Ongoing Work Is Key to Ensuring Inclusion, Diversity and Equity in Community
Last week, a large group of faculty and students traveled to Nashville, TN, to attend the People of Color Conference and Student Diversity Leadership Conference, hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools. This annual conference is regarded as one of the most powerful shared learning experiences available anywhere designed to help facilitate environments of diversity, equity and inclusion. Consistent with our mission and values, School leadership prioritizes professional development and student leadership development focused on diversity, inclusion and equity.
This year, the PDS conference contingent included six students: Benjamin Bigdalle '21, Sophia Chaves '21, David Coit '19, Skylar Hall '19, Fechi Inyama '20 and Jomar Meekins '20; and 14 faculty across all three divisions: Alana Allen, Victor Cirilo, Daniel Cohen, Laurence Farhat, Margie Gibson, Tarshia Griffin-Ley, Alex Lasevich, Caroline Lee, Amy Matlack, Anthony McKinley, Elizabeth Monroe, Jason Park, Michelle Simonds and Chandra Smith.
The group acquired resources and participated in critically important conversations during sessions with themes that ranged from self-advocacy and leadership development to inclusion and equity support systems; understanding the process of identifying bias to facilitating conversations about current events across developmental ages and stages; and how to integrate diversity, inclusion and equity into existing programming.
The following reflections from PDS attendees reveal the impact of this conference experience and the energy it promotes to continue implementing best practices throughout our learning community. Compiled by Melanie Shaw.
Victor Cirillo, MS faculty: The treasury of resources available at the People of Color Conference (POCC) is invaluable. Many of these resources are held within the people, friends old and new, that I connect with at the conference. I value this sacred space for reflecting, sharing, listening and opening a new level of dialogue with myself and others.
Laurence Farhat, US faculty: I had heard so many times from faculty and students who attended the POCC conference how transformative the experience is, but I think you really need to be there to understand how deeply these few days can affect you. The workshops I attended, the speakers I heard -- especially Julie Lythcott-Haims, the conversations I had with my colleagues; all of it was so powerful. One of the most significant and moving parts of this experience was, for me, the opportunity to spend time with the six PDS students who attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC). Hearing them debrief after a long day of workshops, seeing them really tired and at the same time so energized by their experience, was truly uplifting.
Dan Cohen, LS faculty: I am so grateful for, appreciative of and inspired by Princeton Day School's decades-long dedication to sending an impressive contingent of their faculty to POCC each year. In my fourth consecutive year at the conference, I was strategic when choosing the five workshops I attended. I decided to focus my time exclusively on exploring PreK-4 curriculum, specifically interdisciplinary lessons and units that employ a framework of equity and justice. I am returning to School energized to do the essential work around diversity and inclusion, and am excited to share what I've learned with and ignite the interest of my colleagues to attend the conference next year!
Margie Gibson, LS faculty: After returning from POCC with a brain swirling with new ideas and thoughts, I was a bit worried about how to direct some of the swirl. Remarkably, it became laser focused when I least expected it. I was giving a lesson with mentor texts for my third graders and the book, Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, was in the pile. I was just going to show them the cover of this narrative non-fiction, let them know that it is a story version of something that happened in history, and declare, "We'll read this later." (Typically, I save this book to read around Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.) At that moment, though, I asked myself, why should I wait? Why shouldn't I talk about this moment right now? Why assign the topic of segregation to a certain time of year? I immediately read the book with them (they were excited to hear that I had gone to see the Woolworth's in Nashville) and we discussed the meanings of equity and diversity. I talked about segregation in history. These discussions are not new for the third grade program; however, this time, rather than glossing over the issues, I was able to dig deeper and to be more honest. POCC was the exact experience I needed to ask myself, why am I avoiding these conversations? As long as I can provide a safe space for children to share, reflect and engage, discussions about equity and justice aren't ones to avoid, they are ones to embrace. In fact, these conversations should be sought out. My time at POCC was remarkable and I'm grateful that PDS recognizes the importance of this work.
Tony McKinley, US faculty:
One would think that after 12 consecutive years of attending this conference, things would become stale, underwhelming, perhaps predictable. Somehow, NAIS never disappoints. I arrived in Nashville with a glass half full, and returned with one overflowing. The overflow is messy, but provides the necessary endurance to do the work. For me, POCC is personal development more than anything else. That said, the personal and professional aren't as mutually exclusive as we'd like them to be. Although the "to do list" seems daunting at times, I'm reminded that at the very least there are 20 others ready, willing, and able to do the necessary work to make PDS a more diverse community, a more equitable community, a more inclusive community, and for this, and them, I am grateful.
Fechi Inyama '20: I loved attending the Student Diversity Leadership Conference because it gave me a space where I could be accepted as myself and meet people of different backgrounds.
Benjamin Bigdelle '21: SDLC was an amazing, beautiful experience for me. Throughout the three days, I learned the perspective of others and offered my own to the group. I became more aware of privileges that I have never noticed about myself and realized some of the flaws within my own mindset.
Skylar Hall '19: At SDLC I was able to surround myself with individuals who didn't just look like me, but were able to relate to me regarding different experiences that are unique to being a person of color who attends an independent school. It was at this conference that I was able to learn language that will help me to articulate my experiences and learn ways to construct a plan that will be my guideline for making change.
Jomar Meekins '20: My experience at SDLC this year was amazing. I was honored to go to the 25th anniversary of the conference. My two older brothers, Joshua Meekins '10 and Josiah Meekins '15, went to SDLC. I felt empowered to have the same experiences as my brothers in the past.
Photos: Top, PDS attendees at one of many POCC SDLC sessions. Below, PDS students with Michelle Simonds at the historic Woolworth's in Nashville, TN, the scene of repeated efforts by students of color to be served in 1960, which ultimately led to desegregation of Nashville's lunch counters. On the big screen, conference presenter Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Stanford Dean and acclaimed speaker focused on facilitating young adults to live lives of empowerment and authenticity.