young is a leader, mentor, and ally to students at Ellis as she promotes a message of inclusion, tolerance, and acceptance across all three divisions. Her efforts to build awareness and create positive change, on campus and in the community, empower and equip Ellis girls with the tools they need to have respectful dialogue and compassionate conversations in today’s diverse, global world. Focused on embracing diversity and recognizing the beauty of our individual differences, Ms. Young works tirelessly with students, faculty, staff, and local organizations year-round to create programming that aligns with Ellis’ mission. From talks on how to be a good neighbor in the Lower School, to honest exchanges about cultural differences in the Upper School, Ms. Young enriches the Ellis curriculum by teaching students the importance of building bridges, not walls.
Years at Ellis:Two
Title:Director of Equity & Inclusion
Education:B.A. Cultural Studies, Chatham University

A fierce advocate for women and girls, Ms. Young’s commitment to equity and inclusion at Ellis and in Pittsburgh have not gone unnoticed. She is a graduate of the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs program, serves on the Adagio Health Young Leaders Council, and is the Civic Engagement Committee Chair at the Urban League Young Professionals of Greater Pittsburgh. She also works as the After School Program Coordinator at Arsenal Middle School in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Prior to Ellis, Ms. Young facilitated family planning workshops and voter registration in Gambia, West Africa; lobbied for Ohio’s first-ever anti-human trafficking bill, and was successful; wrote an op-ed for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about her lived experience as a black woman; and organized the 2016 Equal Pay Day Rally in Pittsburgh, to name a few.

This past summer, Ms. Young took her advocacy abroad when she traveled to Ethiopia as the recipient of the Fulbright-Hays Curriculum Development Grant. In Ethiopia, Ms. Young studied gender responsive pedagogy and developed a multimedia and co-curricular syllabus for all-girls classrooms in Ethiopia and the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Ms. Young’s unwavering dedication to the advancement and education of girls reaches across class levels, cities, and countries, from Ellis to Ethiopia, as her students become confident and capable women with vision.

How did you become an advocate for girls and young women? What fueled your activism?  
I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, in the inner city on the East side of Columbus. Just across the way from where I grew up is a primarily white suburb, Bexley. When I was younger, I remember walking into Bexley High School and it was pristine. There was a trophy case lined with trophies, a swimming pool, just endless opportunities. It really tuned me into the disparity caused by my zip code. I didn’t understand why I had to go to a school with no resources because of where I lived and why that was okay. Then when I was 16, my cousin was targeted by a human trafficker when she was walking home from school. I was shocked because no one spoke about it or seemed concerned! So I gathered a group of people to create a block watch that would make sure girls got to and from school safely. We would report any suspicious activity to law enforcement, and then it grew from there. A teacher at my high school urged me to channel the block watch into meaningful action. I ended up connecting with the Council of World Affairs and received a spot in the Junior Council Fellows Program. I worked with other high school students to make an impact towards ending human trafficking. As a result, we successfully lobbied for the first anti-human trafficking bill in the state of Ohio.

What is your main role as Director of Equity and Inclusion at Ellis?
My main goal is to create follow through, whether that’s a conversation you’re having at lunchtime or at a school-sponsored event like Stand Against Racism. We need to have conversations about race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and religion out in the open because the world is changing, the city is changing, and people are changing. We know students are going to encounter situations around diversity and we need to brief and prepare them on the issues.

Did your education at Chatham University play into your decision to come to Ellis?
Yes, definitely. Advocating for women and girls is my passion and the core of what I do. After I graduated from Chatham University in the last all-girls class, I didn’t even look at career possibilities that weren’t aligned with those interests. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do anything effectively unless I was passionate about it, and fighting for the rights of girls is the spark that fuels me. I have always found ways to invest my energy into my passion. I want to create an environment where girls are always seen and heard.

What do you hope to offer to the Ellis community in your position?
I want to expand upon and dig deeper in terms of the conversations we are having. More follow-up discussions about diversity after assemblies and in advisory periods are needed at Ellis so that we can continue to have conversations that facilitate change. I’d also like to develop stronger relationships with parents and connect all three divisions more. I want the Ellis community to explore what it means to be a good neighbor and an ally. How can we be change agents? I also look forward to establishing and maintaining relationships with local community organizations because Ellis is lucky to have neighbors who have a lot to offer. Ellis has a lot to offer our neighbors as well, so I would like to continue exploring those connections.

You mentioned that in your work at Ellis, you facilitate conversations and discussions that give girls the opportunity to share their perspective. How did you find your voice at a young age? What was the impetus for you?
When I was young, I stayed with my Nanna for a couple weeks in Cleveland. We would go to this store that had an ice cream stand out front. I literally did not like talking, so when it was time to order my ice cream, I would just point at what I wanted. But that didn’t work with Nanna. She would tell me “you need to speak up even when it scares you, because there are so many thing you’re not getting because you’re not talking.” So my Nanna gave me my voice. She taught me to speak up for what I want, and made me realize at a very early age that agency is important. She taught me that even if situations are uncomfortable, you need to have conversations because the benefits outweigh the discomfort.  

What have you learned about female leadership and mentoring others through your work at Ellis?
I am learning that it is necessary to nurture different types of leaders. There is this clear cut expectation of what a leader should look and act like, but not everyone fits that mold. As for mentoring, I have observed how the faculty at Ellis approach and appreciate students across the spectrum. Faculty are open and willing to recognize things they don’t know and embrace students for who they are. Teachers support and nurture students, but they also push them to keep them accountable. They truly want students to succeed.

Do you have a mentor? How has that relationship benefited you professionally? Can you tell me about him or her?
I have various mentors which I think is helpful because you don’t want your knowledge or growth to only come from one place. It’s important to connect with people who are different from you, so that you can check your blindspots. Now that I’m at Ellis, I have mentors in education within the Equity and Inclusion space who work at independent schools. I’m always thinking “how do I make movement in Pittsburgh?” and about the people I should meet or the networking event I should attend. It’s my turn to mentor someone now, I know I have something to offer. We tend to have a lot more to offer than we give ourselves credit for.

Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
When I studied abroad in Gambia my sophomore year of college and worked for the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP). It’s a Gambian non-governmental organization run exclusively by women for women. The only reason they had a man on staff was for security! I archived media records for documentation and thanks to our efforts, the records helped prove a pivotal case involving GAMCOTRAP. It was so rewarding to help the women there and see tangible results.

If you could interview anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?
Solange Knowles. I love her bold sense of style and her recent EP A Seat at the Table. It really defined my experience as a black woman. She also sheds a lot of light and wisdom on being the mother of a black child in this day and age. She’s just so dynamic— a musician, a stylist, DJ, visual artist, blogger. I aspire to be as dynamic as her, not to leave any talents on my death bed.