On February 6, a group of twenty Princeton Day School Middle School students attended the Association of Independent Schools in New England (AISNE) 2021 Middle School Students of Color Conference. This year's AISNE conference, hosted virtually by The Rivers School in Massachusetts, offered workshops on identity, social justice skills and self-reflection, providing students the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation, collaboration and connection with middle school students from other schools.
PDS students who attended the event were Blair Bartlett '27, Henry Bobbitt '26, Adeola Egbeleye '26, Ryan Falconi '25, Magnus Henry '28, Julian Jones '27, Sahana Karthik '26, Sohah Kulkarni '25, Ariyah Lamin '26, Simran Malik '26, Clarke Morrigan '28, Avery Otoo '27, Carter Price '27, Ana Sofia Ramirez '25, Zamin Rizvi '28, Aarav Shah '28, Cynthia Shen '26, Ellie Turchetta '25, Paul Turchetta '28 and Aiden Wang '25
The conference featured empowering guests and facilitators of student activities, including cartoonist and historian Joel Christian Gill; DJ Will Gill; and actor and psychologist Dr. Mykee Fowlin, who served as the keynote speaker. In addition, conference affinity groups were facilitated by faculty members from The Rivers School and peer schools throughout New England.
Henry Bobbitt and Simran Malik both pointed to Dr. Fowlin's keynote session as a memorable part of the conference. "He helped show the struggles of identity, which is something that everyone deals with," Bobbitt shared. "I really loved Dr. Fowlin's message and it was very meaningful to me," Malik added.
One key takeaway from the conference, which many of the students shared, was the ability to relate to and listen to students from other schools. Aiden Wang shared: "The affinity group part of the conference was really valuable, as I found many people that I could relate to and share my problems and experiences with. It was also inspiring hearing from their experiences being part of the Asian community, and it provided me with lots of insight."
Adeola Egbeleye agreed, noting that, "to participate in a conference with so many people I could relate to made me feel empowered."
"I think the most valuable part of the conference was being able to meet with people from other independent schools and being able to learn their experiences. I believe that makes learning and understanding more meaningful," Sahana Karthik added.
"I valued that people were willing to be vulnerable in the space that we were given. Many people shared out their ideas, beliefs and experiences so we could have a meaningful conversation about our similarities and differences. I valued being able to talk to people who have had similar experiences as me being multiracial, but also learning from others about their different experiences. It opened my eyes to see the perspectives of people I had never considered," Ellie Turchetta reflected.
This is the second virtual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Conference that MS students have had the opportunity to attend this year. The virtual nature of this year's conferences has provided increased opportunity for students to participate. "Normally, a lot of planning and effort is needed to organize attending conferences with other schools across the country and the opportunity may be somewhat limited," MS CMDT representative and faculty member Victor Cirilo noted.
"These virtual conferences allow us access to more leading voices and perspectives and the Zoom environment also allows students an intimate setting to fully engage in conversations in a space of affirmation, respect and belonging," he added.
The ability to attend a variety of conferences also provides different styles of addressing challenging personal and societal issues. Ellie Turchetta shared: "This event and the diversity conference I previously attended were very different. AISNE centered on more diverse methods to battle racism and had many different activities to choose from, including art, writing and reflection. The previous conference was mainly discussion-based, so adding the two together definitely made an impact to me."
Mr. Cirilo and the PDS Community Multicultural Development Team will continue to look for additional conferences and events to continue DEI efforts in the Middle School this year. Though plans are not yet officially set, Mr. Cirilo hopes to have at least one more event in the spring. "I am thankful that more and more diversity conferences have emerged for middle schoolers over the last ten years. At this stage of their development, it is important for middle school students to have opportunities to explore their authentic identity and also connect meaningfully with students from other schools," Mr. Cirilo concluded.
Photos, from top: Grid photo of student attendees (from top, l to r) Blair Bartlett '27, Henry Bobbitt '26, Adeola Egbeleye '26, Magnus Henry '28, Julian Jones '27, Sahana Karthik '26, Ariyah Lamin '26, Simran Malik '26, Carter Price '27, Ana Sofia Ramirez '25, Aarav Shah '28, Cynthia Shen '26, Ellie Turchetta '25, Paul Turchetta '28 and Aiden Wang '25 (not pictured: Ryan Falconi '25, Morrigan Clarke '28, Sohah Kulkarni '25, Avery Otoo '27 and Zamin Rizvi '28); Ellie Turchetta and Magnus Henry each participating in the conference.
Read our previous news story on PDS MS student participation in the Middle School Equity & Inclusion Summit, hosted by Gill St. Bernard's School, in October 2020.