As soon as I sat down with Rachael Blansett, she led with her identities: black, biracial, queer, femme; declaring who she is before anyone else could define her.
Rachael Blansett is the new Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) Coordinator for the Oyster River Cooperative School District (ORCSD). As the DEIJ coordinator, she works with teachers, students, and administrators to better incorporate DEIJ into the Oyster River community (to learn more about the DEIJ position, read Zoe Selig’s article, Rachael Blansett Confirmed as the ORCSD’s First DEIJ Coordinator). Who she is has played a huge role in her life, influencing her career, personal values, and experiences.
While those identities come naturally to Blansett now, she endured many life experiences to find the right words to describe who she is.
Blansett attended Grand Valley State University as a first-generation college student from a low-income family, but struggled to thrive mentally and emotionally in a college setting, feeling as though she didn’t fit in with the other students. Finding those who she could relate to was a significant part of feeling more integrated in her college experience.
She was able to get in touch with her school’s LGBTQ+ resource center on campus, which helped her put words and descriptions to her identity. “I was finally gaining language to name and shape the experiences that I had felt my entire life, but I just didn’t have the words or the knowledge to talk about…it was through that community I had built that I learned more about myself. I learned more about the other folks around me and also about the world,” said Blansett. From this point in her life, she started focusing on leadership and activism, leading her to where she is today.
As I talked with Blansett, community and relationships came up time and time again. It became clear how important those personal connections are to her, which is an essential aspect of both her personal and professional life.
“Personally, I value relationships, particularly my friendships, because that’s my family. I’m not really that connected with my own family, for a multitude of reasons…and from that I had to bridge my own friendships, my own community, and my own relationships [to create] my [chosen] family.”
A significant relationship in Blansett’s life is her partner of two years, Kevin Pajaro-Mariñez, who is the Assistant Director of Equity and Inclusion at Phillips Exeter Academy. During my interview with Pajaro-Mariñez, it was apparent how admirable he finds Blansett to be, emphasizing her character and ability to show compassion to many.
“Rachael is someone who’s very patient, super kind, and incredibly understanding even when the conditions for that don’t always lend themselves to it. She’s able to find the kindness for people in most situations where harm has occurred and talk it through with them [when appropriate] instead of just dropping them,” said Pajaro-Mariñez.
Aside from the more serious aspects of Blansett’s life, she has a lot of fun interests, sharing many of them with those she loves.
“We love watching trash TV, [especially] reality dating shows. Love Island UK is our jam,” said Pajaro-Mariñez. “We love to watch people go through their ridiculous dating shenanigans together, and it’s nice to spend that time together, getting to settle down and chill.” Blansett was also very passionate about Love Island during our interview, as she loves the drama and simple entertainment factor which it brings.
Another huge interest of Blansett’s is Karaoke. While she feels that “every day is karaoke day” and you can almost always catch Blansett singing, her go to songs for a traditional karaoke setting are “1, 2 Step” by Ciara and “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys.
While these interests may not be what you initially assume based on Blansett’s more introverted and calm presence, it’s part of Blansett which Pajaro-Mariñez loves most. “On the surface, most people would never know that she actually has a goofy energy towards her. A lot of people don’t always have access to that because I think most people, when they see Rachael, automatically jump to things related to work, but I think underneath that, she has a lot of different quirks and energy, even though she’s more reserved. It’s really special when she gives you access to that [side of herself],” he said.
Blansett’s calm and patient personality traits can be translated into her position at Oyster River. Those who have had the opportunity to work alongside Blansett have unanimously found that she is a very personable and relaxed individual.
Maya Ajit (’23), a member of the DEIJ club who helped hire Blansett, feels very comfortable around her. “She’s very welcoming and open minded…she really values what students think as well. It’s nice because [ORHS] puts so much importance on [student opinion].”
Along with Ajit, there are multiple staff members throughout the district who feel the same.
“She’s very authentic,” said Vivian Jablonski, an Oyster River High School (ORHS) teacher, who is the advisor of the DEIJ club and also helped hire Blansett. “If you ask her a question
, and she’s not sure [of the answer], she’s going to be the first one to say, ‘I don’t know, I’ll look into it for you.’ She has tons of resources and she’s clearly very knowledgeable in the area of providing support for people in education.”
Val Wolfson, a teacher at Oyster River Middle School who works closely with Blansett, emphasized Blansett’s calming presence. “She’s delightfully low-key. She is an amazing listener, and you know that she’s listening because she’s able to synthesize what she’s heard. She asked really great questions [which] reflects [that] she’s a very present person.”
These traits of Blansett’s translate into her work with the greater ORCSD community. Paige Burt (’23), a student and member of the DEIJ club said, “She’s very open to people who are not necessarily caught up on all of the latest terms and everything that has to do with DEIJ…I think is a really important quality for this type of person to have because when we get so caught up in being progressive and being woke, we can end up isolating the people that don’t know everything.”
Blansett wanted to make it very clear what her mission is while in this position in ORCSD, as there has been controversy from the outside community surrounding the DEIJ position, as well as Blansett’s fit for the role.
“I want to emphasize that I support all students in all their identities and experiences. Throughout my entire career I have built cross cultural dialogue spaces, have held spaces for learning across difference, whether that’s different identities, different conflict styles, different professional working styles, et cetera. We all have different identities that are meaningful to us and really shape and frame our experiences within the world. If I can be a resource of support for that, that is what I’m for.”
One thing which has become very clear is that there was never any hesitation from the district as to whether Blansett was right for the job.
“The debate on who should be hired really wasn’t a debate,” said Jim Morse, ORCSD’s Superintendent. “[Blansett] was clearly the number one candidate, and I think it was largely due to her experiences in this field, at the collegiate level, but also her ability to articulate the work. She answered the questions that the interview committee had extremely well, and she is highly qualified. I’m glad to have her on board.”
Blansett is hoping to continue connecting her personal self with her work in ORCSD. “I’m excited to meet with more student groups, build relationships, and continuously reintroduce myself to the community, allowing myself to be an accessible resource to [everyone].”
Images Courtesy of Rachael Blansett